Inserting and Formatting Exponents in Word

Young boy writes math equations on chalkboard
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What exactly are exponents? They are simply tiny letters or numbers (superscripts) that are used after a number to show that it has been raised to a specific power. In other words, the exponents tell us how many times the number has been multiplied by itself (5 x 5 x 5 =125.) Microsoft Word allows you to insert exponents in a few different ways. They can be inserted as symbols, formatted text via the Font dialog, or through Equation Editor. We will show you how to use each method.

Using Symbols to Insert Exponents

The first thing you want to do is go to the Symbol tab, located on the ribbon at the top of Microsoft Word 2007 and up. Click on Symbols and then choose “More Symbols” to bring up a popup menu. If you are using Word 2003 or earlier, go to “Insert” then click on “Symbol.”

Next, you will want to choose the exponent’s font. Most of the time, it will just be the same as the rest of your numbers and text, which means you can simply leave it as “normal text.” If you do want the exponent’s font to be different, however, you should click on the font drop-down menu and click the right-hand down arrow to choose a font from the menu.

Every font does not include superscripts, so be sure to choose a font for your exponent that does.

The next step is to insert the desired exponent. The character display menu can show you options for exponents, or you can choose from the drop-down menu labeled “Subset.” Here, you will see options for “Latin-1 Supplement” or “Superscripts and Subscripts.” Exponent variables are displayed as “1,” “2,” “3,” and “n.” Simply select the one you want.

To insert your selected exponent, go to the Symbol tab and click on “Insert.” The selected exponent should appear wherever your cursor is in the text. If you’re using Word 2007 and up, the selected exponent will now be visible in the Recently Used Symbols box at the bottom of the Symbols popup menu, so you can select it there next time.

A keyboard shortcut allows you to insert exponents. After selecting the desired exponent, you will see the keyboard shortcut “Alt” + (letter or 4-digit code) in the Symbol popup menu. So, if you press and hold “Alt” and the code, the exponent will be inserted just like that! You can also create or edit your own keyboard shortcuts via the Shortcut Key button. Some older versions of Microsoft Word do not support this function.

Using Font Dialog to Insert Exponents

The Font dialog is great because it allows you to modify font and point size of the text, as well as the formatting of the text.

First, you need to highlight the text that will include the exponent. Next, you need to get to the Font dialog by using the ribbon. Go to “Home” then click on “Font” and hit the right-hand down arrow that points diagonally. If you have Word 2003 or earlier, go to “Format” then click on “Font.” A preview popup window will appear, showing you the highlighted text.

In the preview window, go to the section labeled “Effects” and check the “Superscript” box. This will transform your preview text into exponents. Hit “OK” to close the preview and save the changes. Another way to do this doesn’t require you to type your to-be-superscripted text first. You just have to open the Font dialog, check “Superscript,” hit “OK” and then type your text (which will appear superscripted.) Just be sure to uncheck “Superscript” after you finish typing that text.

Using the Font dialog is nice for mathematical equations that require exponents, as well as scientific equations showing ionic charges and chemical symbols.

Using the Equation Editor to Insert Exponents Method 1

This method is suitable only for Microsoft Word 2007 and later.

The first step is to open Equation Editor by going to “Insert” then click on “Symbols” then click on “Equation.” Then choose “Insert New Equation” from the drop-down menu. Be aware that Equation Editor is only accessible in .docx or .dotx Word formats, which are XML-based.

Next, go to “Design” then click on “Structures” and choose a Script option (the options button is designated with an “e” raised to the “x” power.) You will then see a drop-down menu for “Subscripts and Superscripts” as well as “Common Subscripts and Superscripts.”

Choose the first “Subscripts and Superscripts” option, which is a larger rectangle with dashed lines paired with a smaller rectangle raised to the right. On your document, it should bring up an Equation field filled with two similar boxes.

Then you need to put in your variables. Enter the base value in the bigger rectangle (letters are shown in italics by default.) After that, enter the value for the exponent in the smaller rectangle. A keyboard shortcut for doing this is to type the base value, then “^” and then the exponent value. Hit “Enter” to close the Equation field and you’ll see your superscript. If you’re using Word 2007 or later, equations are identified as text with a special mathematical font.

Using the Equation Editor to Insert Exponents Method 2

This method is suitable only for Microsoft Word 2007 and later.

First, go to “Insert” then click on “Object” then click on “Create New” and choose “Microsoft Equation 3.0” to open the Equation Editor. At the bottom of the Equation toolbar, you will see the Exponent button. Click it and enter the value of the base and exponent.

Word 2003 identifies equations as objects, not text. Even so, you can still modify the font, point size, format, and position.