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MathType Tip: Adding memorable keyboard shortcuts for your most commonly-used symbols and actions

Applies to:

  MathType 6 and later
(Windows and Macintosh)


As a mathematician, you often use the operator symbols “much less than” and “much greater than” in MathType, and you wish there were a shortcut key for these symbols so you wouldn’t have to choose them from the palette each time.


You're a geometry teacher and use the "parallel to" symbol almost daily. MathType's built-in shortcut of Ctrl+| (the Ctrl and vertical bar keys depressed simultaneously) is a little difficult to remember, and requires also pressing the Shift key since the vertical bar is Shift+\. You wish there were a way to change this shortcut to something easier to remember and requiring only 1 or 2 keys instead of 3. (The shortcut is even worse on the Mac -- Cmd+Shift+K, |.)

MathType not only has built-in keyboard shortcuts for most symbols, templates, and menu items, but allows you to change or delete the built-in shortcuts as well as create your own new ones. This tip shows you how.


The main method for customizing MathType shortcuts is via the Customize Keyboard dialog. To open this dialog, choose the Customize Keyboard command from the Preferences menu.

In the second example situation above, we mentioned the "parallel to" symbol. Looking at the Customize Keyboard dialog, it may not be obvious which of the listed commands to choose and what to do next. This explanation should help:

  • Formatting. "Commands for formatting equation elements". This covers things like nudging commands and inserting tabs and new lines.
  • Recently Used Symbols and Templates. "Commands corresponding to symbols or templates used during this session". This is pretty self-explanatory, and will be covered in more detail later in this Tip.
  • Menu Commands. "Commands for items appearing on the menu bar". Commands like "Save", "Define Sizes", and yes, even "Customize Keyboard" are included here.
  • Navigation and Selection. "Commands for moving around and/or selecting items in the current equation". Most of these are obvious and intuitive, such as using the Backspace key for deleting the item to the left of the insertion point.
  • Keyboard Modifiers (one-shots). "Commands that affect the behavior of the following typed command only". In other words, these keyboard shortcuts affect only the next character you type, but not characters beyond that. When you use a "one-shot" shortcut, you have 4 seconds to press the next key, or it is as if you never pressed the shortcut. One of the common "one-shot" hotkeys is Ctrl+G for typing Greek letters. Ctrl+G followed by an a, for example, results in the lower-case Greek letter alpha.
  • Toolbar Commands. "Commands for items appearing on the toolbar". Affects not only items physically on the MathType toolbar, but things like "focus". When a symbol or template in the palette menus has the focus, it is displayed with a raised outline around it to indicate that if you click on it or press Enter the symbol or template will be inserted into the equation.
  • Window Control. "Commands for controlling the application's windows" -- Maximize, Minimize, etc.
  • All Symbols and All Templates contain the symbols and templates included on MathType's symbol and template palettes.

So, since the "parallel to" symbol is, well, a symbol, our next step is to click the + to the left of the "All Symbols" command. Notice that the items are listed alphabetically, so scroll down to the entry "Parallel to from Extra Math style (Ctrl+|)". Several things to note here:

  • "Extra Math style" means this symbol will come from the font you've defined for Extra Math style. By default, this font is "MT Extra". If you're unfamiliar with defining fonts for MathType's styles, refer to the MathType documentation.
  • If a shortcut key already exists for an item in the list, it will be shown here. Note that this is the exact text that will be displayed in MathType's status bar when you point to an item with the mouse.
  • Some of the lists in the Customize Keyboard dialog can be quite long. To go quickly to the item you want, simply type the first few characters of the name of the item. For example, in this case once we click the + next to "All Symbols", we could type par and the focus would advance to that position in the list.
  • Once a command is chosen from the list, if it's a symbol or a template, the preview window will show you what this item looks like. That's a good way to verify you've chosen the one you really wanted.

We want to use the key combination Ctrl+P for the "parallel to" symbol, so type that into the "Enter new shortcut key(s)" text entry box. Notice beneath the text box MathType tells us that shortcut is already assigned to <Prefix key>. We never use Ctrl+P for that, so go ahead and click the Assign button. Note that MathType will not prevent you from changing the "Assigned to" shortcut; it's just warning you that if you do, the shortcut will no longer apply to the old item. It's easy to forget to click Assign, so before you click Close, verify your new shortcut is in the "Current keys" box.

It's not necessary to remove the existing Ctrl+| shortcut, but there's a reason you might want to. Recall that whenever you hover the mouse pointer over an item such as a symbol, MathType displays its description and its shortcut key in the status bar. If more than one shortcut key is assigned, MathType displays only one -- in most cases, the default shortcut key. If you want MathType to display the shortcut key you just assigned, click once on the old one to select it, then click Remove. Click Close when you're finished.

What if you don't know the name of a symbol or template, or can't find it in the list?

There is more than one answer to this question, but the easiest way around this problem is to first use it in an equation. To continue our example above, click on the parallel line symbol in the Miscellaneous Symbols palette. Open the Customize Keyboard dialog and click the + to the left of Recently Used Symbols and Templates, and you'll see the "parallel to" symbol listed there. As you continue to use MathType, new items will be added to the bottom of this list.

Other ways to create and use keyboard shortcuts

It is possible to use the Insert Symbol dialog to assign a keyboard shortcut to a symbol. (This only works for symbols and not templates, menu commands, or anything else in MathType.) This method is mentioned in our tip Author equations using only the keyboard, as well as in a Technical Support Notice. You can also assign a shortcut to the macro buttons on MathType's Small Bar, or its Large or Small Tabbed Bar. Steps for doing this will be the subject of a future tip. For now, please refer to MathType's documentation if you need help with this.

We hope this tip has been useful to you. We publish MathType Tips on a regular basis, so if you'd like to be among the first to know when there's a new MathType Tip available, we recommend subscribing to our Design Science News blog. If you have a tip that you'd like to pass along to us for possible inclusion in our Tips & Tricks, email us.

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