Special Characters Made Easy (Sort of)

After reading our last newsletter, which offered an automatic way to insert dashes as you type, Sam Mills wrote: “Excuse me, but why can’t you just type shift-option-hyphen to get an em dash as you type? and option-hyphen for the en dash?”

The answer, of course, is that you can (if you’re using a Macintosh). PC users have it a little more difficult. To get an em dash, they have to hold down CTRL + ALT and then hit the hyphen key clear over on the numeric keypad. For an en dash, they have to hold down CTRL and then hit that distant hyphen key. Neither of these key combinations is very convenient, which is why I came up with an automatic way to create those dashes. Thanks, Sam, for pointing out the key combinations for those who want to use them.

Our Editor’s ToolKit software provides two more ways to get dashes:

1. By holding down the ALT key and then pressing the M key to get an em dash or the N key to get an en dash–nice and easy.

2. By clicking the “Insert” menu and then the dash of your choice. (We’ve included the dashes right at the top of the menu.)

You can also get dashes by clicking the “Insert” menu, then “Symbol,” then “Special Characters,” and finally the dash you want to insert. While you’re in there, take a look at the other “special characters” (as Microsoft calls them) that you can insert into your document. To the right of each character is a key combination that lets you insert the character from the keyboard.

For your convenience, these characters and key combinations are (in Word 2000):

Em Dash: ALT + CTRL + NUM-

En Dash: CTRL + NUM-

Nonbreaking Hyphen: CTRL + _

Optional Hyphen: CTRL + –

Em Space: [no key combination given]

En Space: [no key combination given]

1/4 Em Space: [no key combination given]

Nonbreaking Space: CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE

Copyright: ALT + CTRL + C

Registered: ALT + CTRL + R

Trademark: ALT + CTRL + T

Section: [no key combination given]

Paragraph: [no key combination given]

Ellipsis: ALT + CTRL + .

Single Opening Quote: CTRL + “

Single Closing Quote: CTRL + ‘ ‘

Double Opening Quote: Ctr4l + `”

Double Closing Quote: CTRL + ‘ “

No-Width Optional Break: [no key combination given]

No-Width Non Break: [no key combination given]

If you try inserting these characters with their key combinations, you’ll notice how clumsy some of them are, particularly the various quotation marks. Luckily, Microsoft Word makes it easy to assign new key combinations. To do so:

1. Go to the Special Characters menu by clicking the “Insert” menu, then

“Symbol,” then “Special Characters.”

2. Click the character whose key combination you want to change.

3. Click the “Shortcut Key” button.

4. Press the key combination you want to use to get the special

character. (For example, if you want to insert an em dash by pressing

ALT + M, hold down the ALT key and press the M key.) The new key

combination will appear in the box labeled “Press New Shortcut Key.”

5. Click the “Assign” button.

6. Click the “Close” button.

Want to get crazy? Click the “Symbols” tab instead of the “Special Characters” tab. The “Shortcut Key” button is still there, which means you can assign anything in the symbols chart to the key combination of your choice. That’s about as easy as it gets.

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