How would you use special characters (and in this case, we're talking about rather extremely useful additions to Excel, not particularly eccentric work colleagues. Let's say you're making your own currency converter or drafting an invoice spreadsheet that involves transactions with a foreign company. You'll need the symbols for pounds, dollars, Euros, or maybe even Yen or Kroners: there's a symbol for all of them.

Another example could be that you need the copyright or trademark symbol to deter would-be plagiarists from stealing your work, so you need to put it prominently in your workbook. Special characters are the tool you need. Many people don't realise that there are far more symbols available to them than the common ones above the numeric keys on the keyboard (pound above 3, dollar above 4, and so on. The Euro is starting to turn up on newer keyboards, too).

Any standard keyboard alone will usually yield almost 100 special characters, comprising of both punctuation, symbols and certain letters, accents or inflections not used in English (or maybe you do, for example if you place an accent above the e in 'caf´┐Ż', to be strictly pedantic about the French origin). It's often overlooked that some fonts carry even more symbols of their own - Ariel has about 210, for example. All very useful, so how do you input these into Excel?

Every special character that a PC has is stored in a certain way, with a code reference. For example, the Euro sign has a code number of 128. Naturally, you're going to have to research or look up the code for the symbol you want, but a quick Google will yield many websites full of free codes and special character tables for you to use as reference.

If you know what the code reference is for the character you want, you can hold down ALT and enter it. For example, the Euro symbol is 128, as we just mentioned. To use it, however, you'll have to type the leading zeros, i.e. 0128 to make it total four digits - because they all follow this format.

There's a nifty trick in Excel to create a list of symbols and their codes, using the formula =CHAR(ROW()). Enter that formula into cell A1 and copy it down through the rows in your workbook. This will show you (in each cell) the character and its code, which will be the row number. There's that Euro again - in row A128, because its code is 128. Clever, no?

Why not change the font setting in your Excel columns to see what fonts have their own special characters supplied with them? Webdings and Wingdings are the obvious ones, but have a play around. Another idea would be to download and install new fonts (some, for example, are dedicated to the world's currency symbols alone, so you can greedily have all of them).

This is a basic introduction on how to use special characters in excel, though more advanced users will also find a use for symbols in formulas, or perhaps VBA programming. That, however, is something best done with a little more hands-on training, or on a course detailing the more advanced features of Excel. If you want to seek more advanced training, wonderful - but in the meantime, you'll have learnt that the lowly keyboard has some great features (or special characters!) of its own.