Inserting Symbols and Special Characters

Often, you'll want to use characters other than those shown on a standard keyboard. In some cases, you'll need foreign language characters such as é or n~. In other cases, you may need special characters, such as the section character §, which is often used in legal documents. In still other cases, you may want to use special-purpose symbols, such as the No Smoking icon available on Microsoft's free Webdings font. Finally, you may want to use symbols as decoration to spruce up newsletters and other documents. In the next few sections, you'll learn how to access symbols like these and use them most effectively.

Working with Symbols

Chapter 13 discusses how you can use WordArt to transform ordinary text into attractive artwork. But often you can achieve surprisingly attractive results simply by using characters in the fonts already installed on your computer.

Sometimes it's the small touches that make the difference?like settling on a "slug" that you'll use at the end of every article. Slugs, as shown in Figure 16.5, tell the reader that the article ends here?and if you pick the right one, they also add a touch of attractiveness and professionalism.

Figure 16.5. Using a symbol as a slug.


Word's tool for accessing symbols and other special characters is the Symbol dialog box. In addition to selecting symbols and other characters one at a time, the Symbol dialog box also enables you to set up various shortcuts for characters you use often. Follow these steps to insert a symbol:

  1. Place your insertion point where you want the special character to appear.

  2. Choose Insert, Symbol. The Symbol dialog box opens (see Figure 16.6).

    Figure 16.6. The Symbol dialog box shows you characters from the font you've selected.


  3. If you want to display only a portion of the characters available to you?to locate the character you need more quickly?click the Subset drop-down box, and choose the subset of characters you want to view.

  4. To select a character or special symbol from a different font, click the arrow next to the Font text box and choose a font from the drop-down list.

  5. When you're ready to insert a character, select it and click Insert. The Symbol dialog box remains open in case you want to enter more characters (however, the Cancel button changes to read Close).

  6. When you finish working in the Symbol dialog box, click the Close button (or Cancel button if you did not insert any characters).


If you know a symbol's character code, you can select that symbol by entering the code in the Character Code text box in the Symbol dialog box.

By default, Word expects character codes to be numbered using the international Unicode standard. However, many longtime Windows users have become familiar with the character code numbering displayed in the ASCII decimal format. (The ASCII character set has 255 characters, numbered from 0 to 255.)

To enter a character code in the ASCII decimal format, choose ASCII (decimal) from the From drop-down box at the lower right of the Symbol dialog box; then enter the code in the Character Code text box.

To learn how to create a keyboard shortcut for symbols you reuse often, see "Creating a Keyboard Shortcut for a Symbol or Special Character," p. 568.

In Word 2003, the Symbol dialog box contains a row of Recently Used Symbols that makes it easier for you to select symbols you've used before. When you use Word for the first time, the Recently Used Symbols row displays commonly used symbols, such as the Euro and other currency symbols, copyright, trademark, and math symbols.


When you know you'll need to insert characters in a document, just select and insert all of them at the very beginning. Even if you have to move them later, it's easier to cut and paste characters from a specific part of your document than to reopen and relocate characters in the Symbol dialog box every time you need one.

Working with Special Characters

Traditionally, typographers have improved the look of documents by turning to some characters that do not appear on typewriter keyboards, such as copyright and registered trademark symbols, em dashes (?), and en dashes (?). By default, Word's AutoFormat As You Type feature adds many of these characters automatically.

For more information about AutoFormat As You Type, see Chapter 9, "Automating Your Documents," p. 287.

Sometimes, however, you may need to add characters such as these directly. To do so, choose Insert, Symbol and click the Special Characters tab (see Figure 16.7).

Figure 16.7. Entering a special character through the Special Characters tab of the Symbol dialog box.


This dialog box contains a long list of special characters, along with their names and any shortcut keys they've been set up with. If you see the symbol you want in this list, simply select it and click Insert (you can also just double-click it).

Creating an AutoCorrect Shortcut for a Symbol or Special Character

As discussed in Chapter 9, Word allows you to create AutoCorrect entries that allow you to automatically substitute one block of text for another. For example, you can create an AutoCorrect entry that automatically inserts a lengthy paragraph of contract language whenever you type a few characters to invoke it.

You can also use AutoCorrect to insert symbols in place of ordinary text?thereby avoiding the need to open the Symbol dialog box. Word 2003 makes it easy to create new shortcuts of this nature. From within the Symbol dialog box, select the symbol character you want to create a shortcut for; then click AutoCorrect.

The AutoCorrect dialog box opens, with the symbol already appearing in the With text box. In the Replace text box, enter the text you want Word to replace with your symbol. For example, if you want Word to enter the Greek symbol omega (), you might use the text "omega." Better yet, use a slight variation, such as "omegas," so Word doesn't enter the symbol when you intend to type the word omega instead.

Creating a Keyboard Shortcut for a Symbol or Special Character

Several special characters have keyboard shortcuts assigned to them. It pays to become familiar with these keyboard shortcuts?they can save you a lot of time.

However, many special characters don't have keyboard shortcuts?and neither do symbols you entered in the Symbols tab. If you expect to make extensive use of one of these characters, it might be a good idea to create a custom keyboard shortcut for it. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Insert, Symbol.

  2. Locate and select the character in either the Symbols or Special Characters tab.

  3. Click Shortcut Key. The Customize Keyboard dialog box opens (see Figure 16.8).

    Figure 16.8. Assigning a shortcut key to a symbol or special character.


  4. Press the shortcut key combination you want to use. If that combination is already assigned, Word tells you so. If this happens, the best solution is to try another combination.

  5. When you've chosen a combination you want to use, click Assign.

  6. Click Close twice (once for the Customize Keyboard dialog box and once for the Symbol dialog box).

After you've created the shortcut key, you can insert the corresponding symbol at any time, by clicking where you want it to appear and then pressing the shortcut key.


If you've created several keyboard shortcuts for commonly used symbols, you might want to print a list of them. To do so, choose File, Print; then choose Key Assignments from the Print What drop-down box, and click OK.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word