Keystrokes, Part 1

Have you ever noticed how many keystroke combinations are common across multiple programs? There’s something to be said for Microsoft taking the lead in setting standards. Here are some I use. They are written in the form of key hyphen key (and so forth if more than two keys are involved). This means hold down the first key, press the second key, and let them both up.

For many people who do a lot of typing, stopping to grab the mouse is a speed bump. Others don’t care. I’m no typist, yet I find keystrokes convenient. Perhaps that’s because I started with DOS word processors, especially WordStar 5.0, that revolved around them.

This tip will be about these three and associated information:


Think of those three as a set: copy, paste, cut. They’re used in pairs, either copy then paste, or cut then paste. Why isn’t pasting Ctrl-P? Because that is traditionally the shortcut for printing, so something not mnemonic had to be used.

One of the services provided by Windows that back in DOS a program would have to do itself is the clipboard, which keeps getting fancier. Ctrl-C tags the selected item as being on the clipboard, meaning it is available to paste, but leaves the original intact.

Ctrl-X tags the selected item as being on the clipboard, but to be removed from the old location once it is pasted. If you press Ctrl-X and mean Ctrl-C, pressing Ctrl-C changes the status from cut to copy, no harm done.

Ctrl-V puts whatever is on the clipboard into the selected spot. These keystrokes work most places throughout Windows, and in many Windows programs, not just Microsoft programs such as Word, Excel, etc. There are some odd locations where you can copy or paste, but only by right-clicking the mouse and choosing from the popup menu.

The clipboard holds various formats. If you copy one format and the place you try to paste doesn’t take that format, it won’t work. For instance, if you copy a picture and try to paste into Windows Notepad, no dice.

If you press the Print Scrn (print screen) button on your keyboard, most of the time in Windows that serves to copy the entire image of the screen, which can then be pasted somewhere that supports graphics. You can test this by pressing Print Scrn and then pressing Ctrl-V in a new Word or Wordpad document.

If a dialog box is up, or a window of a specific program is up and at the forefront (known as having “focus”), you can copy that alone by using Alt-Print Scrn. Some windows are evasive and don’t allow it, but usually it work.

I only recently found out myself that if an error message is on the screen and has focus, pressing Ctrl-C should put the text of the error on the clipboard, where you can paste it into Word, Notepad, an e-mail, or whatever. That’s great for conveying information about a problem to make troubleshooting it easier.

Once something is copied to the clipboard, until it is replaced by something else, or explicitly cleared by a program, you can paste it repeatedly.

Formats from the clipboard can be flexible. That’s what the “paste special” menu option is about in some programs. I don’t use “paste special” a lot, and of course this is tangential to the topic of keystrokes, but it can make a big difference. I use it when pasting from an Access database to an Excel spreadsheet, choosing paste as text to make the data go into the respective columns and be usable.

While this set out to talk about keystrokes, you should be aware that Microsoft, especially starting with Windows 95, tried to provide and encourage others to provide multiple ways to do things. They called Windows 95 “explorable” in keeping with that concept. Thus for copy, cut, paste, and other commands, you may find them in keystrokes (aka shortcut keys), on the menu (Edit, Copy; Edit, Paste), on toolbar buttons, or in context menus, which are the menus that popup when you right-click (or, more correctly, inverse-click, since the mouse buttons can be switched if you are left handed). The idea is to be able to pick what’s comfortable and efficient for you.

Copying, cutting and pasting are no longer merely about text and pictures. The same keystrokes and even menu commands apply in Windows to files. For instance, if you save a Word document to your desktop, but didn’t want it there, you might click on it, press Ctrl-X, open the “My Documents” folder, and press Ctrl-V. What in word processing would be cut and paste is, for a file, a move command. Moving can be dangerous, especially across a network, so you might want to copy, then delete the original when you know it worked. I use these commands for files as much as for text and pictures, though for files I also use dragging and dropping a lot. Now there’s something that’s not nearly as “intuitive” as some would have you think. Most of this stuff isn’t intuitive at all; it’s learned, but that’s where common patterns help you extrapolate.

I’ll cover other keystrokes and related topics other days, and perhaps create a quicklist when I’m done. This was going to be that list, but with explanatory text. I got carried away with the details.

(The above was written as a tip for clients and their employees and cross-posted here.)

1 Comment

  1. Clint

    I’m trying to find out if KEYSTROKES and COPY/PASTE register the same for tracking cookies and hackers?

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