Copyeditors must be able to deal with text that touches on international finance, mathematics, linguistics, or any other of hundreds of industries, each of which brings its own special characters — sometimes its own alphabet. Thankfully, Microsoft Word can render practically any character from any discipline. The Insert Symbol dialog box gives you access to more characters than you'll ever need.
But pulling up the dialog box whenever you need a special character can be slow and frustrating.
Special Characters Three Ways
Thankfully, Microsoft Word offers three other ways to insert special characters into text. (Unfortunately, these shortcuts are specific to the Windows version of Word.)
- Straightforward keyboard shortcuts: Combinations of the Ctrl, Shift, and/or Alt keys with other keys not only offer shortcuts to common actions (like Save and Print) but to the insertion of special characters. But Microsoft's programmers didn't map a command or character to every possible key combination, nor did they map every special character to a shortcut like this.
- ASCII decimal characters: The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), developed during the 1960s and extended a number of times since, assigns a numeric code to each character. To enter a character in Word using the ASCII decimal code, you hold down the Alt key and type the code (usually four digits) on the number pad. (If your laptop doesn't have a number pad, this avenue is closed to you.)
- ASCII hexadecimal characters: ASCII codes can also be expressed using hexadecimal (base 16) numbering, offering more than six times the number of four-digit combinations than decimal codes. To enter a character in Word using its hexadecimal code, you simply type the code in your text and then press Alt+X.
Shortcuts for Common Characters
It's probably safe to say that only the chronically obsessed have memorized all the codes and their corresponding characters. There's no need for you to memorize them all. Most copyeditors go their entire careers without needing to insert, for example, the Guarani sign (₲).
But a number of special characters aren't that special to copyeditors. Here are eight of the more common special characters and the three different ways to get them on your screen in Word:
|Shortcut||ASCII decimal||ASCII hexadecimal|
|Character||Press this key
|Hold Alt and type this
on the number pad
|Type this and then
|– (En dash)||Ctrl+-
(Hyphen on the number pad)
|— (Em dash)||Ctrl+Alt+-
(Hyphen on the number pad)
|° (Degree symbol)||[email protected], Space||0176||00B0|
Finding More Character Codes
Finding the ASCII code for a special character is fairly easy. Open Word's Insert Symbol dialog box and select the character in the list. Notice the box in the bottom right labeled “Character code.” In the drop-down box next to it, select ASCII (decimal) to see the decimal code (Alt+code) or select either ASCII (hex) or Unicode (hex) to see the hexidecimal code (code, Alt+X).
I put the shortcuts for my most commonly used special characters on a sticky note attached to the corner of my monitor. I recommend you do the same.