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How-To: Equation Management in Word 2011

Math and science people rejoice: Equation editing finally makes its appearance in Office for Mac’s Word 2011 (s msft). If you’re a student or work in an academic setting, putting equations into your papers can be a pain, but no longer. Here’s a quick breakdown of how to use the latest version of Word on the Mac (s aapl) to make it a hurt a little less.

Math 101: The Basics

  1. As with citation management, you access the math tools under the Document Elements tab on the ribbon.
  2. Clicking the pi symbol brings you to a ribbon where you can either select from a commonly-used equation or build one of your own.
  3. Let’s say we want to solve x2+5x+6=0 using the Quadratic Formula. For those unfamiliar with the formula, in this case a=1, b=5, c=6. Choose Quadratic Formula from the pull-down and then enter in the correct values.
  4. Working through the first part is just a copy, paste and change of the previous equation.
  5. While we could keep cutting and pasting, this is a good time to demonstrate adding your own equations. Lets do the fractions by hand. The final result will look like this:
  6. Choose fraction from the ribbon and click on the first option.
  7. Enter -5 into the numerator. To get the +/- symbol, use the Math Symbols pane in the ribbon:
  8. For the radical, choose Radical from the ribbon:
  9. I just cut, pasted, and changed the fraction to get the rest of the equation transcribed.

Math 102: Conclusions

One big problem I had, as you can see from the screenshot, is fractions are compressed to fit into a line. Using the preset quadratic formula looks ok, but once Word interprets the formula as a fraction, it’s noticeably smaller.  While I can resize the font size on fractions, it also resizes the equal sign. Is it a huge problem? No, but it’s something that annoyed me. Another little annoyance is if I enclose a fraction in parenthesis, the parentheses don’t extend the full height of the fraction; they are standard-sized parenthesis.

I think users with a heavy requirement to typeset equations will still be better served using a tool such as LaTeX, which is designed to write articles with lots of math formulas. LaTeX has a fairly hefty learning requirement, though, so Word’s editor is fine for light-to-medium users.

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3 Responses to “How-To: Equation Management in Word 2011”

  1. One nice thing about LaTeX on Mac is a little program called LaTeXiT. You can put in your equation alone and then the program produces a .png image of the equation – great for quickly adding to a document, the power of LaTeX with the speed of Word/Pages

    Downside is you need to install the whole LaTeX library to use LaTeXiT, so if you have no other need beyond simple equations you may not want to give away nearly 2GB of HDD space