Keyboard Shortcuts

I spend most of my day sitting in front of a keyboard. I can’t figure out why so few keyboard shortcuts have been standardized. Keyboard shortcuts have the potential to save typing. I say potential because it sometimes take me longer to remember the shortcut than it would to perform the function without the shortcut.

Most application have standardized on CTRL (or Command)-C to copy text to the clipboard, and CTRL (or Command)-V  to paste text from the clipboard. That is where the general consensus ends.

Take cursor movement. I like CTRL-E to go to the end of a line of text, and CTRL-A to go the beginning of a line. This works fine in many text editors. It doesn’t work at all in Microsoft Word. If I want to jump to the end of a line in Word, I have to press SHIFT-HOME. or SHIFT-END. This means that when I want to use the keyboard shortcut to jump to the end of a line, I have to pause to consider what application I am using, and then see if I remember the key combination. The time it takes me to do this is longer than the savings the shortcut provides.

I write these posts in Scrivener. In Scrivener, CTRL-A goes the beginning of the current paragraph, and CTRL-E goes to the end of the current paragraph.

For standard functions, there should be common defaults for keyboard shortcuts. CTRL (or Command)-S should always mean Save just like CTRL-C always means Copy. No one wants to remember a different set of keyboard shortcuts for every application they use. Any yet that is often what happens.

Not everyone would agree on the common defaults. That is why I think they should be the defaults. Every application that allowing typing text into boxes should also provide the ability to alter the default keyboard mappings. If you prefer CTRL-B for beginning of line, remap it! Remap to your heart’s content.

I’d go a step further and say that our keyboard shortcuts should only need to be defined once. You could define your personal mappings, and store them in a service that all applications you use would access. I could set up CTRL-A/E for my beginning/end of line commands. This would get stored in my profile. Opening Word, or Scrivener, or Atom, or BBEdit, or Google Docs—whatever the application may be—would pull these preferences and my keyboard shortcuts would be the same everywhere. What a world that would be!

There should be a rule against keyboard mappings that require more than three keystrokes. I get annoyed every time I see a shortcut that reads SHIFT-CTRL-ALT-K. A shortcut is supposed to be short! If I can do it the task in fewer mouse-clicks it defeats the purpose of a shortcut. Plus, I can never remember which command keys to use. On my Mac, I can never remember if Force Quit is Command-Option-Power, or CTRL-Command-Power, or CTRL-Option-Power.

Keyboard shortcuts should have some mnemonic anchor to their function. In Scrivener, the Bibliography/Citations shortcut is Command-Y. Because the letter Y is what you think of when it comes to citation.

I think there should be penalties applied to applications that don’t use standardized keyboard shortcuts. The penalty would be that the people who make the application aren’t allowed to use keyboard shortcuts. That would fix things quick. Or they’d give up on shortcuts all together and the added labor would be reflected in the price of the software.


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