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Equation Editor Tips & Tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of Equation Editor. Except where indicated, these tips should work for all versions of Equation Editor and for both the Windows and Macintosh platforms. We intend to keep adding more tips in the future, so if you bookmark this page it will be easy to check back later for updates. In fact, if you have any Equation Editor tips you would like to share with others, send them to Some of these tips assume you are using Equation Editor with Microsoft Word. Users of other word processors can often make use of these tips but will have to adjust the steps to their own situation.

General Tip #1: Use the help file
Tip #2: Keyboard shortcut "Top 10"
Tip #3: Editing equations in a separate window rather than "in-place"
Tip #4: Formatting equations with numbers to the right
Tip #5: Automatically numbered equations
Tip #6: Kerning headlines
Tip #7: Using a word processing document as an equation library
Tip #8: Put generic equations in your equation library document, then fill in the variables or values later
Tip #9: Using a word processor's "glossary" feature as an equation library
Tip #10: Equation Editor can be used with almost any other application
Tip #11: Keep an Equation Editor window open as an equation scratchpad
Tip #12: Keep an Equation Editor window open to make equations open faster
Formatting equations Tip #13 Template "wrapping" and replacement
Tip #14: Putting a box around an equation
Tip #15: Use matrices to create simple blank grids
Tip #16: Use matrices to create pictographs
Tip #17: Use matrices to format a system of equations or inequalities
Tip #18: Placing an arc over more than one character
Tip #19: Grade-school arithmetic
Microsoft Office Tip #20: Creating a toolbar button in Word and PowerPoint that inserts an equation
Tip #21: Getting around "float on top" problems with Microsoft Word 97
Tip #22: Animated equations in PowerPoint
Tip #23: To change the color of an equation inserted into PowerPoint
Tip #24: Use Equation Editor to label graphs or drawings
MathType Tip #25: The ultimate Equation Editor tip: upgrade to MathType

Tip #1: Use the help file

Although this may seem obvious, our technical support department gets many calls from Equation Editor users with questions that are answered in its online help file. You most likely will find something useful just by browsing through it when you have an otherwise idle moment. To get to the help, choose Equation Editor Help from the Help menu in Equation Editor itself.

Tip #2: Keyboard shortcut "Top 10"

Here are some of the most commonly used keyboard shortcuts in Equation Editor. Of course there are many more, and which ones you use the most will depend on what kind of math you write. Check the Equation Editor help file for more shortcuts.

Command Windows Macintosh
Zooming to 400% Ctrl+4 (see Note 1 below) z+4
Inserting Greek letters Ctrl+G, followed by a letter key z+G, followed by a letter key
Fraction Ctrl+F z+F
Superscript Ctrl+H ("high") z+E (see Note 2 below)
Subscript Ctrl+L ("low") z+L ("low")
Square root Ctrl+R ("root" or "radical") z+R ("root" or "radical")
Definite Integral Ctrl+I z+I
Thin space (e.g. before "dx" in an integral) Ctrl+space z+space (see Note 3 below)
Adding plain text Ctrl+Shift+E z+Shift+E
Going back to math after adding text Ctrl+Shift+= z+Shift+=

Note 1: On Windows computers, the Zoom shortcut only works if you have Equation Editor set to open in a separate window. See Tip #3.

Note 2: OS X only. In OS 9, the shortcut for Superscript is z+H.

Note 3: Beginning with OS version 10.4, the Spotlight function uses the shortcut z+space, which left an Equation Editor thin space without a shortcut. You can disable Spotlight's shortcut (bringing back the shortcut for thin space) by clicking on Keyboard & Mouse in System Preferences. On the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, scroll down near the bottom and un-check "Show Spotlight search field". This does not disable Spotlight, only the shortcut.

By the way, MathType takes keyboard shortcuts even farther: it allows you to customize them and lets you create shortcuts that consist of one or two keystrokes. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #3: Editing equations in a separate window rather than "in-place"

Some Equation Editor users prefer to have a separate window open each time they create or edit an equation, rather than the default "in-place" editing. There are several possible reasons to prefer "open mode" editing over in-place:

  • The viewing scale of the equation windows can be controlled independently of the viewing scale of the word processing or presentation window. Whereas you might want to edit your document at a scale of 100% or 125%, equations are sometimes hard to read and edit at such scales. We recommend using 200% scale in your equation windows.
  • The menus and toolbars of your word processor don't jump around when switching back-and-forth between equation editing and document editing.
  • By opening Equation Editor in a separate window, you can keep it open and use it as an "equation scratchpad". (See Tip #11.)

