Monday, September 1, 2003

Using symbols in your messages and documents


By Diane Poremsky

This week's column is about using symbols and isn't just for Outlook. You can use symbols with all Office programs and some Windows programs.

When you need to insert a special character into a document you can use the Insert, Symbol character map found in many Office applications or the Windows Character map, opened by typing "charmap" into the Start menu, Run dialog.

Browsing to select symbols, especially symbols you use often, is slow. Once found, you need to copy and paste or drag the character to your document. If you know the Alt+code, you can hold the Alt key as you type in the code on the numeric keypad. This doesn't work well with laptops, unless you enable the numeric keypad function, as it won't with the number row.

When using Unicode fonts, not all characters have Alt+ codes but you can still enter them using a code. Type the code, often a mix of letters and numbers, then hold Alt and type X and the code is converted to the character. One advantage to using the Unicode codes is that you don't need the numeric keypad to input the codes.

Frequently used characters can be added to AutoCorrect, for example, you could create an autocorrect entry for /omega to have the Omega character inserted in your document. Some symbols are already in AutoCorrect, including Arrows, Smilies, Trademark and Copyright symbols.

Not all programs that accept the character map codes use AutoCorrect, so you may need to memorize some of the codes or create a cheat sheet. Creating a cheat sheet using Excel is easy for the Alt+ codes. In Column A, enter the numbers 1 through 225. In column B, enter the formula =CHAR(A1) and fill down. I don't know a quick method to create a cheat sheet for the Unicode characters, short of creating a chart using the codes and symbols for the characters you use the most. If you know of an easier way to print a list of Unicode character codes let me know.

Diane Poremsky is the president of CDOLive LLC and a Microsoft Outlook MVP. She's coauthor of Word 2002: The Complete Reference (Osborne, 2001) and Beginning Visual Basic 6 Application Development (for Wrox Press). For questions or suggestions for future columns, write her at