This week's Boot Camp was prompted by an unusually large number of letters and emails to the Faqs! facts! fax! techno-trauma column. They were in response to a series of questions and answers about the many and various ways of inserting symbols, accents and foreign characters into documents written with recent versions of Microsoft Word (specifically Word 7 and 97).

The thread ran for several weeks and covered a lot of ground, from fractions to Polish characters. Since then a lot of readers have written in asking for particular items to be repeated, reflecting the fact that the topic gets scant coverage in Word's on-line Help and documentation. It would take far too long to reply to everyone individually so instead here's a cut-out-and-keep guide to finding and using all of those strange and exotic squiggles hidden away on your PC.

Symbols and special characters fall into two broad groups: ready-made ones that exist in the font sets stored on your PC and custom symbols or expressions  – such as vulgar fractions -- that you can create with your word processor.

There are two easy ways to see and use the symbols and characters you have on your computer. The first is Character Map. This is a Windows utility that lives in the Accessories folder (Start > Programs > System Tools). The second place is from within Word using the Symbol option on the Insert menu.

Character Map works with any Windows application. After selecting a font from the drop-down list you can insert a character into an open word processor document by double-clicking it. This copies the character to the clipboard, clicking the word processor's paste icon or menu command (or pressing Ctrl + V) puts the character onto the page. Character Map displays the Windows Character Set (aka WinLatin 1) keyboard assignments and shortcuts in the bottom right corner. This is shown in one of three ways: the actual keystroke, a keyboard shortcut, or its keyboard assignment as a four-digit code. To use the latter place the cursor in the document where you want the character to appear, press Num Lock (check the indicator is on), hold down the Alt key and tap in the numbers on the numeric keypad. Incidentally, this is known as the 'Alt-nnnn' method, codes are always 4-digits long and preceded by a leading zero, i.e. Alt + 0123.

Symbol in MS Word works in a slightly different way and it’s a little easier to use since symbols and characters are categorised into subsets and can be inserted directly into an open document just by double-clicking. Alternatively you can create a keyboard shortcut for symbols and characters that you use frequently. Single click the symbol then select the Shortcut button, type in your shortcut (Ctrl or Alt plus a letter or number) – Word will tell you if it's already used -- and click the Assign button. Whilst we're on the subject of keyboard shortcuts the Euro symbol € is included in the Windows 98 core fonts and can be accessed by pressing Ctrl + Alt + 4 or Alt Gr (the right hand Alt key) + 4. If you are using an older version of Windows updated fonts can be downloaded free of charge from the Microsoft web site:

A few moments ago we touched briefly on the Windows Character set. Just to complicate matters you can also use the DOS Character set in your word processor documents. This also uses the Alt key but this time with a 3-digit code (the Alt – nnn method). This is a more convenient way of quickly keying in frequently used accented characters, a selection of which is shown below. As before hold down the Alt key and enter the code on the numeric keypad. 






á 160

ç 135

â 131

à 133

ä 132

é 130

Ç 128

ê 138

è 138

Ä 142

É 44


î 140

ì 141

ë 137

í 161


ô 147

ò 149

ï 139 

ó 162


û 150

ù 151

ö 148

ú 163




Ö 153





ü 129





Ü 154

Whilst we're on the subject of accented characters, hidden deep within Word Help there's a list of keyboard shortcuts for producing various international characters. To see it go to the Help menu, select Contents and Index and the Index tab and type international, double click the entry 'International Characters' and choose the Item 'Type international characters'.

In Character Map and Symbol you'll see a sprinkling of fractions (half, quarter etc.) plus a few odd ones, but if you want to create a specific fraction, i.e.  there's a facility in Word called Equation Field Code.

On the Insert menu select Field and in the Categories Window click on Equations and Formulas; in the Field Names window highlight EQ. The letters EQ appear In the Field Code window, insert the cursor after the letters and type: '\f(a,b)' where 'a' and 'b' are the dividend (the top number) and divisor (lower number). It might be necessary to reduce the size of the characters, in which case highlight them and use the Font Size command on the Formatting toolbar.

Finally, degrees superscripts and subscript characters. You can use keyboard codes Alt + 167,  Alt + 248 or Alt + 0186 for degree symbols. Superscript letter 'o' works too. To enable superscript hold Ctrl and Shift and press the '=' key then type a lower case o. Pressing the same key combination again toggles subscript off. Superscript is switched on and off using Ctrl + '=', it's handy for typing chemical formulae, such as H20. If you use superscript or subscript a lot you can put buttons on the Toolbar by right clicking in the toolbar area and select Customize. Select the Commands tab and in the Categories window highlight Format, in the right hand Commands pane find superscript and/or subscript then click hold and drag the icons onto the toolbar.

Next week – The mysteries of file extensions




The basic set of fonts or typefaces that are installed and used by Windows 95/98


Disc Operating System. a program that controls how a PC stores, retrieves and organises files on its disc drives


A simply remembered two or three key sequence to carry out a frequently used command or instruction



If you find Defrag or Scandisk 'hangs' when it gets to 10% or 40% try this. Go to Run on the Start menu and type 'msconfig'. A dialogue box will open, select the General tab and make sure the item Selective Startup is checked. Make a note of the selected items underneath then uncheck them all, click OK and restart Windows. Now you should be able to run Defrag and Scandisk without interruption. When they have finished go back to msconfig select Normal Startup and re-start Windows.

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