As scientists, we tend to use symbols a lot, particularly the Greek letters. Exactly which ones you use will depend on your particular branch of science and topic of research but there will almost certainly be some symbols that you use again and again. For me it is µ (mu, micro-), α (alpha), β (beta), Δ (delta), ° (degrees) and ± (plus/minus).
When you have to stop typing to insert a symbol, it can get irritating and if you have to do it often it can really slow you down. I highly recommend setting up some keyboard shortcuts for the ones you use most often. I’m going to describe the way to do this in Microsoft Word which is where I do most of my typing.
- In Word click on the arrow below Symbol on the Insert ribbon and select More Symbols.
- Find a symbol you regularly use and select it.
- Click the Shortcut Key… button.
- Now you can choose the shortcut you want to assign to that character. If you choose a shortcut that already performs some other function, Word will let you know. Here I’ve selected Ctrl-M as a shortcut for the micro symbol but Word tells me it is already assigned to ‘Indent’. I use the indent function quite often and may well want to use the standard shortcut someday so I’m not going to reassign Ctrl-M. Instead I choose Alt-M which is currently unassigned.
- Click Assign and the shortcut moves to Current keys.
- Make sure Save changes in: is set to Normal.dotm. This means the shortcuts will be available in all Word documents using the Normal template.
- Now close the dialog box and repeat for any other characters you regularly use.
Notes: Try to be logical when you assign shortcuts. They are only any use if you remember them! If you need a shortcut for alpha, it’s much easier to remember Alt-A than Ctrl-Shift-6. Alt is generally a good choice for all your shortcuts as it’s not already assigned and it’s easy to remember and type.
Has this post helped you? If so, please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.