Here's how you can change your Equation Editor installation to force separate equation windows to open:


Save the force_open.reg file whose link is below to your hard disk (anywhere is fine; it is a very small file). You can do this by right-clicking on the link, then selecting Save Target As or Save Link As. Then, using the Windows Explorer or the Run command on the Start menu, run the downloaded file. This will cause Window's RegEdit program to read the file and make the appropriate changes in the registry. Use the in_place.reg file in similar fashion if you want to reverse this and go back to editing equations in-place.

If you are using Equation Editor on a network, such as at work or school, you probably won't be able to change to "separate window" editing. Note that in MathType for Windows, you can change a setting in the Preferences menu to switch from "separate window" editing to "in-place" editing and back, rather than going through the Windows Registry.


Note: Beginning with Microsoft Word 98, and including all versions of Word for OS X, Word for Macintosh no longer supports in-place editing, so this is not an issue. Don't try to make Equation Editor do in-place editing with Word 98 and later; it won't work.

In earlier versions, run the SimpleText program, open the "Equation Editor Preferences" file in the Preferences folder of the System Folder. This file is broken up into sections; look for the section labeled "[General]". Look for a line that sets the ForceOpen variable, if there is one. If not, insert a line right after the [General] label that looks like this:

    ForceOpen = 1

If the ForceOpen line was already there, just change the number after the equal sign to 1. Quit the SimpleText program and, when it asks you, save changes to the file. Now Equation Editor should open in a separate window.

To reverse this, and make Equation Editor do in-place editing, just open the file again and change the ForceOpen value to 0.

Tip #4: Formatting equations with numbers to the right

This is one of our most frequently asked technical support questions. Display equations are equations that are placed in their own paragraph, as opposed to "inline" or "text" equations which are placed in the same line as normal text. Although there are many ways to format these, the most common is to center the equation between the margins and insert an equation number to the right of the equation, flush against the right margin. This is easy to do in most, if not all, word processors. The basic idea is to place a centering tab-stop centered between the left and right margins and a right-justifying tab-stop placed exactly on the right margin. For each equation, create a single paragraph containing the following items from left-to-right: a tab, the equation, another tab, the equation number.

Here's what this looks like in Microsoft Word (the tab-stops have been circled in red):

Once you have mastered this technique, you can gain a little more efficiency by creating a paragraph style that contains the tab-stop arrangement. One you have such a style, you can simply apply it to your display equations.

This situation is so common that MathType adds a toolbar button that automates the whole thing. You can see it in the picture above; it's the fourth toolbar icon from the left. The third toolbar icon from the left inserts the number at the left margin. Some publications, such as NCTM's Mathematics Teacher prefer the equation numbers in the left margin. Click here to find out more about MathType.

That said, you can do automatic equation numbering without MathType, it's just a little more work. This is the subject of the next tip.

Tip #5: Automatically numbered equations

One obvious way to number equations is by simply typing numbers next to your equations and updating them manually whenever an equation is inserted or deleted. If you have only a few equations in your document, this isn't too much trouble. But, if you have long documents with many equations, this can really be tedious and time-consuming. This tip uses some of the more powerful features of today's word processors to automate the renumbering process. Although this procedure is described using Microsoft Word, many word processors have similar features. Just look for "numbering" in your word processor's online help or user manual.

Inserting a sequenced equation number

Here's how to insert an automatically resequencing number in Microsoft Word:

  1. Insert a display equation as in the previous tip, but leave out the equation number.
  2. With the insertion point placed where the equation number should go, use the Insert Field command to insert a SEQ (sequence) field.
  3. In the Field dialog, choose SEQ from the Field Names list. SEQ will also appear in the "Advanced field properties" on the right side of the dialog. (If using Word for Macintosh, this will be in the bottom half of the dialog.)
  4. In the "Advanced field properties" area, add a space then EqnNum after SEQ so it reads "SEQ EqnNum". EqnNum is an arbitrary variable name that Word will increment each time you insert a new equation number using this same variable name.
  5. Close the dialog. The new field will show up in your document as "1". The next one you insert will show up as "2".

