Inserting symbols (Word 2007 and Word 2003)

June 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm 1 comment

In Word 2007 and Word 2003 (and most other recent versions of the program), you can insert symbols via the Symbol dialog or by using keyboard shortcuts (if you know the existing shortcuts for certain symbols or if you have created your own key combinations).

The Symbol Dialog

Most people open the Symbol dialog in Word 2007 by navigating to the Insert tab, Symbols group, clicking the Symbols drop-down (which opens the Most Recently Used — or MRU — symbols list), and then clicking More Symbols. However, if you want to bypass the MRU list, simply press Alt I, S to launch the Symbol dialog. (In earlier versions, you can click the Insert menu, Symbols or press Alt I, S.)

The Special Characters Tab of the Symbol Dialog

The dialog box has two tabs: Symbols and Special Characters. Special Characters are symbols that Microsoft has singled out — presumably because they are commonly used. They include, among others, em dashes, en dashes, non-breaking hyphens, non-breaking spaces, the copyright symbol, the paragraph symbol, and the section sign. For unknown reasons, Microsoft has assigned keyboard shortcuts to some, but not all, of these characters.

You can insert a Special Character directly from the dialog box by double-clicking it or by clicking to highlight it and then either pressing Alt I or clicking the Insert button (and then, if you are finished inserting symbols, clicking Close to dismiss the dialog). If a keyboard shortcut exists for the symbol, you can close the dialog and use the keystrokes to insert it into your document.

Creating a Keyboard Shortcut for a Special Character or Other Symbol

If a keyboard shortcut doesn’t exist, it’s fairly simple to add one. Just click to highlight the character, then click the Shortcut Key button at the bottom of the dialog. The Customize Keyboard dialog should open, with the cursor already positioned in the “Press new shortcut key” box. Go ahead and type/press the keys you wish to use as your shortcut, such as Alt P for the paragraph symbol or Alt S for the section sign. If that key combination is already in use, the dialog will display the feature that uses the shortcut. You can override the existing key assignment merely by clicking the Assign button, or you can select a different key combination.

Once you have set up your keyboard shortcut, click Close twice to exit the Symbol dialog.

Note that this method also works for characters that are available from the Symbols tab.

The Symbols Tab of the Symbol Dialog

As in WordPerfect, you can select from various symbol sets. In Word 2007, the drop-down you use to change the symbol sets, which you can find at the top of the Symbols tab, is labeled “Font.” The first symbol set is called “(normal text)”; the rest are in alphabetical order. Note that if you have a recent version of WordPerfect on your system, you will have access to a number of WordPerfect symbol sets, possibly including ones that contain iconic, mathematical, and multinational characters.

When you locate a symbol you want to insert, just click it and press Alt I or click the Insert button on the dialog.

Using the Numeric Keypad

As with WordPerfect, you have an additional option for inserting commonly used symbols into your Word document: the Numeric Keypad. For instance, to insert a section sign (§), press the Num Lock button to turn Number Lock on, then depress the Alt key. With the Alt key depressed, press and release the number 2 on the numeric keypad, then press and release the number 1, then release the Alt key. To insert a paragraph symbol (¶), turn on Number Lock and depress the Alt key, press and release the number 2 on the numeric keypad, press and release the number 0 (zero), then release the Alt key.

Quickly Inserting the Copyright Symbol

In Word — all recent versions — Ctrl Alt C inserts the copyright symbol. Easy-peasy!

Most Recently Used Symbols

As noted above, in Word 2007, when you go to the Insert tab, Symbols group, and click the Symbol drop-down, the Most Recently Used (MRU) symbols list appears. The list contains 20 symbols. When you first use the program, the drop-down is populated with symbols chosen by Microsoft, but the list updates to reflect your own choices once you begin inserting symbols into your documents.

Make sure to position your cursor where you want the symbol to appear before invoking the MRU list (or the Symbol dialog, for that matter). Then simply click the character in the list in order to insert it at the cursor location.

In earlier versions of Word, there is no separate MRU list apart from the one that appears in a single row toward the bottom of the Symbol dialog. If you widen the dialog by dragging the lower left-hand corner, the row containing the recently-used symbols expands. On my test machine (using Word 2003), with the dialog box at the maximum width, the recently-used row consists of 36 symbols.

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