Office For Mac

Kurt’s Power Tip #3: Optimize equation editing in Word for Mac 2011

For users who add or edit equations in their Word docs, the new equation editor in Word for Mac 2011 is a welcome new feature that makes equation editing cross-platform with Word for Windows.

I’ve been editing equations on the Mac for many years (after all, in a previous life, I was the leader of Apple’s Scientific Computing Project) and have experience using most of the equation editors and interpreters available to Mac users.  What I’ve found is that there is no disputing the tremendous increase in comprehension by the readers of your documents when an equation changes from an easy-to-type, but hard-to-understand linear form like this:


to an equation rendered in the standard way that mathematicians and scientists use in both school and professional life.  Here is that same equation from above, but shown in standard form:

As excellent as the standard equation format is to read, it can be slow and painstaking to create from scratch.  After all, an equation like the one above is a rich, two-dimensional structure with a wide character set, well outside the characters available on a standard keyboard. Of course, creating this structure takes both time and forethought.

It is often much easier to edit an equation that has a similar structure to the one you want, than it is to create this rich structure yourself.  For this reason, the equation editing feature in Word 2011 provides an menu that lists several commonly used equations you can easily add and edit within your document:


In addition, you can easily add your own equations to this menu.  There are several ways to do this, but the easiest is to right click on an equation that you want to add to the Equations menu, and choose “Save as New Equation”:

Then give the new equation a name and assign it to a category:

And you’re done!

As an example, here is my custom Equations menu on my iMac at work:

This customizable menu makes it even easier for you to quickly add the exact equation you need into your document. It only takes a moment and will save you tons of time. And that wraps this week’s tip on equation editing – let us know how it goes!

Not a big equation user? What other tips can we offer to help you get your work done faster so you can get back to enjoying life?

-Kurt Schmucker, Office for Mac Evangelist

March 3rd, 2011
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  1. Henk says:

    How easy is it to number equations (say on the right margin) with a chapter or section related number?

  2. Kurt Schmucker says:

    @Henk: It is easy to add an equation number, and there are a couple of ways to do this.

    Equations can be on the same line as text, so you can enter the Equation number, add a few spaces in front of it, and then add your equation in front of all this. Then, you can add a right tab to position your equation number at the right margin.

    Another way – which I actually prefer – is to add a one-row, three-column table to your document. Then insert your equation in the center column and the equation number in the right column. Make all the table borders invisible, and you will have just what you asked for.


  3. Michael says:

    Any compatibility issues with equations written on Mac but opened for editing on PC?

  4. Stephen Monismith says:

    For all the glowing words in the review, it omits a significant (and nearly fatal for many applications) flaw with the Word 2011: Using any font other than Math Cambria is challenging and time consuming at best. One cannot choose any other fonts, e.g. the always popular Times New Roman or Palatino, as default for equations. Many scientific journals require that the equations be set in fonts like these last two. This “feature” of Word 2011 is remarkably lame. I guess we can always hope that Microsoft will fix it in some future edition.

  5. Office for Mac Team says:

    @Michael No, Office for Mac 2011 and Office for Windows 2010 are compatible with equations.

  6. Stephen Monismith says:

    Another issue: equation numbering is pretty klugey – I tried both the suggestions above – neither is very suitable. Just adding numbers on the same line as the equation caused it to resize itself – moreover the equation box did not seem to respond to positioning with tabs. The table approach seems like a lot of work for something that should be simple. The easiest and still not very nice solution was to put the equation number in the equation box – as a result, it still isn’t really in the right place on the line. I suppose I must resign myself to waiting for Design Science to get the newest version of MathType done…

  7. Jewels57 says:

    Dear people, I am off topic but cannot look thru piles of emails. Due to bad back. I just lost my word doc. twice and want to know if there is a way to recover it! Sorry for speaking out of turn, but I am desperate, as is my aching backi! Regards. JC

  8. braccinocorto says:

    Stop explaining “word tips” and let us know why the excel 2011 version is so buggy?

    VBA is not compatible with the 2004 version. Why there’s a limit of 32 chars in the single folder name, in order for it to be accessible from VBA macros? Why was it possible to deal with such folders in Excel 2004 and it’s not possible now?

    VBA is crucial to a lot of people using excel, you stopped developing it and now it comes back with unexpected limitations.

  9. Office for Mac Team says:

    @Jewels57 Sorry to hear about your back. Unfortunately, AutoRecovery isn’t as reliable as genuine saving, so your document could be lost. Please see the following link for tips on how to try and retrieve your document or set up your AutoRecovery preferences so this doesn’t happen again – let us know if it helps!

  10. sandy Douglass says:

    Can Word for Mac 2011 actually solve the equations once they’re created? How about Exell for Mac 2011?

  11. constantin says:

    No, Word for PC or mac can’t solve equations, it is simply visual. You have to import the equation into program like MATLAB.

  12. Tim Northup says:

    Any idea when the new equation editor will be added to PowerPoint 2011? I love the new editor introduced with Word 2007 and I’m thrilled it’s finally supported in Word for Macs, but I’m sorely disappointed it’s not in PowerPoint 2011.

  13. Axel Holene says:

    Anybody got a clue for how to enter equation editor and inserting equations without having to use the mouse, that is: keyboard short-cuts? When I’m writing for instance theory and I have to type in tens of equations, it’s way more efficient to stick to keyboard shortcuts.

    Anyone? =)

  14. jenkinsr says:


    Look in the Tools menu, AutoCorrect; there’s a tab there for Math AutoCorrect and that lists all the keyboard shortcuts that you can do with Math. There’s quite a few, and if you don’t like them, change them to what ever works for you.

    Quite clever to use an existing procedure to do useful things. No point in re-inventing the wheel. Good job, someone.

  15. KPC says:

    I would love to add a keyboard shortcut to insert an equation, but when I assign one using Tools > Customize Keyboard > Insert > InsertEquation it opens the old Equation Editor. Is there a way to open the new editor from the keyboard.

    (And I second the call to get this editor into PowerPoint ASAP — I was running Office on a PC and got hooked on it – great for coloring specific terms.)

  16. Regina Needham says:

    I have been using Office 2010 on my HP for quite a while. As a math teacher – I am able to create power points with equations. I recently got a mac and it looks like the equation editor is not available in Mac 2011 Powerpoint. Is this true? Any clue when/if it will be added?

  17. Simone Hochgreb says:

    I usually use Latex, but for various reasons have to use Word now. Trying out the new equation editor. Unfortunately, the box that shows up is too small to fit my equation, so it cuts it off — I don’t get the drop down menu shown above including paragraph or set limit locations – which would presumably let me resize the box?

  18. J Northtown says:

    I just purchased a new Mac Mini Server (mid 2011) and installed Office 2011 and now it seems like equations no longer work, the drop down in the ribbon shows blank, and I get other issues as well. Does anyone know what could cause this, or how to fix it?

  19. David says:

    Is there a way to modify the equation option on the mac? In the PS world I can change the way the equation is copied to the clipboard. I have the ability to change the format to a “Plain Text” format, instead of the standard linear format.

    I can see no options in the mac version>>>Is there one?