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How to add special characters in Google Docs and LibreOffice

When you need to add accents or other special characters in your Google or LibreOffice documents, you'll be surprised at how easy it is.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
Person working on a laptop
fizkes/Getty Images

On occasion, my writing may get a bit über cliché. When that happens, I need to be able to add the likes of an acute accent (such as é) and an umlaut (ü) to correctly spell certain words. 

If I'm working with MacOS, it's really easy to add those characters by pressing and holding the corresponding key and selecting the special character you need.

Also: How to convert documents to e-books the easy way

However, not all operating systems offer such a feature. Yes, there are third-party applications you can add to make it possible to insert special characters from a standard keyboard. However, typing finger-bending keyboard shortcuts or memorizing complicated Unicode for characters isn't exactly the most efficient method of adding special characters to your documents. 

The MacOS accent picker.

Adding an accent in MacOS is incredibly easy.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Fortunately, most office suites include the ability to add special characters without having to memorize key combinations or Unicode. In fact, most of these features behave in a similar fashion. Take, for instance, Google Docs and LibreOffice, both of which offer a very similar route to adding special characters. Without having to install any third-party extensions, you can easily insert special characters into your documents.

Let me show you how.

How to insert special characters in Google Docs

What you'll need: The only thing you'll need for this is a valid Google account. 

1. Open or create the document

The first thing you must do is log into Google Docs (or Google Drive). 

Also: How to organize your Google Drive: 5 tips to know

Then, open or create a new document that requires the use of special characters.

2. Open the Special characters picker

From within the Google Document, click Insert > Special characters to open the Special character picker.

The Google Docs Insert menu.

Opening the Google Docs character picker is done through the Insert menu.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

3. Find your type

By default, the character picker is in the Symbol selection, where you can add various arrows and other symbols. If you click the far left drop-down, you can select from the different types available. For example, the é and ü characters are found in the Latin type, so from the Symbol drop-down, select Latin.

The Symbol character type show in the Google Docs character picker.

The search tool simplifies finding the character you need.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

4. Add the required character

Once you're in the Latin character type, scroll through and find the character you want to add and single-click it. If you're having trouble locating the character, type the associated letter in the search field to filter out all other characters. 

Also: How to use Letter Wizard in LibreOffice (and why you should)

If you still don't find the character you're looking for, switch types and keep looking. When you're finished, close the character picker and you're done.

The Latin character type shown in the Google Docs character picker.

The Latin type houses plenty of commonly-used special characters.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

One of the nice things about the character picker is that it will remain on the type you've chosen until you close the document you're working on. That means if you have to go back and add similar characters, it'll take one less step to accomplish.

How to insert special characters in LibreOffice

What you'll need: The only thing you'll need for this is LibreOffice installed on any supported platform (Linux, MacOS, or Windows).

1. Open or create a LibreOffice document

Open LibreOffice and then either open the document to be used or create a new one.

2. Open the character picker

Similar to Google Docs, click Insert > Special character.

3. Locate and add the special character

This is done in the same way as Google Docs. The only difference is that LibreOffice defaults to Basic Latin as the type (named Character block in LibreOffice). 

Also: How to create a LibreOffice template

Once the character picker is open, scroll through and locate the character you need or type the associated letter in the search field. Once you find the character in question, double-click to add it to the document.

The LibreOffice character picker.

Adding special characters in LibreOffice is very similar to that of Google Docs.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

And that's all there is to adding special characters in both Google Docs and LibreOffice. You may never have a need for this but when you do, you'll be glad you know how it's done.

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