How to set up keyboard shortcuts in OS X

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Today I wanted to show you how to create keyboard shortcuts in OS X.

First, the why: Why would you want to create keyboard shortcuts? The first and most obvious reason is that you simply want to be able to invoke a command quickly and easily without mousing through a bunch of menus. One other reason: Poorly designed apps might use one of OS X’s global shortcuts for their own purposes, and you need to resolve such conflicts. Whatever the reason, creating your own keyboard shortcuts for a given app is really simple.

The first step is note the exact spelling and phrasing of the command you want to create a shortcut for. To do so, just open the app, find the menu command, and note the phrasing and spelling. That includes any ellipses (those three little “periods” at the end of the command).

Next, open System Preferences, go to the Keyboard pane, and choose the Shortcuts tab. Select App Shortcuts from the list on the left, then click the little plus button.

In the ensuing dialog, choose the app you want the shortcut to work in from the Application drop-down. Next, in the Menu Title field, type the menu command you want to set the shortcut for. This is where you have to use the exact phrasing and spelling of the command.

One weird little bit of business here: If the menu command includes an ellipsis at the end, you need to include it. In some cases, you can just use three periods. But in other cases, you must use a real, true ellipsis, which is a special character that you insert by pressing Option-semicolon. When in doubt, try Option-semicolon first. If one kind of ellipsis doesn’t work, try the other.

Now click in the Keyboard Shortcut field and press the key combination you want to assign to that menu command. You obviously want to avoid combinations that are already in common use, such as Command-B or Command-C. If you assign a keyboard shortcut that already exists for another command in that app, the new one won’t work. When you’ve typed in your shortcut, click Add.

Now go back to the app for which you created the shortcut and restart it. When you do, the new shortcut should work.

Note that sometimes apps use the same command more than once in their menus. (For example: In Mail, there’s Format > Quote Level > Increase and Format > Indentation > Increase. In those cases, just creating a keyboard shortcut for the command Increase won’t work. But there’s a workaround: In the Menu Title field, type out the full “path” of the command, using a hyphen followed by a right arrow (->) to separate elements of that path. So, for example: Format->Indentation->Increase.

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