Resequencing the equation numbers after changes to the document

Now let's pretend you have done this several times in your document, so now you have sequentially numbered equations. Let's say you decide to insert another numbered equation in the middle of your document. Now the equation numbers will be out of sequence. To get them back in sequence, select the entire document and type F9. Like magic, all the numbers will be put back in order. Word also has a handy feature to do this every time you print or save the document.

Advanced techniques

The process of going through the Insert Field command every time can be improved upon. Here are some ways to speed this up:

  • You can use Word's macro recording facilities to record these steps and assign them to a toolbar button, a menu command, a keystroke shortcut, or all three.
  • You can use Word's AutoText feature to insert the equation number by assigning it a keyword that, once typed, will be replaced by the equation number. This can be extended to insert a placeholder equation along with tabs (see Tip #4). You can then double-click on the dummy equation and change it into the real one.

In complicated documents, equation numbers may need to be in the form of <section number>.<equation number>. You can do this using two different sequence variables, one for the equation number and one for the section number. You will need to learn some details on how Word's field codes work to pull this off. In particular, you need to know how to re-start the equation number at the top of each section and how to use the section number without making it increment each time. Just refer to Word's documentation and help to find out how to do this.

MathType will take care of all of this for you. It even gives you some choices on how the equation number is formatted. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #6: Kerning headlines

This tip has nothing to do with mathematics or equations. You can use nudging in Equation Editor for a quick and easy way to kern headlines or headings in a document. Kerning is the professional's term for adjusting the spacing between characters to improve their appearance. Following is an example of a headline using unkerned text and then the same headline kerned using Equation Editor:


You can see how much more even the kerned version appears. High-quality fonts have kerning information built into them and some, but not all, applications make use of this information. Often manual kerning is the only solution.

To create a manually kerned headline, follow these steps:

  1. Insert an equation where you want the headline to be.
  2. Set the font and size you want the headline to be using Equation Editor's Other Style and Other Size commands.
  3. Type the headline.
  4. Find the first pair of characters from the left whose spacing you want to adjust.
  5. Select the text from the rightmost character of the pair to the right end of the text.
  6. While holding the Ctrl key down (use the z key on the Macintosh), use the right and left arrow keys to adjust the spacing to your liking.
  7. Repeat steps 4 through 6 for each pair of characters you want to kern.

Kerning can be a little tedious, so if you have some words you use in headlines often, save them in a word processing document for later use. By coincidence, this happens to be the subject of our next tip...

Tip #7: Using a word processing document as an equation library

Mathematics can be a very repetitive business. If you teach mathematics, you probably end up using the same equations again and again. If you are doing research, each equation may be different, but the same expressions show up again and again. Rather than typing in the same expression each time, use a word processing document to keep track of your commonly used expressions. This may seem obvious to some of you, but there are some nuances you may not have thought of.

Modern word processors give you the ability to work with more than one document at a time. This lets you keep open the document you are creating as well as a document you maintain as a library of equations and expressions. We won't cover the details of document creation here as they differ from word processor to word processor. You probably know how to do this already. If not, consult your application's documentation.

What we are going to describe are some tips for getting the most out of this technique. In the following, we will refer to the document containing your often-used expressions and equations as the "library document" and the document that you are in the process of creating as the "work document".

Note: Most of the techniques covered here will only work if you allow Equation Editor to open equations as separate windows. See Tip #3.
  • Besides using copy-and-paste (or drag-and-drop) to transfer entire equations from your library document to the work document, you can use copy-and-paste to transfer expressions from the library document directly into the Equation Editor window. This way you can make building complex equations much easier.
  • You can create a keyword index to the expressions in your library document by simply typing keywords next to each expression. When you want to locate an expression by a keyword, just use your word processor's Find command. (Don't type the keywords into the expression itself; type them into the library document.)
  • To get maximum benefit from these techniques, it might be helpful to learn your word processor's keyboard shortcuts for switching between multiple open documents. For example, Microsoft Word for Windows uses Ctrl+F6 to do this. You should be able to find these out by looking in your word processor's online help. Similarly, you may want to learn your operating system's keyboard shortcut to switch between applications. This will come in handy for switching from your word processor to an open Equation Editor window and back. For Windows users, this is Alt+Tab.

