Taking a shortcut: Master your keyboard

Kerry Sutton
Kerry Sutton

Scientist George Washington Carver famously said, “There is no shortcut to achievement.” However, if you’re tired of using your mouse to hunt through menus looking for basic computer commands or you simply want to get your work done more efficiently, then keyboard shortcuts are, well, key.

Let’s start by looking at some essentials, move on to advanced shortcuts and then consider the much-forgotten keyboard itself.
For simplicity, let’s assume you’re using a Windows machine. That means you have a Win key, which is the key with the Windows logo on the left side of your spacebar. There is an Alt key. And you have a control key, which is labeled Ctrl on your keyboard.
Note that Macs also have a Ctrl key. But when using the following shortcuts, substitute the Mac Command key.


Specialized applications may have their own shortcuts, but the basics work the same, not only for text editing, but also across most programs. They are usually intuitive.

Hit Ctrl+B to make your text bold, Ctrl+U to underline or Ctrl+I for italics. Ctrl+C will copy any text selected, while Ctrl+X will cut it. You can select text with your mouse, of course, but you can also hold down the Shift key and then select text with the arrow keys. If you need to select a large block of text, you can use Ctrl+A to select all, and then Ctrl+V will paste the selected text.

If you’re wondering why “V” for paste and not Ctrl+P, which lets you print, it’s because the letter is similar to the proofreading mark for “insert.” Another useful shortcut is Ctrl+Z, which undoes whatever you did last, from typing the wrong word to accidentally erasing your entire document — just make sure you didn’t hit Ctrl+W and close your window before you saved with Ctrl+S.

Another shortcut that comes in handy is Alt+Tab, which cycles through open applications — Command+Tab on Mac. Ctrl+N opens a new window. Win+left arrow or Win+right arrow snaps windows to the side of your screen, which is great for quickly having two windows open side by side without fiddling with sizing them to fit your monitor.


Once you’ve mastered the essentials, show off some of these less-common Windows shortcuts to get your work done faster:
Ctrl+F will let you find words in a text or browser window.
Alt+F4 will shut down any application.
Win+D will minimize all open windows and show you a clean desktop.