29 September 2011

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: µ

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 on posters, and slides, and documents, 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?

(Crossposted from NeuroDojo.)


steve said...

Sometimes it's just laziness :) I use * or x in lecture slides sometimes when I'm putting things together at the last minute. The students get the idea. I agree it's unprofessional for meetings though.

To do x-bar you need to use "combining diacritical marks". In Mac (Lion) PowerPoint, you go to Edit->Special Characters, and make sure Unicode is in the list in the left (if it's not, you can add it with "customize list" under the gear icon).

Go to the 0300 block of Unicode and you find a bunch of diacritical marks, like accents and umlauts and overbars and under-arrows and other stuff. Type "x", then double-click the overbar. Et voila.

Miles said...

What I do in Windows:

In word use Ctrl+F9 and then enter this between the brackets: EQ \O(x,ˉ)

If it doesn't show up straight away go to print preview, then back to your document. You are then free to copy and paste your x bar elsewhere.

madscientistlair said...

And good luck trying to find it in OpenOffice.org's character set, I was looking for \mu the other day and decided it wasn't worth the 10 minutes of my time for a slide 2 people were going to see. It would be so much nicer if people could just incorporate a TeX interpreter and we could \mu \bar{x}.

excitedstate said...

If you're using Office... close it and open up LaTeX!

Zen said...

I appreciate the evangelism. But far more people use Office, and I have other fish to fry than trying to convert them all.