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On occasion, depending on the kind of diaries or comments you write, you may need to use a symbol that's not on your keyboard. Perhaps you want to give a temperature, show an amount in a foreign currency, indicate that something is copyrighted, or include a mathematical formula containing Greek letters or other symbols. Or maybe someone just said something nice to you and you'd like to leave them a little ♥ .

It's possible to copy and paste such symbols, but often that would mean you'd need to go hunt for the one you want. Today we'll discuss a way that you can create symbols using the standard keys on any computer. Please join me below the fold.

Lesson 4: Special Characters

The basic method we'll use involves codes that start with an ampersand (&) and end with a semicolon (;). What goes in between the two is either an alphabetic name that may help you remember it (like ¢ for ¢) or a number with a pound sign (#) in front of it (¢ for that same cent symbol). Many special characters have both a name code and a number code, but some lists will show characters with only one or the other. If both are given, it doesn't matter which you use, so choose what you're most comfortable with.

These codes are called "HTML entities" or "escape codes" or sometimes "ampersand codes", and there are plenty of lists of them out on the internet, some more complete than others. Here is one that I've found to be pretty extensive and easy to understand (opens in new tab). Here's another one that includes some different characters. In it, the columns you want are headed Name Code and Number Code.

To get you started, below is a small selection of the many symbols available, shown with only their name codes to make it easy, and slightly enlarged so you can see them better. When using them, the most common error is to forget the semicolon at the end, so watch out for that! And the little heart trips people up sometimes because it is called ♥, not &heart;. That's because, as you can see in the chart, it's there representing the playing card suit "hearts" and not a valentine heart. Whoever made that up may not be very romantic, but you are free to use the symbols however you like!

Note that, unlike other kinds of HTML, escape codes will work in a comment's subject line. Wherever you use them, when you preview, the code will turn into the symbol. If you still see the code instead, did you remember the semicolon??

♥ ¢ ¢ ⇔
♠ € †
♣ £ £ ° °
♦ ¥ ¥ π π
◊ © © ½ ½
• ™ √
∞ ® ® ≠
Here are a few with number codes only:

⌂ ☼ ☺
♫ ► ■
Update: Many thanks to friend of the series and general troublemaker palantir, who has brought us in the comments a gigantic collection of codes. A couple of subpages with extra-fun symbols are Dingbats and Miscellaneous Symbols.

Update #2: A conversation I had this morning makes me realize we need to touch on this: on Daily Kos, the characters asterisk and underscore (* and _) act as html shortcuts that begin and end boldface and italics styles. This makes it a special case when we want to make those characters just appear in our text as themselves! (A commenter was trying to refer to *.*, the wildcard string in DOS that includes all files, and was succeeding only in producing a boldface period.)

The solutions for comments vs. diaries differ a bit. There are ampersand codes for asterisk (*) and underscore (_). In a comment, these solve your problem, because comments have their preview mode and edit mode open together. The code turns into the character in the preview, but stays the code in edit, no matter how many times you re-preview, so when you post, everything is as you want it to be.

In diaries, however, previewing turns the code into the character in the diary itself. When you return to edit mode, now you have the character instead of the code, and you have the same issue with it being treated as html the next time you preview. So if you are writing a diary, here is the trick you need to know: backslash (\). Backslash shuts off html, so that it displays instead of producing its normal effect. So if I put a backslash in front of my asterisk (\*), it displays like this * instead of disappearing. Note that we're typing an actual * with a \ in front of it. If we typed * and put a \ in front of it, we'd see, not "*", but "*".

Now, if you want to display this use of backslashes, that, my friends, is a rabbit hole full of disappearing \s that you really don't want to go down...

G(r)eek extra credit #1: As koNko pointed out in Tuesday's diary, one of the things you can produce this way is Greek letters. The name codes for them are the name of the letter, as shown with pi in the chart above. But there are upper and lower case Greek letters. The difference between the name codes for the two cases is, the capital letters start with... a capital letter! For instance:

Upper-case delta Δ Δ Lower-case delta δ δ
baby divider doodle

Geek extra credit #2: STARS!       ❊   ✤   ✺   ✻   ✥   ✳   ❉
If you like fancy asterisks, you can find lots of them in this Wikipedia entry, complete with their escape codes. Notice that they mostly don't have name codes like the other symbols we looked at. You need to use the poundsign-number codes found in the column labeled "Decimal".
For example, this Heavy Teardrop-Spoked Pinwheel Asterisk ( ) is coded ❃

You never know where you may find an interesting character and its code, and now you know how to use it!

In general, formatting "tricks" that can be done in a diary can also be done in a comment. Practicing your skills in comments (in this diary, for instance!) is an easy and low-stakes way to know what you're doing before you work on a diary. So while these lessons focus on how to do things in comments, know that the same tools will produce the same results in a diary.

Preview Is Our Friend!

Preview is a lifesaver in TWO important ways! First, it shows us how our comment or diary will look when posted. That may NOT be the way you thought it was going to look when you composed it! Always take advantage of the ability to look at the preview and make sure everything works and looks exactly the way you planned. If it doesn't look right in Preview, your comment or diary will not magically improve after being posted!

Second, when writing a diary, Preview is also the way to SAVE your diary draft. If you're working on a diary, clicking Save & Preview periodically is a very good idea. Otherwise, if the site goes down, or your browser tab gets closed by mistake, you are back to the drawing board!

Additional Resources for Diarists

This diary is part of a series by nomandates and belinda ridgewood on the basics of enhancing diaries and comments at Daily Kos. All of them can be found at the New Diarists group page. Click the New Diarists' ♥ to follow the group and get all the diaries in your stream. Diaries in the series so far are:

If you have questions about any aspect of posting comments or diaries, feel free to post a comment and ask. These threads are for sharing, so more experienced Kossacks are welcome to both ask and answer questions, and to share advice and war stories.

We INTEND this thread as a place to practice, not just today's skills but anything you're working on with regard to posting on Daily Kos. Do not be afraid to write a comment and see if you've understood. We try to keep an eye on older diaries, but obviously, if you'd like coaching, the best place to practice is in the most recent diary. If you need advice after a diary has gotten quiet and no one's seeing your comment to help you, you may certainly send a private message (Kosmail) to one or both of us. (We don't advise a message to the group, because those don't let anyone know they're there!)

More resources: New Diarists: Resources for All provides links to 1) resource diaries for drafting, formatting, and mechanics of the site; 2) advice diaries re writing, interacting with commenters, and working with groups; and 3) a list of helpful groups and series for New Diarists. And Cranky Users: Our Story So Far lists how-to diaries published during DK4's first year.

New Diarists is a safe place to practice diary writing skills with a mentor's guiding hand. Experienced diarists are invited to join and buddy up with new diarists, and new diarists are welcome to join and to ask for help. The group's Publication Manager provides a space where we can collaborate on diaries and help with everything from revising to formatting to promoting your new diary.

How-to and Help diaries, such as smileycreek's New Diarists: How to Collaborate with Us on a Diary, are published to the New Diarists group. Visit our home page and click on the little ♥ to follow us.

Ready to play? Send a private message to nomandates for an invitation to join the group.

Originally posted to New Diarists on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 04:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Cranky Users, J Town, and Meta Groupies.

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