Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007 and 2010. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Understanding ASCII and ANSI Characters.

Understanding ASCII and ANSI Characters

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 2, 2017)

1

Virtually everyone knows that a computer doesn't understand characters, it understands numbers. Thus, each character you see on the screen in a program such as Word is maintained internally as a number. The "mapping" of characters to numbers is known as a character set.

For the most part, Word relies on the character set used by whatever version of Windows you are using. Don't confuse the character set used by Windows with the character set used by the computer itself, as they are not the same. For instance, when you first boot your computer, you may see some start-up information on the screen. This information uses a character set maintained internally by the computer on ROM. Since Windows is not running at the time this information is displayed, the character set used by Windows cannot be in use. Once Windows is up and running, then the character set used by the computer itself is no longer used and the one maintained by Windows is relied upon.

This may sound confusing, but it is not meant to be. In the relatively short history of computers, there have been several different character sets used. The first character set used in small computers was ASCII, which is an acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It started as a code of 128 characters, using seven bits to represent all the characters. (A bit is a binary digit; it can have either two values: on or off. Thus, seven bits can have 2^7 or 128 possible unique values.)

ASCII was first developed for machines that used only seven bits of each byte (such as teletypes). Early personal computers, however, used eight bits, and thus could utilize 2^8 or 256 possible values for a character code. This led to what was known as extended ASCII, where the first 128 characters matched those in ASCII, but the second 128 were left up to the computer manufacturer. In early IBM PC models, the extended ASCII character set included some foreign-language symbols and many line-drawing characters, used for rudimentary graphics.

Microsoft calls the character set utilized by your computer (as pointed out earlier in this tip) the OEM character set. (OEM means "original equipment manufacturer.") Windows versions through Windows 95 utilize what is called an ANSI character set. This is a single-byte character set that can represent up to 256 characters. The original ASCII character set occupies the first 128 characters of the ANSI set used in Windows. All later versions of Windows, on the other hand, utilize the Unicode character set, which is described in other issues of WordTips.

Remember that this discussion of what the various versions of Windows use refers to what they use internally. Externally, for a typical Word user, there isn't much effect.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11330) applies to Microsoft Word 2007 and 2010. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Understanding ASCII and ANSI Characters.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

MORE FROM ALLEN

Showing a Scenario

When you create and save scenarios in a workbook, you can later pull them out and display them. Here's how to do it.

Discover More

Conditional Formatting for Errant Phone Numbers

Conditional formatting can be used to draw attention to all sorts of data based upon the criteria you specify. Here's how you ...

Discover More

Finding the Path to the Desktop

Figuring out where Windows places certain items (such as the user's desktop) can be a bit frustrating. Fortunately, there are ...

Discover More

Learning Made Easy! Quickly teach yourself how to format, publish, and share your content using Word 2013. With Step by Step, you set the pace, building and practicing the skills you need, just when you need them! Check out Microsoft Word 2013 Step by Step today!

More WordTips (ribbon)

Canceling a Command

Tired of waiting for a command to finish running? You can use the same shortcut to cancel a command that you use to dismiss ...

Discover More

Helpful Pop-up Screen Tips

Screen tips can be helpful to people reading your document on-screen. Using the technique described here, you can add screen ...

Discover More

Word's Native Measurement Unit

Word allows you to specify distances using a number of different measurement units. Figuring out how those measurement units ...

Discover More
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.

Comments

If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 6 - 0?

2015-03-13 08:48:17

Jim Kyle

For those interested in knowing what these names mean, ANSI is "American National Standards Institute" which is the group that establishes all sorts of standards for US use. International standards are set by the ISO, International Standards Organization, and some character sets conform to both ISO and ANSI standards.

ASCII is "American Standard Code for Information Interchange." And the first 128 characters of the Unicode standard match those of the ANSI standard but expanded to a width of 16 bits. This makes conversion between Unicode and ANSI character sets simple.


This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips
Subscribe

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.