See the next two tips for alternative (or complementary) techniques for saving equations and expressions for later use.

Tip #8: Put generic equations in your equation library document, then fill in the variables or values later

Some equations you use are probably in the form of a common formula, such as the distance formula, the binomial distribution, or any one of an unlimited list of formulas. You could put the full formula in your equation library document, then backspace over the variables and replace them with values. That takes too long. A better solution is to replace each of the variables with a 1x1 matrix. That way when you copy the formula from the library document to your work document, you can double-click the formula and enter the actual values or variables. As you enter the new values, press the Tab key to move from one to the next.

Instead of saving this: you'll be saving this:

MathType makes this easier by letting you save these generic equations and formulas to the toolbar. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #9: Using a word processor's "glossary" feature as an equation library

A related but separate technique for saving common equations and expressions is to use your word processor's "glossary" feature. Word processors use different names for this feature (Microsoft Word calls it "AutoText") but basically it consists of the ability to associate a long word, picture, paragraph, chapter, or whatever with a simple, easy-to-type word or acronym. At Design Science, for example, we can set up our word processor to enter "Design Science" every time we type "DS".

Most modern word processors allow a glossary entry to contain equations as well as text. If this is the case with your word processor, you can use this feature to associate "quadratic" with an equation containing the quadratic formula, for instance. Consult your word processor's documentation to learn the details of its glossary feature.

Of course, this technique can be used together with the equation library document technique discussed in the last tip. Here are some pros and cons to help you decide which technique to use:

  • An expression may be inserted into your document much more quickly using the glossary because you don't have to switch windows. This makes it practical to use a glossary entry for a single character (e.g. "alpha" for the first Greek letter or "xbar" to insert the variable x with an overbar).
  • It is easier to browse your equation library visually than the contents of the glossary. The glossary only works for expressions to which you can associate a memorable word or phrase.
  • It is likely you'll find it easier to add expressions to the library document than the glossary because you'll use the same features in everyday document editing.
  • The equation library document is easier to share with other people because it can be printed, emailed, etc.

MathType has its own features for saving commonly used expressions, equations, and symbols. You can place them on its toolbar and later you simply click on the item to insert it directly into the equation. This virtually eliminates the need for the techniques discussed in this tip and the previous one. Click here to find out more about MathType. We also have a tutorial that explains how to use Word's AutoText and AutoCorrect very effectively with Equation Editor and MathType.

Tip #10: Equation Editor can be used with almost any other application

Although you got Equation Editor as part of some software package (most likely Microsoft Word or Works), it is a separate application. This means it can be used with virtually any other application you might use. For example, you might use a drawing program to graph some mathematical function. You may be able to use Equation Editor to label the curve with its equation. Equations can even be added to records in a database.

Finding the best way to make Equation Editor work with another application depends largely on that application's features. Here, in order of preference, are the two ways Equation Editor can be used with another application:

  • If the application is OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) compatible, look for an Insert Object command. Most Windows applications are OLE-compatible; on the Macintosh, this is pretty much limited to Microsoft applications. Some applications may support OLE but not have an Insert Object command. To find out how (or if) your application supports inserting objects, look for "OLE" or "object" in the index of its documentation.
  • Run Equation Editor as a separate application (see next tip), create equations in the Equation Editor window, and then use copy-and-paste to transfer each equation into your application. If the target application is OLE-compatible, the result of the paste will be an OLE object. If not, it will be pasted as a picture. This difference may be important to you later, because if you double-click an OLE equation, Equation Editor will open up for you to edit the equation. If you double-click a picture, you may get a "Format Picture" dialog or you may get a paint program opening up to edit the picture. Also, an OLE equation will almost always print with better quality than a picture equation.

To run Equation Editor as a separate application, you need to find where Equation Editor is stored on your computer's hard disk. This is covered in the next tip.

