Academic Tips and Tricks

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How to use Custom Keyboard Commands for Symbols in Word

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This is a blog entry specifically designed to help Linguistics/English language students who need to write in IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet), students of foreign languages who need to use special characters and any other students, such as those studying maths or science who regularly have to use symbols not from the Roman alphabet.

The standard method of doing this is Word is to use the insert symbols function, found here:

This can be a very lengthy process, especially if the symbols you need appear far apart in the symbol selection box and you keep forgetting where to find them. A much quicker method is to select your own keyboard shortcuts for symbols you use often. Many versions of Word have several memorable keyboard shortcuts automatically programmed in, such as hold ctrl+shift+colon button then click a, e, o, or u to produce that letter with umlauts.

This might be enough help for students of German, but everyone else, read on.

To put in your own keyboard shortcuts (which will only work in Word on your own computer, and can be lost by using programmes such as CCleaner unless they are configured properly) go back to the symbol selection pane shown earlier. For example, if we went to insert this ‘upside-down ‘e’’ (known as schwa) the shortcuts which are automatically assigned are shown below:

However, for me, the number sequence and keyboard shortcut are not very memorable, and I want to use a shortcut containing the letter ‘e’ so that I can remember the symbol it produces. If you click the button that says ‘shortcut key…’ you can enter a new keyboard command. The programme will always show you if the command you have chosen is assigned to another symbol or function. If this symbol or function is one you use often, you should select a new keyboard shortcut. For example, the command I chose to represent the ‘upside-down ‘e’’ character was ctrl+alt+e, which was already assigned to the Euro symbol. As I don’t often use the Euro symbol, and also have a button on my keyboard which produces the Euro symbol anyway, changing this command wasn’t a problem.

You can do this to as many symbols as you like so that eventually, as long as you’ve picked commands you can remember, you should be able to type fluently in another language, in IPA or using algebraic or scientific symbols without ever entering the symbols menu, and therefore saving yourself a lot of time and frustration.

There are however, a few problems with this method. Occasionally, if you try to open a document which uses custom commands on a computer not programmed with those commands it will display error boxes or change symbols. Therefore it is best to print documents from the computer on which they were created. Also, as I mentioned before, programmes like CCleaner (a fantastic programme which keeps your computer running smoothly by clearing away unused files and small bits of programming) can clear away your custom settings. To avoid this, it’s best to not let CCleaner clear up your Office programmes at all by disabling office programmes under the ‘applications’ tab:

I hope this helps! I know it made doing transcriptions in IPA way less problematic for me.


Author: Liz

Hi, I'm Liz. I like easy crafts, photography, cooking, lifestyle blogs and YouTube videos. I work as a part-time proofreader and am currently studying for a PhD in linguistics.

One thought on “How to use Custom Keyboard Commands for Symbols in Word

  1. Reblogged this on Hud Uni News and commented:
    Now I’m no longer a Media Rep (as I’m no longer a student, as of September 2011! Doesn’t seem like it’s been that long), I thought I’d share some posts from my Academic Tips and Tricks blog which I have been writing since I became a professional editor and copywriter. These entries are designed to help you write better, organise better and get the most out of the resources available to you.

    Happy writing, and any questions, please just ask.

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