Word seems like an odd choice to use with mathematical equations, but the reality is Microsoft Word is a great choice. Word has a gallery of built-in equations, and you can enter your own equations or even modify equations.

Natee Meepian

If you have a need for an equation editor, you should try Word. Not only does it support equations, it hooks up with UnicodeMath and LaTeX. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use the Equation Tools to enter equations in a Word document.

I’m using Microsoft 365 desktop on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use earlier versions through Office 2013. Although I’m working with Word, the other Office apps also support Equation Tools. The most recent updates to Microsoft 365 support the Equation Tools feature. There’s no demonstration file; you won’t need one.

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How to select a built-in equation in Word

Inserting a predefined equation from the gallery is simple: Click the Insert tab, and then click Equation in the Symbols group to display a dropdown gallery of equations. Find and click an equation to enter it into the Word document, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Insert a predefined equation, such as the Pythagorean Theorem, from Word’s equation gallery.

That’s it for entering an equation from the gallery, but there’s much more to this feature.

How to enter your own equation in Word

There are many equations in the gallery, so chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for there. However, you can enter your own equation when necessary. Click the Insert menu and choose Insert New Equation from the Equation dropdown. Or press Alt and =. Both will display a blank equation control, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Enter your own equation, but first enter a blank equation control.

Formatting is a bit overwhelming at first and can slow you down until you adjust to Word’s formatting support. For instance, to enter the Pythagorean Theorem manually, you’d use the Script dropdown in the Structures group on the contextual Equation tab. To demonstrate,

  1. Click Script and choose Superscript, the first script placeholder (Figure C).
  2. Select the variable frame and enter a.
  3. Select the Superscript frame and enter 2 (Figure D).
  4. Press Spacebar and then enter +.

Figure C

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Enter a Script structure to enter subscript and superscript.

Figure D

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Enter the variable and its superscript.

After entering your own equation, be sure to save it by right-clicking the control and choosing Save As New Equation.

In the resulting dialog, shown in Figure E, you’ll name the equation, decide where to store it, which Category it belongs in and so on. Word will save the equation to the equations gallery, so you have quick access to it anytime you need to enter it.

Figure E

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Add your custom equations to the equations gallery.

After adding your own equation, you might need to modify it.

How to edit equations in Word

You can modify all equations — the pre-defined equations and your own custom equations.

Select the equation control to display the contextual Equation Tools ribbon. You can modify the following elements:

  • Add symbols from the symbols gallery. Click the More button to see more symbols.
  • From the Structures group, choose a structure placeholder.
  • Change the equation’s format by choosing one of the options from the Covert dropdown: Professional, Linear, All Professional and All Linear.

There are many options, and you’ll want to spend some time exploring so you know what’s available.

How to draw an equation in Word

If you’re using a touch screen device, you can use a stylus or your finger to write a math equation. If you’re not using a touch device, use your mouse, but I admit, this route is difficult, though Word is forgiving.

To draw an equation, do the following:

  1. Enter a blank equation control by pressing Alt and =.
  2. From the contextual Equations ribbon, click Ink Equation in the Tools group (Figure F).
  3. Draw your equation in the resulting dialog and click Insert.

Figure F

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Use the mouse if you don’t have a touch device.

Word does a good job converting a drawn equation into the real thing. However, it isn’t perfect, and it may misinterpret, as shown in Figure G. Fortunately, that mistake is easy to fix. Simply delete the t and enter the + symbol.

Figure G

Image: Susan Harkins/TechRepublic. Word converts your “drawing” into the appropriate equation, almost.

Despite misinterpreting some characters, you might find this method of entering an equation easier than using Word’s structures. In addition, you can avoid misinterpretation by checking the preview before inserting. If the preview isn’t correct, use the tools at the bottom to correct the drawn elements.

How to enter math equations in much older versions of Word

If you’re using a much older version of Office and you don’t see the Equation toolbar, look for the Equation Editor. You’ll find the Equation Editor on the Insert tab in the Text group. Click the Object option and choose Microsoft Equation 3.0 from the dropdown and then click OK. Its use is similar, but not as robust as the Equation toolbar.

Word might not be the go-to for writing mathematical equations, but it’s capable of managing most math symbols, constructs and formats.