With MathType, you can place equations in an even larger set of document types because it can save equations as files. Using EPS (Encapsulated PostScript), you can work with professional desktop publishing applications. To create web pages with mathematics, save your equations as GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) files. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #11: Keep an Equation Editor window open as an equation scratchpad

Although we already gave you some tips on saving often-used equations and expressions (see Tip #7, Tip #8, and Tip #9), it may also be useful to keep an Equation Editor window open for use as an equation scratchpad. The easiest way to do this is to run Equation Editor as a separate application. To make this convenient, you need to find out where Equation Editor is located on your computer's hard disk and make a shortcut to it. Here's how to do this:

  • Windows: Use the Find Files or Folders command on the Start menu to find a file named EQNEDT32.EXE (or EQNEDIT.EXE on some systems). Once you have found the file, make a shortcut to it on your desktop or in the Start menu. Consult your Windows documentation if you don't know how to do this. The default location is C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Equation.
  • Macintosh: Use the Find command on the Finder's File menu to find a file named "Equation Editor". (Depending on your OS version, you could also use Sherlock or Spotlight.) Once you have found this file, you can make an alias to it and put it on your desktop or in the Apple menu. Consult your Macintosh documentation if you don't know how to do this. With OS X, you can add Equation Editor to the Dock.

Whenever you start working with equations, first run Equation Editor by using the shortcut you created. Equation Editor will open a new empty equation window that is not associated with any equation in any document. You can use this window as a scratchpad, placing any equation or expression in it you want and using cut-and-paste or copy-and-paste to transfer expressions into the documents you create. Once you have started Equation Editor this way, you still insert new equations as you usually do. Make sure you don't close the Equation Editor scratchpad window until you are done working with equations. However, if you accidentally close it, just start Equation Editor again using the shortcut.

Starting Equation Editor as a separate application has another advantage, which we discuss in the next tip.

MathType contains a New command on its File menu, therefore you can create a scratchpad window any time you want. You can also open as many equation windows as you want. The MathType installer automatically creates the shortcut you need to run it as a separate application. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #12: Keep an Equation Editor window open to make equations open faster

In the last tip, we showed you how to run Equation Editor as a separate application. We won't repeat that process here; refer to it if you need to. In this tip we'll describe an added benefit of running Equation Editor this way: speed.

Whenever you insert an equation into your document or edit an existing equation and Equation Editor is not already running, it must be started. Although your word processor takes care of this automatically, it may result in a perceptible delay. Exactly how much of a delay depends on the speed of your computer and other factors, but will generally be 3-5 seconds. Rather than keeping the default behavior of starting Equation Editor in "in-place editing" mode, if you start Equation Editor by itself and keep it running throughout your document-editing session, it will respond faster whenever you need it for equation editing.

MathType takes this technique a step or two further with its "server mode" feature. You can start MathType up in server mode and it will stay in memory until you tell it to quit or it will quit automatically after some period of inactivity (that you can set). Also, you don't have to remember to start MathType up in server mode before starting to work with equations. There is a preference option that will cause MathType to start in server mode on the first equation operation. This is a Windows-only feature, since MathType for Macintosh is always in server mode. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #13: Template "wrapping" and replacement

Have you ever typed an equation, then realized it would be easier to read if this big expression were enclosed in parentheses? Or, perhaps your equation uses a summation template without limits, then you decide it really must have limits after all. Both of these situations can be handled quickly without having to re-type the equation or do a big cut-and-paste job. What you need is template wrapping in the first case and template replacement in the second.

Template wrapping

To demonstrate template wrapping, we'll take an example from one of the tutorials in the MathType manual. Let's start with a common statistical formula:


But now we notice a problem! The 1/n should apply to the entire right side of the equation. Let's indicate this by putting parentheses around it and, because we want the parentheses to be big enough to unambiguously enclose the expression, we'll use a parenthesis template. Wrapping is easy; just select the part of the equation to be wrapped:


Now insert the wrapping template in the normal way. An inserted template will wrap itself around anything that is selected. So now our expression looks like this:


Template replacement

Now we see another problem: the summation is supposed to have limits. To fix this we'll use template replacement. First, select the template and its contents:


Next, hold down the Alt key (use the Option key on the Macintosh). With the Alt key depressed, press and hold the left mouse button until the mouse pointer is over the template you want. When the pointer is over that template, release the mouse button, then release the Alt key. In this case, we choose the summation with upper and lower limits. All that is left is to type in the limits and we are done:


Tip #14: Putting a box around an equation

Often it's helpful to include an equation enclosed inside a box, either for emphasis or to set it apart from the surrounding data. This is a great way to highlight the answer to an example problem, such as:

To do this, first create a 1-by-1 matrix. In the matrix dialog box, click in the preview pane outside the matrix on all four sides. This will insert solid lines around the matrix. If you want the lines to be dashed, click twice. If you want them dotted, click three times. Click once more to remove a line.

