Sometimes you need to add special characters to a document—characters that you can't find on a normal keyboard. Granted, if you find yourself regularly having to write in a different language, you would be better off setting up a foreign language keyboard set so you can switch between languages and even keyboards.
But sometimes you just need to find a few special symbols to add to your document to convey the proper meaning. In this article, I'll show you various ways to solve this problem. First will look at some general issues with fonts. Then we'll look at how Word handles special characters these days. Then we'll take a look back at how we did it in the olden days (and how you can still do it).
Fonts, Fonts, and More Fonts!
When you install Windows, you get a pile of default fonts. When you install Office, you get a pile more that you can install. Each time you add a new software program, particularly graphic and creative project software, you get the option of installing more and more fonts. There are also many sites on the web from which you can download even more fonts. Before you know it, you start complaining that your system is running slow and takes forever to start up. Humm...might be those 5,000 fun fonts you had to have that are causing your system to run a bit slow!
Yes, if you have tons of fonts installed, you might want to consider slimming down that list a bit by uninstalling some of them. They will cause your system to take forever to start up and can bog things down if you have too many.
To see what fonts you have installed, you can access the Font icon through your Control Panel in Windows. Depending on your operating system, you can usually click Start > Control Panel or you might have to click Start > Settings > Control Panel. Once within the control panel, you'll find your Font icon. Click it.
Note! You can find out more information about the Windows Control panel in this article: WinXP_03: The Control Panel.
Through the font icon, you'll be able to see all the fonts that are currently available on your system. Notice the various icons along the top menu. These allow you to sort and view the fonts in various ways. You can sort by list; or better, sort by similarity.
By sorting the many fonts on your system by similarity, you can see how many you may have of a similar type. This will make it easier to decide which ones you can live without.
By double clicking on any font name in the list, you can not only get details about that font and see a sample of it, but you can click the Print button to get a hard copy to use to compare which one might be the one you need for a design specific job.
Also, when reviewing your font list, it's a good idea to hide the variations of the font, such as bold and italic. This will make the list smaller so you can concentrate on the types themselves without all the excess variants of that same font.
And if you discover that you actually need more fonts, you can purchase them or find free fonts on the Internet. Then you can install them into your system through File > Install, as shown below.
In fact, I found a great place to find free fonts. Check out http://www.flyerstarter.com/default.asp?pg=fonts.
There are also special software programs you can buy to help you manage your fonts. If you're into graphics and have a lot of fonts, it's a good idea to manage them with a program like this. Adobe has a font management program...but last I looked it cost a few billion dollars. However, our own Chris Hanscom, MVP, software developer and contributor to our Consulting—Beyond the Bunny Slippers series of articles, has built a utility that you can use to manage your fonts and it's only $24.99. See this link for details:
If you don't have a font managing program, before you delete any fonts from your system, it would be a good idea to locate the fonts you want to remove in your Windows > Font directory and make a copy of them by burning them to a CD or backup folder. Then you can reinstall them if you realize later you need them.
Symbols in Word
I don't remember exactly when Microsoft added the Insert > Symbol feature to Word, but I don't remember it being this easy back in Word 6. I know it's available in Word 2000. So it must have been added sometime back in Word 95 or 97. Prior to having the Insert > Symbol feature, you needed to use the CharMap to find the correct key code to insert various special symbols or ASCII characters.
These days, finding the special symbol you need in Word is pretty easy. Click Insert > Symbol and a dialog box will appear that will show you codes to access special symbols in each font set.
First, you want to make sure that you have matched up the fonts correctly. If you are still displaying the default Symbol font, yet you're using Arial, you'll either have to apply the Symbol font to the current portion of your document or click the drop down (as shown below) to select the Arial font.
Note! The best way to apply a font change in a Word document is NOT to select it and apply a new font, but rather to create a Character Style and apply that to the words! See this article for more info: The Return of Speed Styling. And see this article, Getting Started With Styles, if you're a newbie to using styles.
Once you're sure you have the correct font match, you can scroll through the available symbols and just click Insert when you find the one you want. The symbol will be inserted into the current cursor position in your Word document.
However, notice that many characters have shortcuts. You can use the Character Code to have that symbol inserted into your document. If you need to use a particular symbol often, this would be faster than constantly having to open this dialog box.
