Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. 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: Aligning Plus/Minus Symbols.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 6, 2018)
For scientific writing numeric data are often presented in tables in the format of mean +/- standard deviation (with the '+/-' represented by a single character, achieved by holding down the Alt key and press 0177 on the numeric keypad). To make the table look attractive, it is often desirable to have the +/- symbols of different rows aligned with each other.
There are a couple of ways you can align the symbols, depending on the characteristics of the data you are presenting. One solution is to use multiple columns in your table, so that the +/- character appears in its own column. Format the column to the left of the +/- column so that the numbers it contains are right-aligned. Format the +/- column so that it is left-aligned. The information in the two columns should now be butted up to each other, and you can modify the table properties (specifically the left and right cell margins) to adjust the apparent spacing between them. You can also remove the border line that Word automatically adds between columns, if desired.
If all this sounds like a lot of steps, it really can be—it depends on exactly how you want the information in the two columns to look. A simpler solution might be to simply set tab stops within the column itself. If there is no decimal point within the +/- numbers, then you can set a decimal tab in the column. Word automatically aligns the values as if the +/- symbol was really a decimal point.
If the values do have decimal points, then you can set multiple tabs within the column, and then use Ctrl+Tab to actually insert the tab character before the number (to align the number) and between the value and the +/- symbol (to align the symbol).
Unless the data absolutely must be in a table, you should also consider using the Equation Editor to represent the +/- values. The Equation Editor has an alignment mark—a non-printing symbol located on the second palette on the top row of Equation Editor palettes. Just place an alignment mark either to the left or to the right of the +/- symbol and press Enter at the end of each number. It doesn't matter if the alignment mark is to the left or to the right of the +/- symbol, as long as you're consistent for each number.
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (12342) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Aligning Plus/Minus Symbols.
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