I work in international finance and often have to reference different currencies and use special letters from other languages. I also need access to symbols like the degree mark or omega. How can I do all of this in Windows?
Look at your keyboard on your computer. All of the characters you can see are easy to type; they’re literally right in front of you. But your PC can produce and work with hundreds of characters, symbols, emoji, and more. The official standard for characters is Unicode and it defines over 1,000 characters in what’s known as the Multilingual European Character Set 2 (MES-2). Fortunately we don’t use that many on a daily basis (or we’d need an enormous keyboard or spend all our time hunting for the right symbol). Still, if you want the enye over the ‘n’ in señor, the grave and other diacriticals in crème brûlée, and, yes, the degree symbol when you write 425º then it’s time to learn how to access all of these in Windows!
In many situations you can be lazy and ignore the diacriticals or symbols, so writing “50 EU” is reasonably equivalent to the more accurate €50, but sometimes ya just gotta be accurate. And that’s a trick proposition on either Mac or Windows. Recently I wrote about how to access the emoji keyboard on Windows which is easy and cool – just press both the Windows and semicolon keys simultaneously. Surprisingly, though, getting to the standard symbols that aren’t included is a bit more tedious.
Let’s have a look! Here’s a typical line of input in NotePad:
Perhaps obviously, the next character should be the degree symbol. But how do you get it? Well, if you know the Unicode sequence, you can hold down the Alt key and press the sequence of 0176 but who the heck knows those four-digit numbers?
Instead, search for “character map” from the Windows 10 search bar:
Launch the program with a click or a tap and you’ll have Character Map running. It’s honestly about as rustic as imaginable:
Usually it’ll be the correct font by default, but you can choose something like Arial (as shown) to get the full set of symbols shown. Now that you have this extraordinary list (and if you use the scroll bar, you’ll find that the grid goes on and on and on with hundreds of symbols).
Hunt around a bit and you’ll find the degree symbol. Click on it and the symbol pops up:
You can’t just click on it, however, you need to click, then click on “Copy“. It will show up in the “Characters to copy” window and the very bottom will show the Unicode symbol name (U+00B0 Degree Sign) and the Unicode keystroke sequence (Alt+0176). Fortunately you can ignore those; once you’ve clicked “Copy” it’s copied into the copy/paste buffer.
Now you can go back to NotePad and use the Control-V key sequence to paste the symbol in:
Great! A bit tedious, but once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll find that it can be pretty quick to add these symbols. Not only that, but click on “Advanced View” in Character Map and you can actually search by name for specific symbols, like the Euro symbol:
Click on the symbol, click Copy and you can switch back to your editor and paste in a Euro symbol:
A bit tedious, but if you just leave Character Map running and bring it forward as needed, you’ll find with practice that you can add any symbol in the Unicode library within 2-3 seconds. Not only that, but once the desired symbol is in the copy/paste buffer, you can of course paste it 5, 10, even 25 times!
There are third party utilities that can help out too, and some programs – notably Microsoft Word – have additional ways to insert special symbols, but I like Character Map because I know for sure it’ll be on every single computer I use.
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about Windows for quite a while and the site has hundreds of useful Windows tutorials and insider tricks. Please check it out while you’re here!