If you do any kind of science writing and you use Microsoft Word, you likely find yourself repeatedly formatting for subscripts, greek characters, and math symbols.

Until Microsoft Word has AI learning capabilities, autocorrect can take you one step closer to uninterrupted writing flow. It takes a few minutes to set up, but then you can forget about formatting, special character maps, alt codes, subscript and superscript shortcuts.  If you’re anything like me and you can’t move on with CO2 looking like that, this tip is for you.

I can’t overstate how much time this saved me. In addition to reducing time formatting, it reduces the need to stop mid-sentence and break precious writing flow.

So what’s the trick?  All you need to do is tell word that in addition to fixing hte to the, you also want to fix NO3- to NO3– and you’ll be typing through special characters and formatting like it’s your job (it might be your job…).

How to use autocorrect to format scientific nomenclature quickly:

  1. Type it how you want it to appear in Word including the special characters, subscripts, etc. Here’s one I’ve used 100s of times: δ18O. 
  2. Highlight the text.

  1. Select File, Options. Choose Proofing, and select Autocorrect Options.

  1. You will see your highlighted text in the With: box. Select the Formatted text radio button.
  2. In the “Replace” box type the code you want to be able to type to get the proper formatted text.  I’ll type d18O.

  1. Press Add, OK, OK again, and test it out in the document.
  2. Repeat for other commonly used nomenclature!

My tips:

  • Don’t use actual words as your autocorrected words.  For example, if you autocorrect Delta to δ, then when you’re committing to frustration if you ever have to write delta in full.  Instead, something easy to remember, I use double first letters for greek letters (like ddelta = δ).
  • Make sure the last character is regular size unitalized text (in the δ18example you’d be fine since the O is a regular old O).  If it’s not a subscript or something, you need to add a regularly formatted space afterward and highlight that too – it’ll save you heartache later (your writing flow will be disrupted when your next word is formatted as subscript as well!)