Symbols, or icons, are everywhere, from menus to legal documents—they're even in ordinary documents now. They add functionality in a visual way, and fortunately, they're easy to insert. In this article, I'll illustrate how easy it is to add these visual tools to a document by adding checkmarks to a simple to-do list.
I'm using Word and Excel 2016 (desktop) on a Windows 10 64-bit system. Although I'm using the checkmark character in my example, Office has a comprehensive library of symbols that you'll add the same way. In addition, I'm working with Word and Excel, but symbols are available in most Office apps. We'll work with the symbol characters specifically; we won't use content, legacy, or ActiveX controls. Click here to download the sample files for this article.
1. Basic how-to
You may already be familiar with entering symbols. It's easy and most users learn how to do this early on:
- Insert your cursor where you want to insert the symbol.
- Click the Insert tab and then click Symbol in the Symbols group.
- If you've recently inserted the symbol, it will be on the dropdown—just a click away. If it's not there, click More Symbols.
- In the resulting dialog, choose Wingdings from the Font dropdown.
- Use the thumb to browse through the many symbols; when you find the one you want, select it (Figure A).
- Click Insert and then Close. Figure B shows the resulting symbol. I added a Tab to separate the symbol and the text. If Word indents the symbol and the text, use the smart tag to turn off automatical bullets.
Select the symbol.
You can use the inserted checkmark as any other character.
Word treats this character like any other textual character. You can increase or reduce the checkmark's size by changing the font size. You can also change its color. This method is available in Excel and most other Office apps.
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2. Bullet library
Symbols are sometimes available in the bullet library, but Word will treat the resulting character and its text item as a bulleted list—that might matter, it might not, and it might add behaviors you can exploit. (You won't use this method in Excel.) To use this route, position your cursor where you want to insert the symbol (bullet) and then click the Bullets dropdown (in the Paragraph group). Select the symbol from either the recently used offerings or the bullet library, as shown in Figure C. As you can see in Figure D, Word automatically indents the item because that's the default setting (you can change this setting) for a bulleted list.
Select the symbol.
Word indents the new checkmark and the list item, as it would a bullet.
For a quick indent fix, display the ruler (on the View tab) and drag the left indent for that item to the left margin. However, this isn't something you'd want to do every time you check an item off your list! If you want a permanent fix, read How to control spacing and alignment in a numbered list in Microsoft Word.
Add symbols to the library
Not all symbols are in the library, but you can easily add most, as follows:
- Click the Bullets dropdown and choose Define New Bullet.
- Click Symbol to launch the Symbol dialog.
- Use the instructions above to select the appropriate symbol.
- Click OK twice. As you can see in Figure E, I added the boxed checkmark to the library.
Add symbols to the bullet library.
At this point, you have one item that Word treats as a normal character—the one in the first list. The two following items, Word is treating as a bulleted list. I'm not suggesting you mix and match; it's a contrived example and I'm showing you how to use the features available. I'm not illustrating how to create a useable to-do list. So, don't ley the discrepancies bother you. However, it's easy to forget you're using bullets, and might cause a bit of frustration when the list doesn't respond to other tasks the way you expect.
Once you have the symbol in your document, you can avoid the interface route and simply paste the existing symbol. Select it, press Ctrl+c, position your cursor where you want the new symbol and press Ctrl+v. It's that simple. You can use this method in any Office app.
SEE: How to use Excel's what-if tools to analyze business scenarios (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
4. Alt key
My least favorite way to enter a symbol is to use the Alt shortcut because you need to know the symbol's character code and then you must format the cell—it's too much work. However, it's a helpful solution if you want to enter a symbol that you can't find in Word's symbol library. To use this method, do the following:
- Position the cursor where you want to insert the symbol.
- Hold down the Alt key and use the number keypad to enter the character code—that's 0252 for the plain checkmark and 0254 for the boxed checkmark. Word will display an odd character (Figure F) to display the checkmark. (You might need to press Num Lock on your keyboard.)
- Highlight the new character and apply Wingdings from the Font dropdown.
Similar to the symbol in #1, you can change font properties for this checkmark. You can use this method in any Office app.
Word inserts an odd-looking character, not the checkmark you expected.
The first four methods will work similarly in most Office apps, including Excel. Let's switch gears a bit to see how you can use a formula in Excel. Now, with our simple example, this technique would be overkill, but it's a good technique to know just the same. Unlike Word, it takes a bit of setup, but with all the pieces in place, it works without any additional effort on your part.
We'll illustrate this method using the same simple list (Figure G). The first step is to apply the Wingding font to the checkmark column (Complete) as follows. Select B3:B7 and choose Wingdings from the Font dropdown. Next, enter the following formula in B3 and then copy it to the remaining data set (column B):
Now you're ready to use the list. Simply enter a completion date in column D and watch Excel automatically display a checkmark, as shown in Figure G.
The formula displays a checkmark when you enter a completion date.
Send me your question about Office
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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.