I'm writing an app that allows the user to open up a window when they put in a shortcut key.

I have this feature working but I would like to know what shortcut key combination would be best. I obviously don't want to pick something like Ctrl-C as I want the user to be able to use the program without having to Copy to clipboard each time.

At the moment, I've made Ctrl-Alt-R which I think is obscure enough. The only other program I've seen use this is VS2010 which loads up some non-useful page.

Is there some sort of etiquette when it comes to assigning global shortcut keys?

EDIT - Hi guys, to clarify, yes it's a GLOBAL shortcut designed to be used when the program is not in focus. And the program doesn't make much sense without it. It's a language dictionary/flash card program that runs on the task bar, when the user presses the shortcut, it's supposed to search the dictionary and add the highlighted word to their flash card collection.

Therefore, things like Ctrl-T or anything that is commonly used is not going to be good as I don't want them opening up my program when they want to open up a new tab.

  • 2
    Are you talking about a global keyboard shortcut? No, you don't want one of those.
    – Cody Gray
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 10:11
  • If you have decided on Ctrl + Alt + Key, you might as well pick a key that makes sense from a semantic point of view. I.e. Ctrl + t stands for new tab, Ctrl + n for new document, so pick a letter than makes sense in your application, for example Ctrl + Alt + d for dictionary (after you have ensured, no major software commonly uses that).
    – kontur
    Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 11:35

5 Answers 5


The best way is to not force someone to use anything.

Keep a configuration file and allow your application's users to tailor keyboard shortcuts to their liking.

If you don't want to implement that however, go with standard conventions. For example, opening a new tab is usually Ctrl+T (DakotahNorth's right - Ctrl+N is standard for new window).

  • 1
    lol - a great idea until the user sets it to Ctrl+C and desktop support techs TP your house for allowing the user to override an O/S standard key mapping. ;-)
    – Steven A. Lowe
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 5:27
  • Meh, it's done in the *nix world all the time :) Although I'm sure that if you're using a *nix variant, one could assume that you know what you're doing enough to either not remap O/S standard keys, or at least know of alternatives :) Commented May 22, 2011 at 5:56
  • @Demian note the 'windows' tag on the question
    – Steven A. Lowe
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 7:24
  • @Steven: True, but I have seen Windows applications that employ the same principles. Commented May 22, 2011 at 7:55
  • The user will be able to change it, but there needs to be a default shortcut key for them.
    – RoboShop
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 12:35

Consider using Ctrl-N.

For example, both chrome and explorer use Ctrl-N to open up a new browser window.

  • 2
    yes, Ctrl+N for New Window - existing precedent
    – Steven A. Lowe
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 5:26
  • Blech, I was thinking Ctrl+T for standard new tab.. I'm dumb :P +1 Commented May 22, 2011 at 5:54
  • 2
    Problem is that RoboShop seems to be talking about a global shortcut, so if he used e.g. Ctrl+N, you would never be able to open a new window in Chrome or IE because hitting Ctrl+N would be hijacked by his program.
    – Carson63000
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 6:04
  • If this is a global shortcut ... then Ctrl-Shift-N or Ctrl-Alt-N add a more global aspect to the shortcut but preserve using N.
    – DakotahNorth
    Commented May 22, 2011 at 12:18

How about the function keys? F10/11/12 could do the trick. Or maybe one of these with ctrl.


I've read somewhere that Microsoft used Ctrl-Alt-Del for "attention please" because literally all other key combinations had been used by somebody already. Before that it triggered a reboot.

If Microsoft cannot find an global unused key combination not interfering with somebody elses program, you probably cannot either.

Make it configurable what key-combination to use. Perhaps even reconsider if you need this to be triggered by a key-combination at all...

  • I'm pretty sure it's because, by OS design, no program can interfere with the function of Ctrl-Alt-Del, so it's a good place to bring up a menu which has reboot, task manager, etc.
    – Nathan
    Commented Sep 23, 2011 at 7:56
  • That is how it has been implemented in NT-kernels onwards. In plain DOS the machine just reboots. Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 12:40

Your application could benefit from having a right click context menu with an option to search within your application as highlighting a word is mostly done with a mouse. Therefore, relying on the users to remember some complex shortcut that is used occasionally does not sound like a good user experience.

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