With MathType, you don't need to use this tip as it has box templates. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #15: Use matrices to create simple blank grids

Equation Editor's matrix templates can be used for all kinds of things. For example, here is a blank grid that could be useful in a test or a quiz calling for students to graph a function:


To create such a grid, you just insert a matrix with the appropriate number of rows and columns and add partition lines between the elements. These lines can be solid (click once between rows or columns), dotted (click twice), or dashed (click 3 times).

This tip is very useful when combined with Tip #9. You can insert a grid that corresponds with the letters "gr" in your word processor's glossary ("AutoText" or "AutoCorrect" in MS Word). Now when you type gr followed by a Space, a Return (or Enter), a Tab, or any punctuation symbol, the glossary replaces gr with the grid. If you want several grids, why not label them according to the size – gr6 for a 6x6, gr10 for a 10x10, etc.

Tip #16: Use matrices to create pictographs

This is a use of matrices many people don’t consider. Create a matrix with the dimensions you need, and use a font with special characters (such as Zapf Dingbats or Wingdings) to insert the symbols. For example:

       eetips_pictograph.gif (4138 bytes)

MathType has a powerful Insert Symbol feature that makes it easy to explore the fonts installed on your computer in order to find just the characters you need. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #17: Use matrices to format a system of equations or inequalities

One thing that's difficult to do well without special techniques is to properly format a system of equations such that the variables, coefficients and mathematical operators are aligned in columns. For example:


The easiest and best way to align a system of equations or inequalities is with a matrix. Similar techniques may be used for piecewise functions. Follow these steps:

  1. Select the "left brace" template (it's on the "Fence templates" palette at the far left).
  2. Insert a matrix into the template slot. Your matrix will need one row for each equation in the system, and it will need one more column than there are variables in the system. The matrix above is a 3 by 4 matrix. Specify "Column alignment: Right" when you insert the matrix. (This must be done in the Matrix dialog when you first build the matrix. The Align Right option in the Format menu is not what you want.)
  3. Enter the equations into the matrix by putting a coefficient, a variable, and the operator into each of the first three cells in the row, and the result in the last cell. The cells in the first row above are "3x+", "4y+", "z=", and "17".
  4. Since you're using right column alignment, the operators will all line up. In the case where there isn't an operator following a variable, like in the third equation above, insert spaces after the variable to move it to the left. Hold down the Ctrl key as you press the spacebar to insert the spaces. (Use the option key and the spacebar on the Macintosh.)
  5. In Equation Editor's Format menu, select Define Spacing. Set the matrix column spacing to 25% and click OK.

You may notice the y variables above aren't perfectly aligned. This is due to the fact that the width of four spaces is not exactly the same as the width of a +. MathType makes this easier by letting you insert a white + after the y in the third equation, thus aligning them perfectly. (Since it's white, it won't show up when you print it.) With MathType, you can also save the spacing adjustments to a preference file, eliminating the need for you to change the column spacing each time. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #18: Placing an arc over more than one character

One limitation of Equation Editor that many people run into is that its arc embellishment (or accent) will only cover a single character. This sometimes makes it hard to describe geometric arcs. For example:


With a little resizing and nudging, you can get a reasonable approximation. Here are the steps:

  1. Insert the Over-script template (it's on the 3rd template palette from the left).
  2. Type the material to go under the arc into the lower slot. In this case, "ABC".
  3. Click into the smaller slot to place the insertion point there.
  4. Use the Other command on the Style menu to select the MT Extra font.
  5. Type a ")". This will insert the arc.
  6. Select the arc.
  7. Use the Other command on the Size menu to increase the size of the arc until it covers the characters. You may not be able to cover them completely before the arc starts to look ugly, but do the best you can. If the characters under the arc are 12 points, you may need to make the arc around 40 points in size.
  8. Use nudging to adjust the arc's placement over the characters. (If you're not familiar with nudging, open the Equation Editor Help file and click on Spacing and Alignment in Equations > Make fine adjustments to an equation.) Use the arrow keys on the keyboard while holding the Ctrl key down (on the Macintosh use the z key) to move the arc in the desired direction.

