Google Docs – Adding special characters

Apart from the usual fonts and letters we sometimes want to add very specific characters, e.g. arrows, Greek letters, emoji, etc. Docs provides a wide range of these and they are simple to insert into your document. In addition to this, Docs also provides a way to simply add mathematical equations.


Inserting special characters

Go to the “Insert” menu and select “Special characters”.

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The Insert special characters dialogue box will open. On the left you have the possible characters. At the top you have menus to access more characters. On the right you can either search for a character by name or even roughly draw it!

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Let’s start by adding an arrow from the initial list of characters on the left. To do this all you need to do is, click on the character. It will automatically add the character to your document. Click twice, and it’ll add the character twice.

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Once you’ve added one character, the top menu changes, and the “Categories” menu appears on the left.

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Adding recently used characters

Click on the “Categories” menu and you’ll see that you have the option of filtering by the characters you’ve recently used. Click on “Recent characters”.

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And here’s the arrow we inserted earlier. It’s a great way to insert characters if you’re adding the same ones again.

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Choosing different characters

There are hundreds of characters to choose from. Click on the “Arrows” menu and you will see that Arrows is just one option in the “Symbol” menu. We can add Braille, game pieces, emoticons, etc. Just click on a category and the possible characters will change.

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We can also change the main menu and not just look for symbols, but other characters such as, emoji, and other scripts.

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For example, let’s choose the Latin script.

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Here we can see the Latin alphabet, but not just the English one, but it includes the letters in other languages too. This is useful, for adding letters with accents if your keyboard doesn’t have a shortcut on it.

Plus, this includes further options, such as, the phonetic symbols (letters that represent sounds in a language), which as I work in teaching English as a Foreign Language, is very useful as it allows me to write out the phonetics of the words to help my students understand the pronunciation of a word. Clicking on Phonetics (IPA) brings up the phonetics, plus other symbols related to this field.

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Finding special characters

As you can see, there are a lot of options here, and sometimes it can be hard to look through the various menus and pages of characters, and find what you’re looking for. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to do this.

First, we can draw the character we want. In the box on the right, draw with your mouse, roughly the symbol you’re looking for. Here I was looking for the greek letter Theta. In the search results on the left, I can see that it found it, plus it found other possibilities that look similar to what I drew, including emoji like the crystal ball!

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Secondly, there is a search box where I can write in a keyword or the specific code of the character. Here I’ve typed “U+03B8” and it finds that specific character. How did I get that code? The first time I found it, when I hovered over the character, it shows the character in more detail, the name, and finally the character code.

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Personally, if I don’t know where the character is, I use the drawing to find it, as your drawing skills don’t need to be as good as one of the great artists!


Adding mathematical equations

Docs has a dedicated way to add mathematical equations, so you don’t have to use the special characters menu.

To open the equation toolbar, go to the “insert” menu and select “Equation”.

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Below the regular toolbar, you’ll see the equation one.

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To insert an equation, click on “New equation”. This inserts a little box in your document. The equation will go inside that box.

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Next to the “New equation” button, there are drop-down menus which contain the symbols you need.

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The one below is a little different as this allows you to place the information in your equation, for example, the first one (a/b) allows you to show something divided by something. You insert this format, then type in the equation you want.

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Using this I created the one below fairly quickly, which (I believe) is the equation for standard normal distribution. Any mathematicians out there, please accept my apologies if I’m wrong! But as this isn’t a maths lesson, the point is that you can create quite complicated equations within Docs.

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eBooks now available on Drive, Forms, Sheets, Docs, and Slides:

Baz Roberts (Flipboard / Twitter / Google+)


8 thoughts on “Google Docs – Adding special characters

  1. This is great! I passed the information along to our two Instructional Math Coaches. I’m in a doctorate program right now, and the Greek letters are greatly needed in my stats class.

    • I’m not heard of this problem before. The only thing I can think of is maybe it depends on the printer you’re using as it may not support a full character set. I would ask in one of the Google App Google+ communities where someone may have an answer. There are some links to these on the homepage of this blog.

  2. Does this only work with the online version of docs? I am unable to perform these actions in the Google Docs app on my ipad

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