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Writing Tip: February 18, 2006

Typing Characters That Are Not on the Keyboard

In January 2003, our newsletter addressed five basic principles of typography:

    o Use one space, not two, after all punctuation, including periods, question marks, exclamation points, and colons.

    o Use em dashes and en dashes where appropriate instead of hyphens.

    o Use typographer's curly quotation marks instead of the straight ones we were limited to on a typewriter.

    o Use italics, not underlining, for such purposes as indicating the titles of works that stand alone and emphasizing words in running text.

    o Use either tabs or the margin set to indent a paragraph or to align text. Never use the space bar for either purpose.

For the full explanation of these five points, see the January 2003 newsletter at We also encourage you to download our book of helpful articles in a searchable PDF file.

As we pointed out in that article, with the advent of personal computers, all of us who learned to use word processing software were transformed from typists into typographers. No longer bound by the severe limitations of the typewriter keyboard, we now have the tools to do what professional typesetters have been doing for centuries. To learn the basics of typography is to be able to utilize those tools.

Still bound by the limitations of the typewriter, great numbers of folks are completely unaware of this basic principle of typography: we can type a whole host of useful characters that are not visible on the keyboard itself.

Some people aren't aware that they can type the e with an acute accent over it in a Spanish name such as Jos or the e with the grave accent over it in the French phrase "fin de sicle," for example. Others are puzzled about how to put the accent over the a in "vis--vis," the circumflex over the a in "coup de grce," or the umlaut (also known as the dieresis) over the i in the adjective "nave" and over the e in the name Bront.

Lawyers and legal secretaries often need to type the section symbol in legal citations; banking personnel deal in international currency and often need to type the symbol for the British pound and the Japanese yen. Yet many of these professionals do not realize that they have both the equipment and the ability to insert such symbols into their text.

Many computer programs-from the word-processing software Microsoft Word to the high-end graphics software CorelDraw-have "Insert Symbol" or "Insert Character" features that allow the user to choose and import into a document a symbol or character from a visual display table. And, of course, there is the ubiquitous and quite small "Character Map" provided by the Windows operating system. A major drawback of these features, however, is that names and descriptions are rarely provided, and it is easy to misuse a symbol if we are not certain of its exact and specific meaning. And even when we know perfectly well what specific character we want, we still have to go searching for it on the screen and find it for ourselves. We cannot simply call it up.

There is another, more universal and ultimately less "blind," way to bring special symbols and characters into our documents, however. In fact, it's very simple. It works with standard fonts and an enhanced keyboard in any PC software program that can handle text.

This is what you do: using the numerical pad on the right-hand side of your enhanced keyboard, hold down the "Alternate" key while you type a four-digit code. (Make certain that the "Num Lock" in the upper left-hand corner of your numerical keypad is engaged.)

To type the letter e with the acute accent, as you would need in the Spanish name Jos or the French-derived adjective "pass," for example, hold down the Alt key and type 0233 on the numerical page. To type the grave accent over the e in "fin de sicle," type Alt + 0232.

Here are the typing codes for the legal "section" symbol and some of the most commonly used monetary symbols:

Alt + 0167 = = section symbol
Alt + 0163 = = the British pound
Alt + 0128 = = the Euro of the European Union
Alt + 0165 = = the Japanese yen

These are the codes for some of the most-often-used international diacritics (including the two mentioned above). Again, just hold down the Alt key and type the four-digit codes using the numeral key pad on the far right of your enhanced keyboard:

Alt + 0224 = = lowercase a with grave accent
Alt + 0225 = = lowercase a with acute accent
Alt + 0226 = = lowercase a with circumflex
Alt + 0227 = = lowercase a with tilde
Alt + 0228 = = lowercase a with umlaut
Alt + 0230 = = lowercase ae diphthong (ligature)
Alt + 0231 = = lowercase c with cedilla
Alt + 0232 = = lowercase e with grave accent
Alt + 0233 = = lowercase e with acute accent
Alt + 0234 = = lowercase e with circumflex
Alt + 0235 = = lowercase e with umlaut
Alt + 0236 = = lowercase i with grave accent
Alt + 0237 = = lowercase i with acute accent
Alt + 0238 = = lowercase i with circumflex
Alt + 0239 = = lowercase i with umlaut
Alt + 0241 = = lowercase n with tilde
Alt + 0242 = = lowercase o with grave accent
Alt + 0243 = = lowercase o with acute accent
Alt + 0244 = = lowercase o with circumflex
Alt + 0245 = = lowercase o with tilde
Alt + 0246 = = lowercase o with umlaut
Alt + 0249 = = lowercase u with grave accent
Alt + 0250 = = lowercase u with acute accent
Alt + 0251 = = lowercase u with circumflex
Alt + 0252 = = lowercase u with umlaut
Alt + 0253 = = lowercase y with acute accent

Here is a miscellaneous list of other basic characters and symbols:
Alt + 0169 = = copyright symbol
Alt + 0174 = = registered trademark symbol
Alt + 0176 = = degree symbol
Alt + 0177 = = plus-or-minus sign
Alt + 0182 = = paragraph mark
Alt + 0188 = = fraction, one-fourth
Alt + 0189 = = fraction, one-half
Alt + 0190 = = fraction, three-fourths
Alt + 0215 = = multiplication sign

And on a final note, to create a bulleted list in an e-mail or a regular document when you're using a software program that does not have an automatic bulleting feature, simply type Alt + 0149, and a bullet will appear in your text.

2006 Get It Write

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