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: Aligning Plus/Minus Symbols.

Aligning Plus/Minus Symbols

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated November 9, 2017)


For scientific writing numeric data are often presented in tables in the format of mean +/- standard deviation (with the '+/-' represented by a single character, achieved by holding down the Alt key and press 0177 on the numeric keypad). To make the table look attractive, it is often desirable to have the +/- symbols of different rows aligned with each other.

There are a couple of ways you can align the symbols, depending on the characteristics of the data you are presenting. One solution is to use multiple columns in your table, so that the +/- character appears in its own column. Format the column to the left of the +/- column so that the numbers it contains are right-aligned. Format the +/- column so that it is left-aligned. The information in the two columns should now be butted up to each other, and you can modify the table properties (specifically the left and right cell margins) to adjust the apparent spacing between them. You can also remove the border line that Word automatically adds between columns, if desired.

If all this sounds like a lot of steps, it really can be—it depends on exactly how you want the information in the two columns to look. A simpler solution might be to simply set tab stops within the column itself. If there is no decimal point within the +/- numbers, then you can set a decimal tab in the column. Word automatically aligns the values as if the +/- symbol was really a decimal point.

If the values do have decimal points, then you can set multiple tabs within the column, and then use Ctrl+Tab to actually insert the tab character before the number (to align the number) and between the value and the +/- symbol (to align the symbol).

Unless the data absolutely must be in a table, you should also consider using the Equation Editor to represent the +/- values. The Equation Editor has an alignment mark—a non-printing symbol located on the second palette on the top row of Equation Editor palettes. Just place an alignment mark either to the left or to the right of the +/- symbol and press Enter at the end of each number. It doesn't matter if the alignment mark is to the left or to the right of the +/- symbol, as long as you're consistent for each number.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (290) 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: Aligning Plus/Minus Symbols.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


Determining "Highest Since" or "Lowest Since"

When compiling statistics on a collection of data points, you may want to know whether a particular value is the "highest ...

Discover More

Printing Graphic Thumbnails

If you are doing work with a lot of graphics, it may be helpful to create a summary page that contains thumbnail ...

Discover More

Finding the Size of a Workbook

Keeping tabs on the size of a workbook can be important when using Excel. You have a couple of options that will allow ...

Discover More

Create Custom Apps with VBA! Discover how to extend the capabilities of Office 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access) with VBA programming, using it for writing macros, automating Office applications, and creating custom applications. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2013 today!

More WordTips (menu)

Quickly Displaying the Tabs Dialog Box

Setting tabs in a paragraph is a common task. This is most easily done by using the Tabs dialog box. Displaying the ...

Discover More

Accurately Setting Tabs Using the Ruler

If you try to set tabs by clicking on the Ruler, you may not be able to set them exactly where you want. This is normally ...

Discover More

Deleting Tab Stops

Need to delete some tabs tops in a paragraph? It's easy to do using the Tabs dialog box, as described in this tip.

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is four less than 8?

2014-01-26 17:51:52

Angus McLean

I find I am not able to simultaneously align the decimal point and the plus and minus signs. Using multiple columns is not an option for me.

The other approach I cannot get to work with decimal numbers of varying number of digits in a column. Please an you elaborate on limitations of tip.

2012-12-09 03:26:17


Where I can find a full table of the ALT+Number operation? ( like 0177 )
for example I know ALT + 1 == SMILLY :-)
☺ etc.

This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the menu interface (Word 97, Word 2000, Word 2002, or Word 2003)? This site is for you! If you use a later version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the ribbon interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.