28 September 2011

The Zen of Presentations, Part 47: You need a symbologist

The letter “X” is not a multiplication symbol. Not in its uppercase form, and not in its lowercase form, either. The multiplication sign looks like this: ×

A superscript letter “O” is not a degree sign. A degree looks like this: °

A lowercase “u” is not lowercase Greek letter mu, better known as the metric symbol for “micro-”. The micro- symbol looks like this: ยต

And we can tell the difference.

If you use Microsoft Office, here’s the part of the ribbon you’re looking for:

Windows users can also open up the Character Map for even more symbols.

One major technical symbol that is missing, and which scientists often want to use, is the mean symbol. It looks like an x with a bar over the top. For some reason, the mean symbol is not in Unicode character sets, or in HTML, as far as I can find.

I have seen these kinds of mistakes in documents, and slides, and posters, many times.

These mistakes show that you don’t know how to use your tools. That is the definition of amateur. And wouldn’t you rather look like a professional than an amateur?


Miss MSE said...

If you are using Mac-based PowerPoint, this option lives under the insert menu. Also under that menu is Insert>Object>Microsoft Equation which can give you the mean symbol for any variable you're using. It also does other lovely things, like adjusting the size of your parentheses when using fraction, and includes math symbols that at least the Mac Insert Symbol menu is missing.

Peter Cock said...

That's why mathematicians, physicists etc use LaTeX Beamer for their presentations - full screen PDF files with nicely rendered equations and full symbol support :)

Not so good for fancy page layouts through - it makes you work extra hard for that in compensation ;)

Dragon Dave said...

Unicode has 'combining characters' - ones which take up the space of the preceeding character.

You probably want http://www.fileformat.info/info/unicode/char/304/index.htm - the combining macron; it gives you things like x.