15 Keyboard Shortcuts Everyone Should Know

by Chris Hoffman ; Updated October 17, 2017

How important are keyboard shortcuts? Can’t you simply use a mouse for everything? Shortcuts are called that for a reason — they save time. And since most people seem completely unaware of most of the best time-saving shortcuts on the PC, I’ve rounded up the best ones for you today.

Ctrl+F for Find

Let’s start with one of the most useful keyboard shortcuts of all: Ctrl+F. A few of you out there are now rolling your eyes, but you shouldn’t be — a Google employee has data showing 90 percent of people never use the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut.

Press Ctrl+F in almost any application — your Web browser, for example — and you can start typing to find text in the page or document. Yes, most of the people appear to simply skim webpages to find what they’re looking for just as they would on a paper document, rather than using the far more efficient search.

Ctrl-F is for more than just browsers, though. I’ve even seen it work in applications that don’t expose a “Find” option in their menus — it’s like a secret keyboard shortcut that can get you straight to an application’s search function, whether it appears to have one. (Mac users use the Command key instead of the Ctrl key.)

The Ctrl-F find dialog on Google Chrome

Basic Navigation

Alt+Tab should be a pretty well known keyboard shortcut by now, but did you know that you can use Ctrl+Tab to cycle between open tabs in your browser? Ctrl+Shift+Tab cycles in reverse. This is basically an Alt+Tab for Web browsers or other applications with tab-based interfaces.

Speaking of browser tabs, you can press Ctrl+T to quickly open a new one — this focuses the address bar, so you can immediately start typing a search or web address. To focus the address bar on your current tab, press Ctrl+L. To close the current tab, press Ctrl+W. (Mac users use Command instead of Ctrl for most of these shortcuts, although Ctrl+Tab is the same on a Mac.)

Copy, Cut, and Paste Text

Don’t forget that Ctrl+C for copy, Ctrl+X for Cut, and Ctrl+V for Paste are critical shortcuts for working with selected text. It’s much faster to select some text with your mouse, press Ctrl+X, click somewhere in a document, and then press Ctrl+V than it is to click the Cut and Paste menus with your mouse.

These are also considered fairly basic keyboard shortcuts, but I’ve seen people use Microsoft Office entirely with the mouse, using the keyboard only to type words and reaching for the mouse whenever they wanted to copy or paste text. That just takes longer.

Many useful keyboard shortcuts make it easier to work with text — another one is Ctrl+Z, which is “undo.” It undoes the last change, allowing you to quickly revert a change without reaching for the mouse.

computer keyboard

Quickly Move Between Words

The arrow keys allow you to move the cursor around a field of text — that’s Desktop Computing 101. But did you know that the Ctrl key can speed this up dramatically? For example, you can hold Ctrl and tap the left arrow once to go to the beginning of the previous word. Tap it multiple times to quickly move back from word to word, or tap the forward key to go to the next word.

This allows you to move your cursor much more quickly, so you don’t need to hold down the arrow key, wait for the cursor to scroll through all the digits, and try to release it at the correct time. Ctrl works similarly with the Up and Down arrow keys, quickly moving your cursor from paragraph to paragraph.

Select Text

Hold the Shift key while using other arrow keys to select text. For example, you can hold Shift and press the left arrow three times to select the previous three characters. Or, you can press Shift+Ctrl+Left to quickly select the previous word, tapping the left arrow to select more words. This also works with the up and down arrow keys, allowing you to select multiple lines quickly.

Once you have text selected, you can copy or cut it with the keyboard shortcuts above. With these shortcuts, you can write and edit a document or email directly from your keyboard, keeping your hands on your keyboard for maximum typing speed — no need to move a hand over to the mouse. And, while we’re at it, Ctrl+A will select all the text in the current document or text field.

This isn’t a complete list — far from it. If you want to do something, there’s a good chance the software you use includes a keyboard shortcut for doing it. Look up the keyboard shortcuts that will benefit you most so you can save time and get things done faster!

Photo Credits: Andrew_Writer on Flickr, Google, Loenid Mamchenkov on Flickr

About the Author

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around tech geek who writes for PC World, MakeUseOf, and How-To Geek. He's been using Windows since Windows 3.1 was released in 1992.