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: Understanding Unicode Characters.

Understanding Unicode Characters

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated April 30, 2022)

You may have heard of the term Unicode before, and wondered what it meant. Normal single-byte encoding schemes (such as ASCII and ANSI) allow only up to 256 unique individual characters to be encoded and displayed on the computer. In the global computer community, where each member is required to work in their own language, this is a problem. There are far more than 256 characters in common use throughout the world.

This is where Unicode comes into play. The Unicode standard requires the allocation of two bytes (sixteen bits) for encoding each character. This means that there can be 65,536 unique characters defined. This standard, devised and promoted by the Unicode Consortium (http://www.unicode.org), allows for the display of virtually all the unique language characters in the world. A team of computer professionals, linguists, and scholars worked on the actual development of Unicode.

The use of two bytes to define each character means that Unicode can be used to encode most of the characters used in the world's major languages. There is an extension mechanism built into the standard, as well, which means that it is possible to encode close to a million more characters, if necessary. This ability should be sufficient for all known language requirements, plus the encoding of all the historic scripts of the world. (This includes languages and symbols that are no longer in use.)

As presently defined, Unicode 6.1 (the latest version) includes codes for characters used in the major written languages of the world, including Arabic, Armenian, Balinese, Bengali, Bopomofo, Buhid, Canadian Syllabics, Cherokee, Chinese, Cyrillic, Deseret, Devanagari, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, Greek, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Han, Hangul, Hanunoo, Hebrew, Hiragana, Kannada, Katakana, Khmer, Lao, Latin, Malayalam, Mongolian, Myanmar, Ogham, Old Italic (Etruscan), Oriya, Phoenician, Runic, Sinhala, Syriac, Tagalog, Tagbanwa, Tamil, Telugu, Thaana, Thai, Tibetan, and Yi. Work is progressing to add more characters from lesser-known languages.

In addition, Unicode also includes many different symbols, including numbers, general diacritics, general punctuation, general symbols, dingbats, arrows, blocks, box drawing forms, geometric shapes, mathematical symbols, musical symbols (western and byzantine), technical symbols, braille patterns, and Kangxi radicals.

Unicode is supported in all modern versions of Windows and Word.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1788) 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: Understanding Unicode Characters.

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. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Getting a Double-Spaced Printout

When working with printed documents, many people prefer to see the document double-spaced. If you have a single-spaced ...

Discover More

Scrolling Up and Down

Need an easy way to move through a spreadsheet using a mouse? Here are a couple of ideas.

Discover More

Understanding Page Border Art

Add some artwork around the border of your printed page, and you may not know where that artwork comes from. You may also ...

Discover More

Do More in Less Time! Are you ready to harness the full power of Word 2013 to create professional documents? In this comprehensive guide you'll learn the skills and techniques for efficiently building the documents you need for your professional and your personal life. Check out Word 2013 In Depth today!

More WordTips (menu)

Automatically Updating Fields and Links

You can update fields and links automatically when you print your document, but what if you want them updated when you ...

Discover More

Horizontally Viewing All Your Text

If you are viewing a document and your text runs off the right side of the document window, it can be a real bother to ...

Discover More

Accessing the Source of a Document Link

If you have information linked into your document, you may want to display the source of that linked information. Word ...

Discover More
Subscribe

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

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

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}] (all 7 characters, in the sequence shown) 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 six more than 2?

There are currently no comments for this tip. (Be the first to leave your comment—just use the simple form above!)


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.

Videos
Subscribe

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.