Discover special characters that make your Affinity Publisher documents shine

Page layout and text styles are just two factors that affect readability. Another is good use of punctuation and special characters, but many of these aren’t labelled on your keyboard. Here’s how to type them.

Affinity Publisher’s Text > Insert menu contains several categories of special character, including symbols for citations, intellectual property marks, and arithmetic and scientific notation. Here, we’ll introduce a few of the most useful items and their benefits.

Almost every item in the menu can be typed in macOS and Windows using your keyboard, but the key combinations are often esoteric and tricky to memorise. The menu provides a convenient way to type characters, if only occasionally.

Need to type a character often, though? Read to the end of this article, where we talk about another alternative that you may find more convenient than drilling down into the menu all the time.

1. Inverted question and exclamation marks

Preparing a publication for a language with different punctuation practices than yours but whose symbols aren’t labelled on your keyboard? Inverted question marks and exclamation marks used in Spanish and guillemets used in many other languages, such as for quotations in French, are available in the Punctuation Marks category.

An example Spanish-language document with exclamatory punctuation.

2. En and em dashes

Number and date ranges like 24–31 December are often written using an en dash, which is wider than the regular hyphen. The en dash is also used to bring clarity to the structure of complex phrasal adjectives. For example: ‘Academy Award–winner Julianne Moore will appear on the small screen in Lisey’s Story.’

A pair of commas might be used to introduce closely related information into a sentence. However, clarifying information or an unexpected break in train of thought justifies using em dashes, which signify a stronger break from the surrounding sentence. For example: ‘Our children—Tammy, David, and Kirsty—are touring the Canadian provinces next winter.’

These characters are found in the Dashes and Hyphens category.

Personal preference or your publication’s style guide might determine whether you should separate all or some number ranges with ‘to’ or an en dash.

3. Bullet

Lists aren’t always presented with each item on a separate line. Magazine covers, brochures and advertisements often present items like articles, product ranges or office locations on one line, separated by a bullet or similar divider. You can insert a bullet from the Symbols category.

Characters like the bullet are useful as a separator in horizontal lists like this one.

4. Maths

This category is packed with essentials for scientific reports and data sheets, but you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to put it to good use. Using proper symbols will make a dissertation shine, for example.

5. Non-breaking space

A phrase in your publication, especially if it introduces a new term, can read poorly if it’s split over two lines.

If a sentence begins at the end of a line, especially with a short word like ‘A’, ‘It’ or ‘The’, use a non-breaking space to ‘glue’ that word to the next one and keep them together.

You’ll find this in the Spaces and Tabs category. It has an easy keyboard shortcut, though: hold opt (Mac) or Alt (Win) and press the space bar.

Here, the final sentence is broken uncomfortably after its first word. Adjusting the frame’s width to reflow text is an option. Consider using a non-breaking space, though.

6. Paragraph and section markers

These characters are especially important for legal and academic writers, but also in other circumstances in which you need to cite numbered parts of other documents. For example: ‘See § 3.1 of the licence agreement for full details.’

These markers are available in the Symbols category.

7. Right Indent Tab

Here’s a sneak peek at an item that’s coming in Affinity Publisher 1.8. The Right Indent Tab character enables you to type right-aligned text on the same line as left-aligned text.

One use for it is in page footers. Rather than creating a two-column table or two text frames, footer text that appears at the left and right corners can be typed in a single frame.

When version 1.8 is released, you’ll find this character in the Spaces and Tabs category.

A two-part page footer created from a single text frame and the Right Indent Tab character.

Faster ways to insert special characters

We said earlier that we’d talk about an alternative way to type these characters that avoids going to the menu bar. That feature is Auto-Correct.

Affinity Publisher comes with several auto-corrections for characters available via Text > Insert: typing (C) produces the copyright symbol; (R) results in the registered trademark symbol; (tm) gives you a superscript-style trademark symbol; and three full stops are turned into a proper ellipsis.

These shortcuts may be familiar if you work on text in Microsoft Word as well because they also work in it. You can create your own Auto-Correct shortcuts for any Text > Insert character you want.

Affinity Publisher’s Auto-Correct preferences.

Deciding on syntax for auto-corrections

Whatever syntax you decide to use, it’s crucial that it doesn’t result in regular unwanted auto-corrections.

It’s your choice whether to use the bracketed syntax used in the auto-corrections just mentioned, or come up with your own system, such as two backslashes followed by a few letters. For example, \‍\div for a division sign.

Create your own auto-corrections

Start by creating a new document in Affinity Publisher and adding a text frame to it. Insert into the frame any characters from the Text > Insert menu that you use often. You’ll need to cut and paste characters from the frame into Publisher’s Preferences window.

  1. Choose Edit > Preferences.
  2. Click Auto-Correct.
  3. Ensure Replace text while typing is ticked.
  4. Click in the box beneath Replace. Type the sequence of characters you want Publisher to replace with a special character.
  5. Cut the corresponding character from the text frame you created earlier.
  6. Paste it in the box beneath With.
  7. Click Add.

Repeat for as many character auto-corrections as you want. Click Close and then try them out in a document.

Technical author
Alan is part of our technical authoring team and joined us from the world of magazines (MacUser), where he wrote up software techniques and worked on pioneering interactive digital editions. When he’s not neck-deep in page layouts, layer masks and adjustment layers, you’ll often find him digging through second-hand records for interesting sleeve artwork or gazing in wonderment at the graphical variety of Japanese video games.