To use the Char Codes, you need to use the numeric keypad on your computer...not the numbers above the regular keys on your keyboard. Along the side of your keyboard, you should have a keypad for punching in numbers. Make sure the NumLock is turned on on your keyboard so you can access these numbers.
Then you need to hold down the Alt key while you tap out the code for the character you want on the keypad. Then release the Alt key and the symbol you want should be inserted into your document. Note that when I hold down Alt and tap out 0153 on my keypad, I get the trademark symbol. If you don't, make sure your font is set to Arial as mine is!
Because many of these special symbols are commonly used, you can find many of them on the Special Character tab of the Symbol dialog box. There you can find predefined shortcuts. For example, as you can see in the image below, if you need to insert the copyright symbol, you can just hit Alt + Ctrl + C. Of course, you can also just highlight the item you want and click Insert.
You can also assign custom shortcuts to special characters you may need often. If you need to add the Section marker in your documents, you can click the Shortcut button to open the Customize Keyboard dialog box. Hit any key combination and you can assign that combo for this symbol.
Note! Many key combinations are already assigned by default in Word. So to ensure that you don't overwrite a commonly used shortcut, be sure to watch the Currently Assigned To area of the Customize dialog box to see if the combo you want to use is already in use! Another way to check is to click File > Print in Word and in the Print What drop down, choose Key Assignment option, as shown below. This will print you a list of all the currently assigned shortcuts on your keyboard.
Another way to quickly get the symbol you want in Word is to add it to your AutoCorrect list. These are those items that so many people curse, because Word changes some characters to others for you...something people find a blessing or a curse in Word!
If you click the AutoCorrect button from the Symbol dialog box, you'll move to the same dialog box you get when you click Tools > AutoCorrect. However, this way the symbol is automatically inserted into the convert input box for you. So you need only add the characters that you want exchanged for this symbol.
In the image below, you can see that I have setup a combination so that when I type *TM in the regular course of typing my document, as soon as I hit a space or return, that combination will be converted to a superscript TM to represent the trademark symbol.
It's a good idea to review the AutoCorrect list and make any adjustments you might feel are necessary for the way you type. This will save you from cursing Word for "thinking for you." Of course, if Word ever does anything you don't like, you can easily hit Ctrl + Z to instantly UNDO that last move!
Another way to access special characters within Windows is to access the Windows Character Map. Although you can access it from your Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map link. It's much faster to just click Start > Run. Type CHARMAP and hit Enter. In fact, if you have a Windows key on your keyboard (looks like the Flying Windows logo for Microsoft Windows...something you'll never find on an IBM computer keyboard.<smirk> Seems IBM is still stinging from the DOS deal Bill Gates made when they weren't paying attention many years ago!<snicker>), you can make this move even faster by just hitting Windows + R to open the Run dialog, type CHARMAP and hit Enter.
This will bring up a dialog box very similar to the one you saw in Word.
Clicking on any symbol will allow you to see a larger view. Then you can select a character and copy it to your clipboard. This is a temporary spot in Windows that holds text so you can paste it into a document. Click Copy to pass the symbol to your Clipboard. Then you can move to another program and click Edit > Paste (or hit Ctrl + V) to paste the symbol into your document.
Note! If you need help understanding the clipboard and how to copy/paste, see this article: No Eating Paste.
Again, if you don't get the results you expect, check to make sure you haven't mixed up the fonts!
And speaking of mixed up fonts...if you've never played around with the various *Ding fonts on your system...you're missing some fun.
What types you have available will depend on what software you have and what type of custom installations you've done to install these extra fonts.
Most all of you should have WingDings, as I believe they are pretty much a default font now in Windows. But there are also Wingdings2 and 3, as well as WebDings and I think even some WedDings and other *Ding font sets.
Yup! Sure enough. A quick Search in Google.com using the terms DINGS and FONT and you'll find tons of other fun symbol fonts for kids, adults and special occasions.
Just remember...all these special fonts and symbols can be fun. But too much of a good thing will make a document confusing, difficult to read and will tell the world that you're an amateur when it comes to document design! Plus, if you apply too many font changes in a document, one false move can cause a font to take over your document and turn all your text into spaghetti. So use restraint.
Note! If you'd like a free lesson in Typography, see the free lesson available from my Word Advanced Document Design course. You can access it online from this link: http://www.mousetrax.com/TechCourses.html#samples.