If you occasionally need to use mathematical symbols in your documents that aren’t available in Word’s “Insert Symbol” dialog box, there are a couple of easy methods for entering your own custom compound characters.

The “Arial Unicode MS” font has tons of English characters and symbols (as well as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters), but it does not have statistical symbols. However, it does have a very useful capability called “combining diacritics”, such as p-hat (the letter “p” with a carat over it as pictured in the image above) and y-bar (the letter “y” with a horizontal bar over it, as you’ll see later in this article). Here’s how to easily create these compound characters using the “Insert Symbol” dialog box and then using character codes.

NOTE: We’ve increased the size of the text in these images to 200% in Word for easier viewing.

To insert a custom compound character using the “Insert Symbol” dialog box, type the letter over which you want to add the diacritical mark. Then, click the “Insert” tab.

In “Symbols” section, click the “Symbol” button and then select “More Symbols” from the drop-down menu.

If your Word window is too narrow, you will only see the “Symbols” button. In that case, click the “Symbols” button, then click “Symbol” and select “More Symbols” from the drop-down menu.

In the “Symbol” dialog box, select “Arial Unicode MS” from the “Font” drop-down list.

Make sure “Arial Unicode MS” is selected in the “Font” drop-down list in the upper-left corner, and “Unicode (hex)” is selected in the “from” drop-down list in the lower-right corner, above the “Insert” and “Cancel” buttons. Then, find the diacritical mark you want to use in the chart of symbols and click on it.

If you know the Unicode character code for the diacritical mark, you can type that into the “Character code” edit box, too.

Once you’ve inserted a symbol, the dialog box does not close automatically. It’s a modeless dialog box, which means it can stay open while you perform other actions in the main program window. You can return to the “Symbol” dialog box at any time to insert another symbol. Also, after inserting a symbol, the “Cancel” button becomes the “Close” button. When you’re finished with the dialog box, click “Close”.

You now have a custom compound character and you can continue typing after it.

Here’s a quick and easy way of adding a diacritical mark above a letter if you know the Unicode character code: simply type the code directly after the letter (with no space)…

…and then press “Alt + X”. Word converts the code to a diacritical mark and places it above the previous letter.

There is a situation where this second method doesn’t work, however. If you try to place a diacritical mark over the letter “x”, nothing happens. For example, typing “y0305” and pressing “Alt + X” results in the y-bar symbol displayed in the above image, but typing “x0305” and pressing “Alt + X” does not work. We don’t know why this happens, but we found information online that corroborates this. When we tested it ourselves, it indeed didn’t work. So, if you need to create a compound character using the letter “x”, follow the first method.

There is also a free tool called WinCompose that sits in the system tray and allows you to easily create compound characters using shortcuts. You can download WinCompose here and also find instructions on using the program on the same webpage.

All three methods are easy to use and provide ways to add combining diacritics to your Word documents without having to use the Equation Editor. WinCompose doesn’t require Word, so you can use it to insert symbols into other programs, such as Notepad.

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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