Keyboard shortcuts are typically a means for invoking one or more commands using the keyboard that would otherwise be accessible only through a menu, a pointing device, different levels of a user interface, or via a command-line interface. Keyboard shortcuts are generally used to expedite common operations by reducing input sequences to a few keystrokes, hence the term “shortcut”.
To differentiate from general keyboard input, most keyboard shortcuts require the user to press and hold several keys simultaneously or a sequence of keys one after the other. Unmodified key presses are sometimes accepted when the keyboard is not used for general input – such as with graphics packages e.g. Adobe Photoshop or IBM Lotus Freelance Graphics. Other keyboard shortcuts use function keys that are dedicated for use in shortcuts and may only require a single keypress. For simultaneous keyboard shortcuts, one usually first holds down the modifier key(s), then quickly presses and releases the regular (non-modifier) key, and finally releases the modifier key(s). This distinction is important, as trying to press all the keys simultaneously will frequently either miss some of the modifier keys, or cause unwanted auto-repeat. Sequential shortcuts usually involve pressing and releasing a dedicated prefix key, such as the Esc key, followed by one or more keystrokes.
Mnemonics are distinguishable from keyboard shortcuts. One difference between them is that the keyboard shortcuts are not localized on multi-language software but the mnemonics are generally localized to reflect the symbols and letters used in the specific locale. In most GUIs, a program’s keyboard shortcuts are discoverable by browsing the program’s menus – the shortcut is indicated next to the menu choice. There are keyboards that have the shortcuts for a particular application already marked on them. These keyboards are often used for editing video, audio, or graphics, as well as in software training courses. There are also stickers with shortcuts printed on them that can be applied to a regular keyboard. Reference cards intended to be propped up in the user’s workspace also exist for many applications. In the past, when keyboard design was more standardized, it was common for computer books and magazines to print cards that were cut out, intended to be placed over the user’s keyboard with the printed shortcuts noted next to the appropriate keys.