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Type Conventions

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

For the reader of any printed materials concerning computers, it is helpful to understand the concept of type conventions. Some publications use pictograms in order to more easily impart to readers which keys to press or where to click their mouse. This is a luxury I do not have writing for the newspaper, and so I have to rely on some commonly accepted type conventions.

Type conventions will vary from book to magazine to newspaper, but are always somewhat similar. In many technical books will be found an explanation appearing near the front of the book, so as to tell you what to look for.

Keys on the keyboard are presented here enclosed in brackets, such as [Enter] or [Backspace]. Sometimes it is necessary to fudge a bit as in [Up], [Down], [Right], and [Left] which on the keyboard actually have little arrows, but you know what I mean. Likewise, [Space] or [Spacebar] does not actually have that name printed anywhere on it, but it is that big wide key below the letters on the keyboard.

When two or more keys are enclosed in the same bracket, such as [Shift F7] or [Shift+F7], this is called a combination key or combined keystroke. The significance of this is that the first key should be pressed and held while pressing once on the second key before releasing both. [Shift F7] means to press and hold the [Shift] key and, while continuing to hold the [Shift] key down, press one time only on the [F7] key before letting go of both.

The names of menus and dialog boxes are usually enclosed in double quotes such as “Download”. Even though this is not grammatically correct, in technical literature it is accepted that the punctuation is placed outside the double quotes as in the preceding sentence.

The slash key [/] is used to separate mouse clicks. When you see written: “click on Start/Programs/Accessories”, this means to click first on “Start” then click next on “Programs” then next on “Accessories”. Other writers prefer to use angle brackets: Start > Programs > Accessories. The vertical bar, also called a “pipe” is sometimes used for this same purpose, such as Start | Programs | Accessories. On most keyboards, the pipe is located on the same key with the backslash.

An aside here is to note that what we today call the forward slash [/] actually has some other well-established historical names (stroke, solidus, virgule, tick, whack, and oblique dash). The name “backslash” probably originated with the advent of computers, because calling it by one of its correct name such as “reverse-solidus” provoked too many blank stares.

While reading the instructions for your new software program, should you encounter a name enclosed in slashes such as /Options\ it is a safe bet the author was trying to communicate that you should look for a tab with the name “Options” in a dialog box. The slash and backslash enclosure is supposed to look somewhat like a file tab.

Parentheses are used as they are normally used to enclose information that clarifies or is inserted as an aside. Curly braces are used as in mathematics to delimit {sets} or to show {optional} choices.

Finally, when you read the word “click” this always assumes the left mouse button while “right-click” is obviously the right mouse button. Double-click means to click twice on the same item using a very fast cadence. Any user who has trouble doing a double-click needs to know that clicking on an object once with the mouse followed by pressing [Enter] on the keyboard is usually the same as a double-click of the mouse.

Congratulations! Now you know some of the secrets for how to read not only this column but all those computer books out there.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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