The Three Most Under-utilized Keyboard Shortcuts

I was standing behind my wife the other day quietly watching her use her computer to write an email. The more I watched the clearer it became just how much extra work she was creating for herself by not using Windows keyboard shortcuts.

Most average users know a few keyboard shortcuts such as ^C for Copy, ^X for Cut, and ^V for Paste but here are three additional shortcuts that many folks under-utilize. If you spend a few moments learning them you'll find them incredibly useful (Note: When I write ^C it means to press down the Ctrl key and while holding it down, press the C key. You then release both together)

The first is ^A. This selects (highlights) everything in the current window or field. So for example you want to copy this entire article into an email, hit ^A to select everything then ^C to copy it to the clipboard. Open your email and then type ^V to insert it. Try ^A now, it should select this whole web page. Click anywhere to remove the highlighting.

^A is also really useful when you want to delete the contents of a form field or dialog box. Just hit ^A then Delete. I use it a lot to clear the address box in my browser.

The second handy shortcut is ^Home. This takes you to the top of a document or web page. Similarly ^End takes you to the bottom. It's much faster than scrolling. Try it now.

The third shortcut is probably the most useful of all. It involves using the Shift key when selecting long lists or text passages.

Let's say you want to select a section of this page covering several paragraphs. The way most users would do this would be to left mouse click at the start, hold the mouse button down and then move the mouse curser to the end of the text to be selected.

That's fine but if the text covers more than one screen it can get tricky. Here's a much better way.

First, left click at the start of the text and release the mouse button. Then scroll down to the end of the text and left click again while holding down Shift key. All the text in between will be selected.

Try it now on this page. Neat eh?

The same technique works well when selecting items on a list.

Incidentally, if you want to select or deselect individual items that aren't consecutive, you can do that by using the Ctrl key when left clicking. But hey, that's a fourth shortcut and I said I was only going to give you three :>) If you really want more, there's a complete list here:


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by Anonymous on 22. July 2008 - 7:57  (4729)

It's amazing to see how few people know that you can type in the just name of a website in the address bar, then hit ^Enter. It will take you straight there without having to type in the "www" or the ".com". I use the shift-tab all the time in forms and it's SUCH a timesaver.

by Anonymous on 22. July 2008 - 0:46  (4699)

These are NOT shortcuts! They would take considerably longer than the right way.

by Anonymous on 30. July 2008 - 22:58  (5218)

Who are you anyway? I've been using keyboard shortcuts since Adam was a choir boy.. Most of these shortcuts work with Linux and Linux apps too. Owing to the proliferation of icons (everyone has a better idea - like Ford) its hard to tell most of the time what they do. However, keyboard shortcuts are almost universal, and they speed up the work considerably. Please think before you write, and learn to touch-type.

by Anonymous on 21. July 2008 - 16:12  (4672)

In Firefox you can do some interesting text selection using both CTRL and SHIFT:

  • L-click the start of the first selection, shift-L-click the end
  • then ctrl-L-click the next start and shift-ctrl-L-click then next end, and so on.

You can select many individual separate sections of text all at once.

Alas, IE7 does not do this. Ctrl-L-click in IE7 selects an entire paragraph. FF's version of paragraph-select is triple-L-click. Personally, I like the Firefox way because it's more flexible.

Not to mention FF's way to select table cells - ctrl-L-drag selects only the row, column, or block of table that you want, rather than the whole thing. Only featured in IE7's dreams!

Another for FF: center-click a link to open it in a new tab (needs 3-button mouse, obviously, unless your mouse driver allows you to set a chord-click (left-and-right-click) to emulate a center-click).

FF has so many great little usability perks that it's hard to understand IE's market share. No contest for me!

by Anonymous on 21. July 2008 - 14:35  (4663)

ctrl-shift-T: undo close tab in firefox.

by Anonymous on 21. August 2008 - 20:08  (6729)

Wow, I feel silly for not knowing that. But that great!

by mikedutch (not verified) on 21. July 2008 - 12:58  (4656)

Windows also has a built-in feature to set a shortcut key to start your favorite programs:

by mikedutch (not verified) on 21. July 2008 - 12:52  (4655)

Keyboard shortcuts for many programs:

by Anonymous on 21. July 2008 - 11:29  (4654)

in firefox if i want to google something:

first, i select the text:

ctrl-c: copy to clipboard
ctrl-K: cursor jumps to search windows
ctrl-v: paste text
Enter: firefox opens a new tab with the search

by Anonymous on 13. September 2008 - 9:30  (7686)

That looks tedious. You can just select the text, right click and click "Search Google for " and a new tab will open with the search results.

by Urbane.Tiger on 15. September 2008 - 11:45  (7751)

If you install hyperwords extension you can set it up so that after selecting the text it brings up a context menu that allows you to do lots of things - copy, search engines, dictionaries, ebay, craigslist, translate ....

Great extension - warning latest version does not work alongside Toolbar Buttons, Hyperwords and Codefisher are working on that problem - I hope.

by Anonymous on 21. July 2008 - 9:13  (4638)

I know in the past I have often been surprised that so many pC users are not familiar with such basic keyboard shortcuts. Similarly many are unaware of the use of the windows key.