Here's the final result:


This tip is unnecessary if you own MathType as it includes a template for placing arcs over many characters, which is how we created the example following the first paragraph above. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #19: Grade-school arithmetic

Here's another tip involving the use of matrices. The goal here is to create a simple arithmetic problem:


Here are the steps used to create this:

  1. Insert a 3-row, 1-column matrix with a solid partition line between the 2nd and 3rd rows (See Tip #14 for more details). Make sure you use decimal point column alignment. If some of the numbers do not have a decimal point, the numbers will still align to the right of the units digit.
  2. Type 34.5 into the top row, +458.24 into the middle row, and 492.74 into the bottom row.
  3. Now notice that the plus sign is too close to the number. We can fix this by adding a little space. Place the insertion point between them and insert a thick space (use Ctrl+Shift+Space on Windows, Option+Space on the Macintosh, or choose from the 2nd symbol palette).

With MathType, you can save this whole construct on the toolbar. That way, you can just click on it to insert the addition problem and then change the numbers for the specific instance. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #20: Creating a toolbar button in Word and PowerPoint that inserts an equation

Most users insert Equation Editor equations by choosing the Object command on the Insert menu. You then see a list of objects you can insert into your document, and double-clicking "Microsoft Equation 3.0" launches Equation Editor. There is an easier way! You can add a button to the toolbars in Word and PowerPoint. Clicking this button will allow you to insert a new equation into your document or presentation with a single click.

Note: This procedure will not work for Office 2007.

Just follow these steps to add an Equation Editor icon to either Word's or PowerPoint's toolbar:

  1. To add the icon, choose the Customize command on the Tools menu to display the Customize dialog.
  2. Click on the Commands tab to display the list of commands.
  3. You will see a list of Categories on the left and a list of Commands on the right. On the left, click "Insert". On the right, scroll down and near the bottom of the list will be the Equation Editor button eetips_ee_button.gif (955 bytes). Click on this button and drag it to the toolbar, placing it wherever you want it. (It must go onto an existing toolbar.) Click "Close" on the "Customize" dialog. That’s all there is to it!
  4. If you were in Word, you must perform these steps again if you also want the icon in PowerPoint (or vice versa).

This tip is unnecessary if you have MathType because MathType installs icons onto Word and PowerPoint automatically. Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #21: Getting around "float on top" problems with Microsoft Word 97

Word 97's Insert Object command brings up a dialog with a "float over text" checkbox. You usually want to uncheck this when creating equations or they will be added to the "page layout" layer of your document. This makes it difficult to place the equations in the right position with respect to the text. The good news is you can uncheck this option in the dialog to allow the equations to be inserted into the text flow. The bad news is that unchecking the box only works for one equation. When you go back into this dialog, "float over text" is checked again!

There are several ways to fix this problem:

  1. Get a newer version of Word 97. Microsoft has fixed this problem in version SR-1 and later. You still have to uncheck "float on top" but it "sticks". Check on their website (
  2. Create a toolbar button that inserts an equation. See Tip #20.
  3. Follow the instructions below to modify the behavior of the Insert Object command using a Word macro.

In fact, these solutions are not mutually exclusive. You can do all three if you want.

Here's how to create a macro to replace Word’s InsertObject command:

  1. Create a new document.
  2. Choose Tools / Macro / Macros from the menu.
  3. In the macro name field, type InsertObject then click Create.
  4. Word will then open the Visual Basic editor and will see the existing code for the Insert Object command.
  5. Replace the existing text with the following:
    Sub InsertObject()
    Set MyDialog = Dialogs(wdDialogInsertObject)
    MyDialog.floatovertext = False
    End Sub
  6. Choose File / Close to return to Word
  7. Insert an object (such as an equation) now – it will not "float over text".

When you Exit from Word, it will ask you if you want to save NORMAL.DOT. Click Yes so that your fix will be used for all new documents. (Thanks to Dave Alyott and Bob Buckland for this tip.)

