We’ll start 2017 with a look at some commonly used characters used in Office but are missing from the standard keyboard. How to insert symbols on a ‘one-off’ basis or insert quickly for more commonly used characters.
Degree mark for temperature. Has no special shortcut but you can make one (see below).
Currency symbols. We have a quick way to enter your choice of currency signs: Sterling, Euro, Yen/Renminbi and more …
The standard way to add a different character is the Insert | Symbol button on the Insert tab.
The initial display of twenty symbols will change as you use Insert | Symbol . In the above example, the Pound and Euro currency symbols, Registered symbol, degree and Trademark symbol have been used.
Those menu icons can be hard to make out. Hover your mouse over a symbol to see a text label.
For occasional use, the Insert | Symbol menu might be enough.
If you need to insert a symbol more often, it’s worthwhile discovering or setting up a faster way to insert.
You can assign a shortcut key to insert a symbol.
Some symbols already have shortcuts, for example the Copyright symbol is Ctrl + Alt + C
To assign a shortcut to another character, choose the symbol from the Insert Symbol dialog then click on the Shortcut Key button.
Click in the ‘Press new shortcut key’ area then type the shortcut you want to use.
Carefully check the ‘Currently assigned to:’ area to see if your shortcut conflicts with something already setup by Office or in a template. It’s prudent to avoid a conflict and use an unallocated shortcut; look for the [unassigned] label.
To make the shortcut ‘global’ for all documents, save the change to ‘Normal.dotm’. Or make the shortcut applicable to certain types of documents by saving the change to a shared template.
Another option for inserting a symbol is AutoCorrect. Type in a special set of characters which Word will automatically convert into the symbol. Some people prefer this because they can keep typing normally without resorting to a multi-press shortcut.
To do this go to Insert | Symbol dialog, choose the symbol then click on AutoCorrect.
The chosen symbol is inserted. You choose to have it as Plain Text or Formatted Text. We prefer Plain Text because the inserted symbol will use the font and style of the existing text.
Type into the Replace box the text you want to trigger the Autocorrect. It can be any text you like but, obviously, don’t use a common word!
Our tip is to use a common prefix like the tilde ~ followed by one or two letters. Or the letters followed by a suffix like ~ . These are combinations that you’d rarely need in regular typing.
For the Plus/Minus symbol we’d use ~pm as the replace text.
You could make your own set of AutoCorrect changes to meet your needs. Here’s some suggestions:
~e or e~ makes the Euro symbol
~s or s~ makes the UK Sterling symbol
~c or c~ makes the Copyright symbol
~r or r~ makes the Registered trademark symbol
~t or t~ makes the Trademark symbol
~y or y~ makes the Yen/Renminbi symbol
Any symbol can be entered from the keyboard if you know the character number.
The Insert | Symbol dialog shows the character number and the applicable shortcut (if there isn’t another shortcut).
For decimal (aka ASCII) character hold down the Alt key while typing the numbers on the separate numeric keypad.
TRAP!: the decimal Alt + shortcut does NOT work with the numbers on the top row of a standard keyboard. The extended numeric keyboard is necessary. Some laptops have a ‘NumLock’ or other method of appears like a numeric keyboard.
For symbols from the larger Unicode symbol set you can use the standard numbers (on the top row of the keyboard) but you have to use Hex (Hexadecimal) values then press Alt + X.
To enter the Plus/Minus character type 00B1 then Alt+X .
We’ve switched to remembering the Unicode values for these shortcuts because they’ll work easily on any keyboard.
Tips and Gripes
Insert Multiple Symbols
Insert Symbol is what developers call a non-modal dialog. That’s great for us mere mortals – it means we can switch between the dialog and document, simply by clicking on the screen.
Open the Insert | Symbol dialog then click in the document area. You can position the cursor to the place you want to insert a symbol. Drag the Symbol dialog around the screen if it’s in front of the document.
Use this to insert symbols in different places without having to reopen the Insert | Symbol box each time.
Many computers don’t have a separate numeric keypad anymore, so the Alt + <decimal value> shortcut isn’t a lot of use. It confuses a lot of people because there’s nothing on the screen to suggest there’s a difference between the two keys. It’s hardly obvious to most people that the numbers on the top row are different to the ones on the side.
The Unicode shortcut isn’t shown on the Insert | Symbol dialog at all, even when you’ve selected Unicode values to display.
The Symbol dialog will show the Unicode name for a symbol. This can be useful to confirm that the tiny symbol on the screen is the one you want.
Unicode contains thousands of characters (128,000 at latest count) but Office has no way to search that name list for the one you want.
How to search for a symbol or character
Instead, search a separate list of Unicode characters like this from Wikipedia.
Use your browser to search (Ctrl + F) for a character (eg ‘diaeresis’ or ‘teleia’) then use the Hex value in Office. The Wikipedia list uses the common U+<value> naming for the hex values. For example U+0387 becomes 0387 + Alt X in Office.
Or enter the Hex value into the Symbol dialog. Make sure you choose ‘Unicode (Hex)’ first, not decimal.
It would be great if the symbol view was larger. Even people with standard vision have trouble seeing those tiny icons.
If only Microsoft knew how to make a larger version of a symbol appear when you click on it .. Oh wait, they do! Check out the Windows Character Map utility, that’s been in Windows for decades.
You can see a larger view of a symbol – just click on the icon.
But wait, there’s more ….
Hover the mouse over a symbol to see a tooltip with the name and Hex value.
AND … click on Advanced View to reveal the Search feature that’s so obviously missing from Microsoft Office.