Finding Symbols

Picture of ampersand symbol

Welcome to the second post of "Build Your Skills". We’re going to learn how to find symbols not found on your keyboard such as (→°£∴á).

The Hard Way


First, let’s learn a little bit about characters. All of the letter, number, and symbol characters (abcde12345!#@%...) found on a typical US keyboard can also be found in a character encoding standard called the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). There are 128 ASCII characters and ASCII extended has even more. Google “ASCII chart”. Each ASCII character has a three digit code. For example, the code for the degree symbol (°) is 248. So, to insert (°) in a text box, you would hold down the [Alt] key and type this character’s ASCII code (248). This is normally written as (A+248).

If ASCII doesn’t have the symbol you need, check out the character set called Unicode. Unicode contains all the ASCII characters and several thousand other characters. Unicode contains characters from many different languages and tons of interesting symbols (i.e. the Arabic Letter Ghain (غ) or the heart symbol (❤)). Check out unicode-table.com to see more. To insert a Unicode character into Microsoft Word, type the 4-digit code for a Unicode character in a document. Then press [Alt]+X. For example, type 00A9 then press [Alt]+X to insert the (©) symbol. This is normally written as (U+00A9).

You can also find Unicode symbols in the Character Map program that comes standard on Windows machines or under “Symbols” in Microsoft Word. The Character Map and Symbols table show the Unicode code point (i.e. U+00A9) for each symbol and also allow symbols to be copied or inserted.

The Easy Way


Finding a symbol in a table can be like finding a needle in a haystack. But, luckily, there’s an easy way to find a symbol.

Google it!

Let’s say you want to insert the symbol for a hamburger button (☰). Just Google search “hamburger symbol”. Find the text version of the symbol in the search results. Copy it. Paste where you want.

This method usually works great. But sometimes when you paste a symbol from search results into another program, the symbol will retain its source formatting, which may differ from the formatting in the program where you want to paste.

Here are two fixes. You can paste the symbol first into notepad. Then re-copy the symbol and paste it to your destination. This clears off the source formatting and leaves plain text characters. Or you can copy the symbol from its original source and paste the symbol into your document. Then use the format painter feature to change the symbol to the same formatting as the surrounding text.