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Putting Character Codes to Work

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Putting Character Codes to Work.

If you know the ASCII or ANSI codes for a particular character, and you want to enter it into your document, you can do so by holding down the Alt key and using the numeric keypad. If you enter a three-digit code, then Windows assumes you want the ASCII character associated with that code. If you enter a four-digit code, then Windows assumes you want the ANSI character associated with that code.

For instance, the ASCII code for an uppercase A is 65. You could enter this character by holding down the Alt key and pressing 065 (a three-digit code) on the numeric keypad. It just so happens that this is the same as the ANSI code for an uppercase A, as well. Thus, you could hold down the Alt key and press 0065 (a four-digit code) for the same result. This works because the ASCII and ANSI codes are the same for all values between 0 and 127. When you work with values between 128 and 255, they are different.

You can see this difference by holding down the Alt key and pressing 163 (a three-digit code) on the numeric keypad. This inserts a foreign language character in your document. If you instead use a four-digit code for the same number (hold down the Alt key and press 0163), Word inserts the symbol for the British pound.

You should also know that you can use the Alt key with a regular value. For instance, you can type Alt and then the number 3 on the keypad. This inserts a character for a heart. The values between 0 and 31 do not represent printable characters in either ASCII or ANSI codes. If you hold down the Alt key and enter a number between 1 and 31 on the numeric keypad, Word inserts various miscellaneous dingbat characters in your document. The best way to see how this works is to simply try it in a document of your choosing.

To insert the full range of Unicode characters into your document, you cannot use the simple approach of holding down the Alt key and using the numeric keypad. Instead, you must choose Symbol from the Insert menu to display the Symbol dialog box. You can then choose a font and a Unicode subset. Word then displays the available characters in the dialog box, and you can select the character you want to insert.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1789) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Putting Character Codes to Work.

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Comments for this tip:

Steve Wells    17 Aug 2015, 01:41
Glad to help, even 3½ years later. I will stress again that the Alt+X tip works fine, and because it toggles between the symbol and the hexadecimal code, you can toggle a symbol you come across back to discover its hex value.
However, the Alt+[Decimal code] is easiest for general symbol access. I created my cheat sheet in Excel and placed a printed copy near my work desk. Some columns have the symbols, and adjacent columns show decimal codes, which I didn’t even need to calculate. In some columns off to the side (outside the range that I print), I copied the hexadecimal codes from Character Map. Instead of calculating the decimal values, I let Excel do it for me. For example, in cell J7 is a dark triangle that points to the right. Several columns over in M7 is 25BA, the hex code. Next to the triangle, in cell K is =HEX2DEC(M7), which does the hex to decimal conversion for me. I just copy the function in column K to the rest of the column for the other symbols and hex codes, and the conversions are automatic.
It’s a lot simpler to show than to describe in text. Email me if you’d like a copy of my sheet, and you could adapt it easily for the symbols that you use frequently.
Linda    14 Aug 2015, 12:55
I thought I was pretty good with Word but I never knew about alt+x. Very helpful - thanks.
Steve Wells    21 Jan 2012, 03:06
The tip is not quite correct. You CAN insert Unicode characters by holding down ALT and typing four digits on the key pad, but they must be decimal values, not the hexadecimal values. I will also provide some other useful ways to enter Unicode characters.

Let's look at an example. Open the Windows applet Character Map, on the Start menu typically under Programs (or All Programs)>Accessories>System Tools. Or find charmap.exe usually in the WindowsSystem32 folder.

The applet shows the Unicode value for any selected character. In major fonts such as Arial and Times New Roman, you can find some useful fraction characters. Suppose you need three-eighths as a single character. You could select and copy it within the applet, or you could enter it directly into a Word document in either of two ways.

1. The fraction has a Unicode hexadecimal value of 215C. Type 215C into your document (with any keys, and you can use either upper or lower case for the letter C), select the four characters that you just typed, and press ALT+X, which toggles between the code and the actual fraction character. Similarly, to create an infinity sign, type its hexadecimal value 221E, select the 221E, and press ALT+X to get the infinity character.

2. Suppose you intend to make a little "cheat sheet" of some codes that you'll use often. You should find a calculator that converts hex to decimal and write down the decimal equivalents of the hexadecimal codes. This is worth doing, because you only have to find the conversions once for each character you intend to use. For example, the value of 215C (hex) is 8540 (decimal). So just hold down ALT, type 8540 on the numeric keypad, and release the ALT key. The three-eighths character appears. You'll have to look up some code (hex or decimal) anyway, so you might as well use the one that you can simply type with ALT. Again, to get the infinity character, hold down ALT, type its decimal (not hex) value of 8734 on the keypad, and release ALT. That's easier than any other way.

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