I'm writing a guide to give step-by-step instructions to complete some tasks on the computer. At some points, I need to indicate pressing keys on the keyboard; how may I format the letter/symbol to best indicate them as keys?

  • 1) What program are you using? 2) What format will the final product be in? If it's a PDF, you can just find a keyboard font or some other dingbat font which will produce a letter which is visibly a key and not just "a letter." – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Oct 22 '15 at 11:51
  • xahlee.info/comp/unicode_computing_symbols.html some unicode symbols related to keyboards such as ↵ ⌘ ⇧ ↹ – Petit Lama Oct 22 '15 at 12:06
  • @LaurenIpsum Since I did not find tags for any programs, I thought it inappropriate for this SE. I'm using LibreOffice Writer, but will probably find the appropriate alternative if provided Microsoft Word instructions. – Oxwivi Oct 22 '15 at 13:15
  • @PetitLama I'm somewhat aware of them, but likely to cause more confusion if used for keys other than command keys for each OS. – Oxwivi Oct 22 '15 at 13:16

I am assuming that your organization does not have an official style guide, or that this is a personal project. (If you are bound by a style guide, consult it.) I am also assuming that you aren't using a semantic markup already; if you're using a DTD/schema/tool/markdown that already has a notion of "keyboard input", you'd use that unless there's a good reason not to.

The Microsoft Style Guide is a common choice for software companies in my experience. This guide (4th edition, p 91) calls for capitalizing key names but not otherwise formatting them. It gives a list of "official" names of special keys. Keys that are used together are joined with '+'. Correct example according to this guide: Ctrl+Shift+?.

Some companies add bold face to this, e.g. Ctrl+Shift+?. In my experience this is especially common if the documentation also refers to UI elements like menu names. I think the reasoning is that "user-entered stuff" should look the same whether it's Ctrl+Z or File->Open.

I have sometimes seen a hyphen used in place of '+': Ctrl-Z, for example. I don't know the origin of this style.

I recommend against using a fixed-width font. In technical writing this style is usually reserved for console output, code, code elements like function names, and sometimes environment variables -- things you would expect to see in a terminal window, error log, or editor window, in other words.

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  • Currently I'm using capitalized fixed-width. I asked with the intention of learning specific key formatting to the the effect of SE's <kbd>, but might as well stick to my current style or change as per your recommendations. – Oxwivi Oct 22 '15 at 16:06
  • You make a good point about <kbd> --if the syntax you're using abstracts this away already, you'd follow that. I'll make a small edit to this. – Monica Cellio Oct 22 '15 at 16:09
  • Guess I'll look up if the current style does have similar syntax. Otherwise, it will be as I last commented. – Oxwivi Oct 22 '15 at 16:50

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