Underlining is a common task in Word, and easily done, but what if you need to overline (also called overscore or overbar), some text? Overlining is common in scientific fields, but there are various reasons for overlining text. However, Word doesn’t make it easy.

You can apply overlining to your text in Word using a field code or the equation editor, or you can add a paragraph border to the top of the text.

Using a Field Code

First, we’ll show you how to use a field code to apply overlining to text. Open an existing or new document in Word and place the cursor where you want to put the text with overlining. Press “Ctrl + F9” to insert field code brackets, which are highlighted in gray. The cursor is automatically placed in between the brackets.

Enter the following text between the brackets.

EQ \x \to()

NOTE: There is a space between “EQ” and “\x” and between “\x” and “\t()”. “EQ” is the field code used to create an equation and the “\x” and “\to” are switches used to format the equation or text. There are other switches you can use in the EQ field code, including ones that apply bottom, right, left, and box borders to the equation or text.

Put the cursor between the parentheses and enter the text you want to overline.

To display this as text rather than a field code, right-click anywhere in the field code and select “Toggle Field Codes” from the popup menu.

The text you entered into the field code displays with a line above it. When the field code displays as normal text, you can highlight it and apply various formatting to it, such as font, size, bold, color, etc.

NOTE: To display the field code again, simply right-click in the text and select “Toggle Field Codes” again. When you put the cursor in text generated from using a field code, the text is highlighted in gray, just like the field code.

If you want the line to extend beyond either end of the text, add spaces when entering the text into the field code. This is useful for creating lines with names under them for signing official documents.

Field codes work in all versions of Word, for both Windows and Mac.

Using the Equation Editor

You can also apply overlining to text using the equation editor. To do so, click the “Insert” tab in your Word document.

In the “Symbols” section of the “Insert” tab, click “Equation”.

The “Design” tab under “Equation Tools” displays. In the “Structures” section, click “Accent” to access various accents you can apply to the top of the text in the equation. There are two different accents you can use. Select either the “Bar” under “Accents” on the drop-down menu…

…or select the “Overbar” under “Overbars and Underbars”. The “Overbar” produces a slightly longer line above the text than the “Bar”.

The selected accent displays over the small dotted box in the equation object.

To enter your text, click on the dotted box to select it.

Type your text into the dotted box. The line extends to cover the text as you type.

Click outside of the equation object to view the finished “equation”, or overlined text.

Notice that when entering a hyphenated word or phrase into an equation in the Equation Editor, such as “How-To Geek”, there are spaces before and after the dash. That’s because it’s an equation and Word is treating the dash as a minus sign between two operands. If you would rather not have those spaces (or if you don’t have the Equation Editor installed), the first method above, or the following method, may work better for you.

Adding a Paragraph Border

Applying an overline to text can also be accomplished using paragraph borders. Type the text you want to overline into your Word document and make sure the “Home” tab is active on the ribbon bar. Click the down arrow on the “Borders” button in the “Paragraph” section of the “Home” tab.

Select “Top Border” from the drop-down menu.

The line above the paragraph extends from the left margin to the right margin. However, you can adjust the indents for that paragraph to shorten the line. To do this, you must make the ruler visible. Click the “View” tab.

In the “Show” section of the “View” tab, click the “Ruler” check box so there is a check mark in the check box.

To change the indents for the paragraph, put the cursor in the paragraph and put your mouse over one of the indent markers on the ruler. For this example, we’ll make the “Right Indent” bigger, shortening the line from the right.

NOTE: To move the left indent, put your mouse over the small box directly under the two small triangles on the left side of the ruler to move the triangles together. Do NOT move the triangles separately.

Click and drag the indent until the line is the length you want.

Release the mouse button when you’re done moving the indent. The line is now shorter.

Until Microsoft adds this capability as a regular feature, these methods provide ways around the limitation. They may not be as easy as highlighting text and clicking a single button, or pressing a shortcut key, but they’ll work in a pinch.

Profile Photo for Lori Kaufman Lori Kaufman
Lori Kaufman is a technology expert with 25 years of experience. She's been a senior technical writer, worked as a programmer, and has even run her own multi-location business.
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