What do I mean by non-standard English characters? I mean those characters that do not appear in a standard English alphabet, i.e. diacritics (letters with accents that you find in most European accents) and additional letters you don’t find in English, such as the eth and thorn found in Icelandic.
I’ll show you how to insert these in Word in a couple of different ways, and then share the best and most simple universal way to create these characters, as well as the special codes for some of my favourites.
Why would I want to type non-standard characters?
There are many reasons why you might want to type non-standard characters in your English documents / text / fields / whatever. Here are some of the reasons why I’ve done this myself:
- As a cataloguer (and this is where I learnt about them and memorised some of the codes), I was required to catalogue in different languages, or enter people’s names which had accents on various letters into author fields.
- I have a client called Jörg. He has to spell it Joerg in his email address and email signature. I prefer to be polite and spell it in the correct way when I email him and say “Hello Jörg”.
- I’ve just been to Iceland. If I’m talking about places I’ve been or things I’ve read, I want to be able to use the full range of Icelandic letters – and they have two extra ones that we don’t use (nowadays) in English.
- I work with bibliographies which might include non-English words with accents, etc. – if I need to add something or make a correction, it’s handy to know how to add the correct characters.
In many of these cases, I’m typing in a Tweet, a special piece of software or an email, as well as using Word for some of them. Many people know how to insert special characters in Word, but not everyone knows about the codes that you can use to pepper all of your communications with nice non-standard characters.
I’ll talk about Word first, and then broaden things out.
How do I insert special characters into my Word document?
There are two ways to insert special characters into a Word document. If you know the Alt-code for the letter, you can just hit Alt and a special four-figure number. More about that later on.
The official way is to Insert Character. This is how you do it (this works for all versions of Word for PC).
When you get to the place where you want to insert your special character, in this case an é at the end of café, go to the Insert tab (or menu in Word 2003) and choose Symbol from the Symbols area on the right:
When you press the Symbol button, a selection of commonly used symbols will appear (this will give you symbols that you’ve recently used; however, it will carefully offer you a range of popular ones if you’ve not used this method to insert very many symbols in the past). The one I want isn’t there:
You can now click on More Symbols to bring up the whole range:
You can now scroll down to find your symbol. Most of the common ones are on this default list. Here’s my acute e …
And once I’ve pressed the Insert button, it will appear in my text.
It’s worth noting at this stage that a list of your recently viewed symbols is displayed in this window, and you can click on any of those and insert them in the same way. Word populates this with common symbols if you haven’t used this method to insert many symbols before (I personally use a different method), but as you use different ones, they will appear here and on that pop-up that appears when you initially click on Symbol (see above):
One more thing to note before we press Insert: this screen also displays character codes. These are codes that you can use in conjunction with other codes and keys, including the Alt key method that I mentioned above. Drop down the arrow by From to get to ASCII and you will find a very useful four-figure code that you can use with Alt to insert non-standard characters into anywhere, not just Word.
So, that’s how you insert a non-standard character in Word. What if you want to put one in Facebook, Twitter, etc?
How to use the character map on your computer to insert special characters
There is a character map on your computer that you can use to insert special, non-standard characters into any typing that you’re doing that will support these. Note that this works for a PC.
How do you access the character map? Hit the Start button in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen (in Windows 95 onwards and Windows 8.1, Windows 8 doesn’t have one but you can use the Win-R shortcut below), then choose Accessories / System Tools / Character Map:
You can also use this handy shortcut: Hit the Windows button on your keyboard and R together
or the Start button and Run and type Charmap into the box that appears:
However you get to it, you should see the character map, which looks like this:
This looks a lot like the map in Word, and works in a similar but not identical way. Find the character you want, scrolling down or changing font if necessary. Click on it until it is highlighted (pops out of the box as below). Press Select and it will appear in the Characters to copy box below the grid.
Once it’s been Selected, you will need to Copy it by pressing the Copy button (note: this means that you can select several characters in a row, if you have two non-traditional characters next to each other, for example). Copy will copy everything in the Characters to copy box.
Note also here that in the bottom right you are given the keystroke or ASCII code Alt+0233 which you can use as a keyboard shortcut (more on that again later).
Once you’ve copied your character, you can paste it into pretty much any text box you want to, here in Twitter:
Using ASCII codes / keyboard shortcuts / Alt+ to insert special characters
The way I insert special and non-standard characters is to use these Alt+ ASCII keyboard shortcut codes that I’ve been mentioning all the way through this post. Hit Alt-0233 and you’ll get an é without having to click all over the screen, copy and paste. There’s a code for almost every character you could think of.
How do I know a load of these off by heart? Because I used to be a cataloguer at a library, and one of the things I did was catalogue foreign language publications, which were full of diacritics and non-standard characters. So, every day I would end up needing to insert many of these characfers into the cataloguing program we used. I, and everyone else, had little handwritten notes of the ones we used regularly. Here’s mine (yes, when I left the library in December 2011 to do this Libro stuff and blogging full time, I took my little bit of paper with me):
So there’s a little bit of Liz history you weren’t expecting (ignore the MARC codes at the bottom unless you’re a librarian, too). You, too, can have a bit of paper like this if you use non-traditional characters a lot – or you’ll commit them to memory, as I ended up doing.
How can I find out the ASCII codes for special characters?
You can use one of the two methods I describe above:
- In Word: Insert – Symbol, drop down From to change it to ASCII and note the Character code
- In Character Map: click on the symbol and look at the bottom right of the dialog box
or you can search for it online …
- Go to your search engine of choice and type in ASCII code for e acute
- Refer to the list of common characters I’ve published on this blog
In this post, we’ve learned why we might use special characters and how to insert special characters in Word, Twitter, Facebook and any other places that you might want to insert text. If you liked this or found it useful, do please comment below and/or use the sharing buttons to share it! Thank you!
Related posts on this blog:
Other posts of interest:
This blog post was referenced in this one on using the correct degree sign in scientific writing, which is a great resource!