Saving Development Time With Keyboard Shortcuts

I admit it—I’m a keyboard shortcut fanatic! Not that I have anything against the mouse, but I know that keyboard shortcuts save me time, and that helps me get more done at a reasonable cost for my clients. Most people never move beyond the basics: save, cut, copy, paste, and undo. But there are so many more shortcuts for the tasks that you perform over and over again. Here are some tips for saving development time with keyboard shortcuts.

1. Find existing shortcuts.

Most software is already set up with shortcuts for the most common functions—you just may not know about them. If you hover over a button, the tooltip will usually tell you what the shortcut is, if there is one. For example, in PowerPoint, New Slide is Ctrl + M.

You can also check the software’s help documentation for a list of keyboard shortcuts. Check out the Lectora page and Captivate page on our website for printable lists of keyboards shortcuts. (Not sure why we don’t have one for Articulate Studio—we’ll have to get on that!)

2. Use the Alt commands found in most software.

When you press the Alt key in most software, letters and numbers appear on the tabs and buttons. You then type those letters and numbers to execute the command. (You don’t have to keep the Alt key pressed, like you would with Ctrl or Shift for most other shortcuts). Almost every function can be accessed this way in many software packages. Some of them are easy to use and remember, such as Alt + N + X to insert a text box in PowerPoint. But some of them aren’t worth it, like Alt + JD + AA + L for Align Left. Even a shortcut junkie like me has to draw the line somewhere!

3. Make your own shortcuts, if possible.

Some software applications, such as Word and Lectora let you create your own keyboard shortcuts for just about any command in the system. In my opinion, I think more software applications should include this feature. In whatever software you are using, hunt around to see if you can find a way to make your own. It is often found in Preferences or Options.

If you are in software that doesn’t let you create your own shortcuts but does let you customize the Quick Access toolbar, you can use Alt keys for whatever you put on the Quick Access toolbar. So now, for me, Align Left is Alt + 3 + L, Align Center is Alt + 3 + C, etc.

4. Learn/make a few at a time.

Keyboard shortcuts don’t save time if you have to look them up to use them! And it isn’t very effective to just try to memorize a big list. So when you are working on a task, think about a function that you are using over and over. Find/make a shortcut for that one task, and use it relentlessly for the rest of the day. After that, you’ll own it. For example, I was recently writing up feedback in Excel for an online course. I realized how often I have to add a row in the middle of the spreadsheet. So I set up a tool on the Quick Access toolbar, and now Insert Row is Alt + 2.

As an added bonus, here are three of my favorite little-known shortcuts.

  • Shift + Ctrl + right arrow: This command selects the whole word to the right of the cursor. When I’m writing our computer books or doing systems training for clients, I have to bold the names of the features of the software. With this shortcut and Ctrl + B for bold (see, I just used it), I can do my formatting a lot more quickly.
  • Ctrl + Y or F4: Many of you know these commands as Redo—meaning if you’ve undone something, you can undo the undo. But it also means “do it again” in some software. So if I change the line spacing in a storyboard document to have 6 points below the paragraph. I can go to another paragraph, press Ctrl + Y, and do the same thing to that paragraph.
  • Ctrl + Shift + C or V: You may know Ctrl + C for copy and Ctrl + V for paste. When you add a Shift to it, it becomes copy and paste formatting. So if I have a shape in PowerPoint that has a blue gradient with a drop shadow, I select the first shape and press Ctrl + Shift + C. Then select the second shape and press Ctrl + Shift + V, and it is formatted like the first. It is a lot like using Format Painter. The advantage is that you can use it as often as you want, whenever you want. With Format Painter, I can only use it while the brush tool is live. But once I’ve copied formatting, I can paste it somewhere right then and then again 5 minutes later.

What are your favorite shortcuts?

Diane Elkins
Diane Elkins is the co-owner of E-Learning Uncovered, as well as Artisan E-Learning, a custom eLearning development company specializing in the use of Storyline, Captivate, and Lectora. Diane has been in the eLearning industry since 2001, speaks regularly at national conferences about eLearning, and is co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series.

8 Responses to “Saving Development Time With Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Lnardolillo
    12 years ago

    I am starting to use Captivate and was very interested to see the list of keyboard shortcuts you said were on your Captivate page. However, after spending several minutes (and using the search box), I was unable to find the keyboard shortcut info. Can you tell me if I was searching in vain, or just searching poorly? Thanks.

  • Lnardolillo
    12 years ago

    Ok. I kept looking after I made the comment, and I swear the link to Shortcuts, Menus, and Toolbars for PCs under Reference Guides, went to some other page the first time I clicked it. I have it now. I guess I was searching poorly, or perhaps, hastily. Great resources. Thanks.

  • Anonymous
    12 years ago

    I’ve always been a fan of Shift+F3 to toggle through capitalization options. Any time you accidentally hit the caps lock key, this saves you from retyping it (at least in Microsoft Office). I was recently in a meeting where the Flash developers were complaining about having to manually put everything into title case when they built courses. That shortcut is going to save them a ton of time when they move from storyboards to Flash.

    For Captivate, I found this list of shortcuts by Lieve Weymeis helpful. I use Ctrl+L to move the start of an object on the timeline all the time.

  • Regarding “some of them aren’t worth it, like Alt + JD + AA + L for Align Left”, in Word and PPT it is just Ctrl+L, E, and R for left, center, and right.

    A global tip: Windows, by foolish default, disables the underscored menu letter until you press Alt. A detailed examination of eye+hand movement will demonstrate that is quite inefficient. The tip is to change the setting to show the underlined key at all times. (Don’t get me started on hiding file extensions by default.)

    And another global tip: A rule of thumb is Alt+key for the top menu item, then just single keys from there, until a dialog box pops up. Inside dialogs there are lots more tips that are beyond the scope of this writing.

    • Ctrl+L etc are just to align text, not objects. So for object alignment, the “shortcut” remains either Alt JD AA L (or, if you customise the toolbar, something like Alt 3 L).

  • Just recently I found how to customise Storyline’s toolbar, as you mentioned in your point #3. So now, I LOVE being able to distribute selected objects horizontally by just pressing Alt 3 H, or aligning all of their tops by pressing Alt 3 T, etc. That’s so much quicker than tracking up and down to the ribbon with the mouse!

    Here are a couple more shortcuts I find handy:

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