Practical methods

Practical methods for typing unfamiliar characters

Most computer keyboards supplied in the English-speaking world have the 26 letters A – Z, upper and lower case, without diacritics, and no more. If then one is faced with having to record a name or expression which does contain letters for which the keyboard does not cater or a letter bearing a diacritic, what can be done?

ANSI codes: Alt+number

If you do not have a customised keyboard or other quick way of doing it, distinct and accented letters can be typed using Alt+{number).

Example: Plain letters and ligatures beyond the familiar 26

(The figure must be as typed, including any leading zero.)

  • Alt+231 þ
  • Alt+232 Þ
  • Alt+208 ð
  • Alt+209 Ð
  • Alt+145 æ
  • Alt+146 Æ
  • Alt+0156 œ
  • Alt+0140 Œ


Having to remember a long list of unrelated, indistinct codes just to type letters of this sort is impractical and likely to drive the user to despair.

Customising your keyboard with Macintosh OS X

For users of Macintosh OS X, you can place a custom-made keyboard layout into your

  • Library > Keyboard Layouts folder,

and then activate it by choosing your chosen keyboard name under your

  • System Preferences > International menu after restarting.


An alternative, to avoid messing ones keyboard settings up, is to programme a series of “Autocorrect” options. These must be such that they will not be triggered accidentally while typing something else, and an office standard must be adopted so that a user does not have to learn them afresh when moved to a new work station. The autocorrects must also be intuitive.

Once a system of autocorrects has been programmed, it can be added to any computer in the office with a macro, possibly one embedded in a document available on the network or a routine disseminated across the network.

I find the “#” symbol is useful for these autocorrections and it is a symbols which has very little use otherwise. For example: The following examples of autocorrections are suggested:

  • th# þ
  • dh# ð
  • a’# á
  • a^# â
  • a`# à
  • a”# ä
  • ae# æ
  • ao# å
  • a~# ã
  • c,# ç
  • o/# ø

– and so forth.

This system can be expanded to cover other alphabets (alpha# α ; beta# β etc) but this would only be useful for adding occasional letters, not actually writing in those languages, for which an appropriate keyboard should be used.


Autocorrections are a neat and simple way to allow a user to type any accented letter, if the appropriate autocorrections are all programmed in beforehand, which can be done with a macro.

Letters required for full Latin-alphabet linguistic coverage