Tip #22: Animated equations in PowerPoint

As described in Tip #10, you can use Equation Editor with PowerPoint to create presentations containing equations. Here we'll show you an additional technique. Insert your equation into PowerPoint as described above. Right-click on the equation, and from the menu select Grouping/Ungroup. A dialog will appear with a warning about the action you’re about to do. Click Yes. Your equation will then appear as individual characters and templates, which you can animate individually using SlideShow/CustomAnimation.

Another PowerPoint tip: use the procedure described in Tip #20 to add an Insert Equation button to PowerPoint's toolbar.

Tip #23: To change the color of an equation inserted into PowerPoint

Although most equations you create will be black text on a white background, very often slide presentations are created with colored text on a dark or black background. Although Equation Editor cannot create colored equations, PowerPoint gives you the ability to change the black and white of your equations to whatever background color and foreground color you want.

Here's how to color an equation:

  1. Insert the equation into the slide the usual way using Insert Object.
  2. Right-click (Ctrl+click for Mac) the equation object to bring up a menu of commands.
  3. Click on "Format Object", the last item on the menu. This will bring up a dialog.
  4. Click the tab titled "Picture". Under the Picture tab, click "Recolor". When the "Recolor Picture" dialog appears, you can change the color. There should be black and white rectangles in the "Original" section. Here you can change both the white background and the black text color, or either of them individually. Click the dropdown box next to the black color in the "New" column; you can select any color shown there. You can preview your selection to see if the color is what you had in mind. If it looks fine, click OK on both dialogs.

With MathType, you can insert equations into PowerPoint presentations by using the button that it adds to PowerPoint's toolbar. You can also change the color of an equation directly within MathType. This allows you to use colored equations with all your documents, not just your PowerPoint presentations. You can even use different colors on each part of an equation. Color can be very effective in directing a student's attention to a part of an equation. Here's an example:

  The part in red is called the discriminant.

Click here to find out more about MathType.

Tip #24: Use Equation Editor to label graphs or drawings

Often you will be creating graphs, plots, or drawings that you will need to label. This labeling is easily done with Equation Editor. The polar grid below was created with the Drawing tools in Microsoft Word, and the graph was created with Excel. Both were labeled with Equation Editor.

You can access the Drawing tools in any of the Microsoft Office applications through the "Drawing" toolbar or from the Insert Tab of the Office 2007 Ribbon. If you are using a version of Office earlier than 2007, click on the Tools menu, then select Customize. A list of toolbars will appear. The ones marked with a checkmark are already visible on your application toolbar. If there is not a checkmark next to Drawing, click once on it and the Drawing toolbar will appear. The lines and shapes you will need are available under AutoShapes. Detailed instructions for using the Drawing tools and AutoShapes can be found in the Help file. After the drawing is created and equations are positioned where you want them (see note below about positioning equations), you should group the drawing and equations so they act as a single object. To group objects, click on one of the objects, then while holding the Shift key, continue to click other objects in the group until all are selected. Select "Draw" on the Drawing toolbar, then select Group. (In Office 2007, it's on the Drawing Tools/Format tab on the Ribbon. If using the Drawing Canvas in Word 2000 and later, grouping the drawing objects is not necessary.) If you need to make subsequent changes, first ungroup the objects, make your changes, then re-group them. You can also create graphs and drawings in other products – WordPerfect, CorelDraw, etc – by following similar procedures.

If you are using an application such as Word that normally inserts equations without them "floating" (see Tip #21), you will need to change the properties of the equation object so that it "floats over text" or is placed "in front of text." The reason for this is so you can position the equation precisely where you need it on the graph or drawing. Many applications, such as PowerPoint or Excel will insert equations as floating objects by default. To make an object float in Microsoft Office, right-click (Mac Ctrl+click) the object, then select Format Object or Format AutoShape. Click on the Layout tab, click "In Front of Text", then click OK. Inserting the equation inside a text box will have the same effect.

Tip #25: The ultimate Equation Editor tip: upgrade to MathType

We hope we have shown you at least one tip that you can use in your work with Equation Editor, our junior version of MathType. However, MathType itself offers you a lot more features that will help you create your equations. It has more symbols, more templates, and lots, lots more. To find out more about MathType, click here. Of course, if you just want to order MathType now, click the button Click to enter our online store

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