Technology at Central

Using Keyboard Shortcuts - Aug 11, 2014

Thank you to Jordan Bohr for writing this guest post.  Jordan is a senior in Communication Studies.

Keyboard shortcuts are perhaps the easiest way to speed up your computer workflow, increase productivity, and precious time.  However, many people don’t use these invaluable tools.  Are you one of those people?  Maybe you have a hard time remembering the key combinations, or maybe you just aren’t familiar with them at all. Whatever the case, this post will work to help you become a keyboard shortcut master!

For many folks who grew up using computers, keyboard shortcuts might be second nature.  For others, it’s not quite so easy.  If you would like to simply see a list of common keyboard shortcuts, skip to the end of this post.  If you want to know more though, let’s start with the basics:

Get to Know the Keyboard

The first step to using keyboard shortcuts is to familiarize yourself with the keyboard layout.  You have probably seen some reference to things like Ctrl, Alt, ⌘, or ⇧.  These are known as modifier keys. Every keyboard shortcut will use one or more of these modifier keys, in conjunction with a character key (A, B, C…).  Oftentimes, it can be hard to understand which keys to use – especially if you are using a Mac computer.

See the table below for the most common modifier keys used, and how they are represented on different operating systems.

Modifier Key



Control Key

Ctrl or CTRL


Shift Key


Alt/Option Key


Command Key

Picture of Windows logo key

All of these modifier keys are grouped together at the bottom of your keyboard (shown below), so it is very easy to combine them for more complicated shortcuts.  After familiarizing yourself with the modifier keys, understanding keyboard shortcuts will be easy.

Click the images for a better view


Understanding the Shortcuts

Regardless of what computer program you are using, you can nearly always use some kind of keyboard shortcut within that program.  These are typically presented next to buttons used to do certain actions.  For example, if you right-click on some highlighted text and look at the Copy option, you should see “Ctrl+C” (Windows) or ⌘+C (Mac). This tells you the keyboard shortcut for the Copy function.

It is important to understand that Windows computers’ primary modifier key is CTRL, while Mac computers’ primary modifier is the ⌘ key (Command).  Typically when you would use CTRL on Windows to use a shortcut (like copy, paste, cut), the shortcut will be the same on Mac – you just use ⌘ instead of CTRL.

Oftentimes, people are confused by the combinations of letters and symbols.  To understand the shortcuts you see in menus, just follow this rule:

Modifier Key(s)  +  Character Key  =  Function

First hold down the modifier key(s).  So, in the case of “Copy,” hold down the Control (Ctrl) key if you are using Windows, and hold down the ⌘ key if you are on a Mac.Now, while still holding down the CTRL or ⌘ key, tap the C key AT THE SAME TIME.  Once you tap C, you can let go of both keys.  Now, text should be copied to your computer’s clipboard.

This is the basic way in which all keyboard shortcuts work.  The key is to remember that you must hold down the modifier key(s) and character key at the SAME TIME.

Finally, don’t be confused by the “+” symbol; this just means you need to push the keys at the same time.

Becoming a Keyboard Shortcut Pro

You now know about modifier and character keys, and how to combine them to use keyboard shortcuts.  The final step is to practice using them in your everyday computer activity.  Don’t worry about trying to memorize them right away – you can always check a program’s menu to find common shortcuts.

Some of the most common and most useful keyboard shortcuts use keys that are all in the same region of your keyboard.  At the bottom-left of your keyboard, you should see the letters A, S, F, Z, X, C, and V clustered together.  If you want to speed up your workflow, these keys will become your new best friends – they are mapped to the functions you already use most often.

In addition to the 7 main keys, you can also find a list of other helpful keyboard shortcuts below.  There are also many more advanced shortcuts, sometimes utilizing a combination of 2 or more modifier keys, or special character keys.  More sophisticated programs, such as Photoshop, will have dozens of built in shortcuts and can sometimes become overwhelming.  However, if you begin to use and remember the ones shown here, you’ll be a pro in no time!

*For even more keyboard shortcut information, you can also view Microsoft or Apple’s official support pages.


Windows shortcut

Mac shortcut







Find text on a page



Help menu



New page or document



Open program manager
(if an application freezes up)


⌘+ ⌥ +Escape







Redo an action






Select all text



Undo an action