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Accessing Special Characters Directly
Popular elements of the Special Character set, Copyright © for instance, are available as an alternate layer to the Mac's normal keyboard layout. You can access these using the Option key, which is one of the modifier keys found on each side of the spacebar. Rather than play a guessing game as to what underlying character matches a given key, you can preview the assignments easily.
First, let's tweak a couple of things in your OS X setup. Go to "System Preferences" under the "Apple menu," then select "Language & Text." Near the top of the window, select "Input Sources." At the top of the column to the left, place a checkmark next to "Keyboard & Character Viewer." In addition, place a checkmark in the box at the bottom right of the window next to "Show input menu in menu bar." A tiny box should appear in the menu bar at the top right hand side of your Mac's display screen. Click it, then select "Show Keyboard Viewer." A virtual keyboard should appear on the Mac's screen. Now you can hold down the "Option" key to show the underlying special character assignments for the keyboard.
A modified version of the character set is available by holding "Shift" along with "Option." The Keyboard Viewer does not need to be displayed for the keyboard modifier shortcuts to work. Simply hold your selection while typing the corresponding letter. You can, however, type characters directly into the virtual keyboard using mouse clicks if you prefer. You can even use a Windows keyboard, but some of the labeling will not match.
(Image courtesy of stock.xchng)
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The Rest of the Special Characters
There's a large library of Special Characters beyond the ones accessible by holding the Option key. These are available in the Character Viewer. When the setup was adjusted in the previous section, you chose to display the input menu in the menu bar. You can now choose "Show Character Viewer" from that menu. This displays a window with a multitude of groupings. Note the current setting for the pull down menu at the top left. In the U.S., this is probably set to Roman. Whatever the setting, it's a good idea to make a mental note of it. When looking through the maze of various characters, this menu may switch to something else. Moving the menu choice back to its original setting can help you find your way out of the character abyss. Use the list on the left hand side to navigate banks of character types such as Punctuation or Arrows. Highlight a character, then press the "Insert" button at the bottom right of the Character Viewer window. This places the selected character at the cursor position in your document.
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Remember, various programs use their own shortcuts which may interfere with the standard Mac OS X shortcuts. Many word processing programs have their own Character or Special Character window accessible from within the program.
Interested in other Mac OS X options? You may want to check out how to use unicode fonts.
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- "Typing special characters and symbols"; Mac OS X 10.6 Help; Apple, Inc.; 3/10/2011 <http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=Mac/10.6/en/8164.html> Apple OS X 10.6.5 Help