We now have greater control over how our text looks on page, so it's just as important that we also know and understand how to use the correct punctuation marks and symbols.

If you use Microsoft Word 2007, it's easy to unlock the mystery of symbols and signs. For example, you can use the Symbol dialog box to insert symbols, such as ¼ and ©, or special characters, such as an em dash (-) or ellipsis (...) that are not on your keyboard, as well as Unicode characters.

The types of symbols and characters that you can insert depend on the font you are using. Some fonts may include fractions (¼), international characters (Ç, ë), and international monetary symbols (£, ¥). The built-in Symbol font includes arrows, bullets, and scientific symbols. You might also have additional symbol fonts, such as Wingdings, that include decorative symbols. It's easy to insert a Unicode character into a Word document by selecting a character from the Symbol dialog box or by typing the character code directly in a document. When you select a Unicode character in the Symbol dialog box, its character code appears in the Character code box.

A common mistake is to use the prime symbol (') instead of a single closed quote or an apostrophe. The prime symbol should be used only as a mathematical symbol such as to indicate feet; 2', for example, means 2 feet. The inches symbol (") is also commonly misused as a closed or open quote. When converting text to page some programs can anticipate that these symbols are being used in text and translate into the correct symbol. However, depending on which type of font you are using it can be painfully obvious that the wrong symbol has been used.

To insert a symbol into your Word 2007 document, simply click where you want to insert the symbol. On the Insert tab, in the symbols group, click symbol. You can either now select the symbol in the drop-down list or, if the symbol that you need to insert is not in the list, click more symbols. If you are using an expanded font, such as Arial or Times New Roman, the subset list appears. Use this list to choose from an extended list of language characters, including Greek and Russian (Cyrillic), if available.

To insert a special character, then simply click more symbols, and select the special characters tab. Now click the character that you would like to use, and select insert. To insert international characters in your document, you can use a keyboard shortcut, or if you type extensively in another language, you might want to switch to a different keyboard.

To insert an unusual symbol into a document, simply position the cursor at the place in the text you need to insert a symbol. Click on the insert tab. Click the symbol icon in the symbols group. A pull-down menu will now appear. Find the symbol you need to use in the menu, and Word will insert it into your document. However, if you don't see the symbol you want, simply click on more symbols. Word will now display a symbol dialog box that displays every possible symbol Word can insert into a document. Click on a symbol you want to use and then select close. Word can also insert mathematical equations into a document if you click equations.

The beauty of using Word 2007 is that you can insert the symbols you use most frequently into the ribbon as a short cut key, so there's no need to faff about using the long way round for those symbols. To use the correct key for an apostrophe or single open quote, use the following combination of keys in Word 2007: single closed quote/apostrophe = Ctrl+',". Because the incorrect use of the prime symbol is a particular pet hate of mine, I have created short cut keys to enable me to use the correct apostrophe symbol every time I need to.

You can add an insert symbol button to any toolbar, and assign a keyboard shortcut to the symbol dialog box, or open the symbol dialog box with a function key or key combination, such as CTRL+SHIFT+F2 or CTRL+SHIFT+?. If you reassign a keyboard shortcut, you can no longer use that combination for its original purpose. For example, by default, pressing CTRL+B changes selected text to bold. If you reassign CTRL+B to a new command or other item, you can no longer make text bold by pressing this combination unless you restore the keyboard shortcut assignments to the original settings.

To find out if a keyboard shortcut is already assigned to a symbol, click the symbol in the symbol dialog box, and look for a keyboard shortcut next to the text shortcut key at the bottom of the symbol dialog box.

You may find the AutoCorrect entries easier to remember than keyboard shortcuts; it all depends on the way that you like to work. With an AutoCorrect entry, you type a sequence of letters and watch those letters change to the symbol or character you want.

The symbol dialog box also has different functions such as Auto-Correct and the Shortcut key. I find this particularly useful when changing hyphens (-) to en-dashes(−) or even the longer em-dashes (-) when required. It's worth remembering that there isn't such a thing as a short dash (-) − that's a hyphen.

You can always work with the symbol dialog box open on your desktop, which you can increase or decrease by using the more symbols view. With the symbols dialog box open, move the pointer to the lower-right corner of the box, and then drag to the size that you want. This is an easy way to learn the quick key commands useful to you and helps you to remember what each symbol means.