How to Access Special Characters

Special characters are any beyond A – Z and 0 – 9. Some special characters are displayed on a standard keyboard. If you write in a non-English language, you will probably want to know how to access special characters, beyond those on the keyboard.

On a Windows computer, the character map, and the corresponding alt codes will allow for easy access to almost any special character.

On a Macintosh computer, use the Character Viewer as described in this MacWorld article.

Macintosh Character Viewer

Clicking on the globe/Fn key on the keyboard will bring up the Character Viewer.

Click on the letter you want to use in your text.

Character Viewer Macintosh

Windows Character Map

The character map is a program pre-installed on the Windows computers that has a vast library of all the special characters that aren’t generally on sStandard keyboard layouts.

Open the start menu and go into the “Windows Utilities” folder to find it. Users can also just search “character map” into the search bar to find the app.

Once found, users can pin it to the start menu, or taskbar for easy access if they desire.

After it’s opened, users will then see the beginning of the large list of characters. Users can either scroll through the list or use the search function underneath and type the corresponding English character. This will then give the closest matches that relate to the search terms.

In the example above, the letter A was searched for. The A with the umlaut was clicked on and the select button was pushed. Users can then copy and paste this character wherever they please from the “characters to copy” bar.

Users can also change the font as well as change the language library being displayed. The program defaults to the Unicode library. Users can access different character sets and libraries, for example Japanese or Simplified Chinese. For most western languages Unicode will be the best option.

What is Unicode?

Unicode is an International standard for identifying characters for all languages and numbers. Each character has a unique code identifier. In the example above, the Unicode identifier for Ä is U+00C4.

In the Character Map, the Unicode identifier is displayed along with a keystroke that can be used to type the character. This is commonly called the alt code as it requires typing the Alt key.

For commonly used special characters, memorizing the alt code allows a user to skip using the character map.

The example above shows Alt+0196 in the bottom right. This means if we want to type the letter Ä, we would hold down Alt and then type 0196 on the number pad.

If your keyboard doesn’t have a number pad, you may be able to press Alt+FN and then the numbers above the qwerty row on the keyboard. If that does not work then users will need to search for characters in the character map.

Check out the How to use special characters in Windows support page.

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