One thing I discoverd recently happened when a blind workmate found his mouse stopped working. The Application key (I think it is called) to the right of the Windows key on the right hand side of the spacebar simulates a mouse right click.

by Anonymous on 21. July 2008 - 4:10  (4619)

Mahn oh mahn, one thing is really clear, Gizmo, you da mahn.

by Anonymous on 21. July 2008 - 3:16  (4616)

Thank you very much. I did not know the last two.

by Anonymous on 20. July 2008 - 23:40  (4610)

The shortcut I use the most every day is Ctrl-Enter to frame a web name. Those of us who do a lot of research a fed up with typing www. the when "the name" followed by Ctl-Enter will do the trick. I know there are shortcuts for .net and .org, but can never remember the combinations. Anyone?

by chiyoko xue (not verified) on 18. November 2011 - 8:50  (83472)

(EX. facebook + CTRL + ENTER =

(EX.facebook + SHIFT + ENTER=

(EX. facebook + CTRL + SHIFT + ENTER =

by Anonymous on 20. July 2008 - 20:18  (4600)

Those were some pretty good tips Gizmo but I'll take slight issue with you especially on those shortcuts that need both hands followed by some mouse manipulation. My experience is that I'm better off sticking with the mouse for the entire selection process rather than moving back and forth from the keyboard. It takes time to make the move and reorient my (old) eyes from the keyboard to the screen. For me at least sticking with the mouse all the way through for some processes is quicker and surer.

by Anonymous on 1. April 2009 - 22:15  (19067)

Most of the short cut keys are on the left.. so buy placing you little finger on the (ctrl,windows, alt, or shift key) you can reach any of them with one (adult sized) hand.
I am not a typist but I find that after using a key combination for a few days, that my hand can find it with almost no thought or looking.

I LOVE Windows-E.. i bet i use it 50 times a day. when i found it a few years ago i cursed all the times i had open an file explorer the old way because i did not know about the shortcut.
A wile back i was on a friends computer who had an old keyboard with out the "windows key" and i actually forgot how to get a file explorer to open... I felt so dumb. :(

by Anonymous on 20. July 2008 - 15:25  (4585)

[Windows]+L will lock your computer (same as calling up Task Manager and locking from there)
[Windows]+M will minimize all windows at once
In IE, Alt-D will highlight the web address (similar to ^L, but without separate dialog box)

by Anonymous on 24. July 2008 - 4:38  (4856)

After you lock it with [Window]+L, what unlocks it--repeating the same command?

by Anonymous on 18. March 2009 - 17:44  (18123)

Presumably you found the answer since, but for others stumbling on this later, you would unlock the screen with Ctrl-Alt-Del.

by Anonymous on 25. July 2009 - 23:44  (25764)

On my computer I had to type in my Windows Logon password.

by Anonymous on 10. October 2008 - 9:21  (8998)

It can never be unlocked.

by Anonymous on 20. July 2008 - 14:56  (4582)

I love [Windows]+E to open windows Explorer and [Windows]+D to immediately minimize all open windows so I can access the desktop.

by Anonymous on 20. July 2008 - 14:19  (4578)

I like holding down CTRL when I click on a hyperlink. It opens the link in another tab.

by Anonymous on 11. July 2008 - 1:29  (4031)

Some of my favorites haven't been mentioned.

1) The one I use the most is ^L This opens the location (or address bar) in Firefox and Internet Explorer. Way faster and easier than clicking on it

note: it is a little strange in IE, it brings up a small separate box, but type and press enter and it works the same.

2) This is a side note to a previous entry. ^T doesn't move to the right on the tabs in Firefox. It opens a new tab. Which is extremely handy when a sudden idea come to you!

by Anonymous on 21. August 2008 - 0:52  (6357)

^L opens the speed dial in OPERA.

I use the "ALT" + "SPACEBAR" key combo constantly to open the file menu for any window. From there I usually hit the "C" key to quickly close that window. Or "N" to miNimize or "X" to maXimize it. Use the ALT SHIFT C keys in quick succession and BANG - your window is gone!

Usually the combination happens so fast (when used for troubleshooting someone else's PC and I want to close some windows) that I get asked a lot - what just happened- how did you do that so fast?

I also use ALT + TAB to cycle thru all open windows.

One keyboard shortcut that I rarely see documented is only for Excel. (maybe Microsoft Money too) To quickly enter the date in a cell, hit ^: (control plus colon)


by Anonymous on 20. July 2008 - 10:59  (4569)

The Function keys also have a lot of built in short cuts for IE and Firefox:

F1 Help pane (IE)/Mozilla support (Firefox)
F3 Find
F5 Refresh current page
F6 Highlights entire web address (in the same way as Ctrl L)
F7 Turns on something called Caret Browsing in Firefox (not played with it yet so no idea what it does), does nothing in IE

by Snork on 18. June 2008 - 1:29  (2284)

For some reason I didn't see either of these mentioned on the Microsoft link:

1. Ctrl+Shift+Esc = Task Manager (possibly only on service-based versions of Windows)

2. Alt+Enter can also be used to toggle a DOS window between window and fullscreen view

While not a "Windows keyboard shortcut", I also like to use Ctrl+W to close the current browser tab in FireFox (not sure if this works in IE7 as well).

by Anonymous on 22. July 2008 - 17:44  (4765)

Ctrl+W does indeed work with IE7 Snork - thanks for posting that!

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