A blog about teaching and learning in a maths classroom.

Maths symbols in Word

Sunday, 14 January 2007 | 8 Comments

Many teachers use Microsoft Word to create worksheets.  It’s not designed for the job, there are better options but Word is the easiest to learn and has the greatest compatibility – making it easy to share documents.  One of the problems I see is that many people don’t know how to insert symbols into their document.  For example, x (the letter) is not a good substitue for × (the multiplication symbol).  This post shows you how to insert symbols like ×, ÷ and π quickly, on most computers (a Windows PC running Microsoft office).

The two methods shown here complement each other.  That is, the first method is slightly easier but will not insert every symbol.  The second method allows for more symbols.  Both methods need you to remember some codes (hence I’ve supplied a cheat sheet to download and print out).

First method: Alt +

Many symbols can be inserted by pressing and holding the Alt key whilst typing in a four digit code on the number pad (that is the calculator like section on the right of most keyboards, make sure Num Lock is on).  This method is referred to as “Alt +”.

For example, pressing and holding the Alt key whilst typing 0215 on the number pad will insert the × symbol.

Common mathematics symbols that can be entered using this method:

SymbolAlt +

Second method: Code then Alt + x

The second method can be used to produce the symbols shown in the first method, as well as some further symbols.  In the “Code then Alt + x” method you type in a four digit code (you don’t have to use the number pad this time) and then press Alt + x.  That is, the Alt key and the ‘x’ key at the same time.

SymbolCode then, Alt + x

Cheat Sheet

Maths Symbols Cheat SheetYou’re unlikely to remember these codes, except for the most common ones.  So, here is a Maths Symbols Cheat Sheet (PDF, 258Kb) that you can download, print and place next to your computer(s).  The cheat sheet has a brief version with the most common symbols listed, and a full version with more symbols.

An alternative method is to create a shortcut key for commonly used symbols.  See Assign a shortcut key to a symbol or special character on Microsoft Office Online for the details.  I don’t use this method because when you move between different computers (for example in your staffroom) you may have to recreate the shortcuts for them to work.

Maths Symbols PDF, 258 Kb
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License (?).

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Bronwyn on  15 January 07  at  09:35 AM #
Why, if someone is using Word, not use Equation Editor which comes with Word. The symbols are there, easy to access and easy to create an sort of expression. I use Word, but we have MathType – a more sophisticated version of Equation Editor, but just as easy to use. It allows me to easily transfer between PC at home and Mac at school.
Lloyd Brown on  15 January 07  at  09:51 AM #
For myself I hugely appreciate those heyboard shortcuts that u have included and I will use them frequently … Thnx heaps [img][/img] We also have a program that is a macro in word “fxequation”. This program is really really excellent if you want to type in a fully worked solution for a problem or something similar. I would never use it simply to find a divide sign.
Ian Ross on  15 January 07  at  10:43 AM #
I use fxequation for equations and other symbolic phrases as the school has a licence and it seems easier to use than equation editor. For one off symbols, I’ll be using your cheat sheet. Thanks.
Simon Job on  15 January 07  at  11:28 AM #
Bronwyn, the methods in this post are meant for the occasion that you just want a multiplication symbol or Ï€, not a full equation. Inserting a symbol is much quicker than starting up and wrestling with Equation Editor. Also with Equation Editor at least, I don’t know about MathType and fxequation, once you start putting a couple of equations on a page it can bog down your computer. Using symbols where you can will make a document much lighter. So, with the symbols here you could write [i]A[/i]=π[i]r[/i]² much quicker. Lloyd and Ian, thanks – I will have a look at [url=""]fxequation[/url].
Bronwyn on  15 January 07  at  08:31 PM #
Fair enough Simon, certainly if all you want is pi or theta or the degree sign it is a pain to go into equation editor/math type. I am fortunate that I have a laptop so I can use the shortcut method there – I have simple shortcuts for the degree sign and pi – but I will pass these on to friends at school. I’m going to take note of the multiply and divide codes though – they’ll be great for Year 7/8 work.
Joshua on  07 February 07  at  07:57 AM #
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Øistein Gjøvik on  02 January 09  at  10:45 PM #
Hi, Norwegian blogger here. I have written an article in Norwegian about the mathematics in Word 2007, so I got a bit interested here. I was just curious whether anyone knows if these codes could work in W2007? They don't in the Norwegian version. Anyway, the new equation editor in W07 is is to bring up an it formats your typing as you go along into pretty mathematical print. 😊
Simon on  03 January 09  at  06:00 AM #
Hi, I personally don't have a copy of Word 2007, but I did get someone else to try both methods for me and it worked as described above. Maybe the character mappings are different for your alphabet, but my understanding is that the second method is using Unicode, a standard, so it shouldn't matter what region/country settings you have.

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Simon Job — eleventh year of teaching maths in a public high school in Western Sydney, Australia.
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