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: Two Keys with the Press of One.

Two Keys with the Press of One

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated July 23, 2016)

Sara asked if there was a way to modify the Word keyboard so that whenever she struck the "/" key, Word would actually insert the slash followed by a no-width optional break.

Yes, there is a way to do this, using the AutoCorrect feature in Word. Follow these general steps:

  1. Choose Symbol from the Insert menu. Word displays the Symbol dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Special Characters tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Special Characters tab of the Symbol dialog box.

  4. In the list of available characters, choose the No-Width Optional Break option.
  5. Click the Shortcut Key button. Word displays the Customize Keyboard dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  6. Figure 2. The Customize Keyboard dialog box.

  7. Press a keyboard shortcut to associate with the special character. For instance, press Alt+A.
  8. Click Assign to assign the shortcut key, then close the dialog box.
  9. Choose AutoCorrect Options from the Tools menu. Word displays the AutoCorrect dialog box.
  10. Make sure the AutoCorrect tab is displayed. (See Figure 3.)
  11. Figure 3. The AutoCorrect tab of the AutoCorrect dialog box.

  12. In the Replace box, type a slash ("/").
  13. In the With box, type a slash ("/") and press Alt+A.
  14. Click OK.

That's it. Now, whenever you type a slash, Word will replace it with the desired sequence. However, that being said, you may want to reconsider whether you actually want to make the change to Word.

The lowly keyboard slash key serves several semantically different functions. In typesetting, there are different glyphs for different purposes, and these are accessible through Insert | Symbol. The fraction slash (vinculum) is different from the slash seen in "and/or" (virgule) is different from the shilling mark (now obsolete, except for historical references to English currency).

The default glyph you get when you press the slash key on the keyboard is the virgule. This is used a few different ways:

  1. It is used as a hybrid of the ordinary English word "or" and the logical OR in expressions like "and/or."
  2. It is used to indicate arithmetic division, with spaces around it, as in 12 / 3 = 4:
  3. It is used to mean "per," which is also a form of arithmetic division, in running text, without spaces, as in "calories/serving."

In all three of these uses, if it is really necessary to break the line in the middle of the expression, the concept of adding a no-width optional break after the slash works just fine. But there is one other place where slashes are used in today's writing, and that is in URLs. The preferred place to break a long URL is before the slash, not after. This serves the important function of signaling to the reader that the word beginning the next line is still part of the URL.

So, if you were to create the AutoCorrect entry to replace a slash with a slash followed by a no-width optional space, you wouldn't get the preferred method of breaking the URL across lines. In addition, the URL would no longer be "clickable."

If you decide that the drawbacks to creating the AutoCorrect entry for the slash outweigh the benefits, then you may want to reconsider. A good trade-off may be to create the shortcut key for the no-width optional space, and then simply use the shortcut key to type the character wherever you decide that you need it—either before or after the slash, as appropriate.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (357) 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: Two Keys with the Press of One.

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. ...

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