How to Make a Bullet Point Using the Alt Key

By Nathan E. Baker

You can use either the Alt key in combination with other keys or the Windows Character map to place bullets, accents, diacritical marks and other symbols into a document. By using an Alt-key combination or the Character map, you can copy and paste these symbols into different applications, even online applications, where a symbol created in a word processor may not be allowed.

ASCII Character Codes

The Windows operating system has an ASCII character code for every text and number symbol. The basic ASCII code set represents all common alphanumeric characters, while the extended code set includes special characters and symbols. The ASCII code for the bullet symbol, for example, is Alt-0149, and is part of the extended code set. To insert this character into a document using its ASCII code, hold down the "Alt" key, press the numbers on the keypad associated with the character code, and then release the "Alt" key. The symbol appears. Please note you must use the numeric keypad numbers rather than those along the top of the keyboard. Laptop computers don't have a separate numeric keypad but usually have multi-function keys that can be used to emulate the keypad function. Some laptops use the Fn key to enable the numeric keypad while others have a special key that does the same thing. Check the owner's manual to learn how to enable the keypad on your laptop.

The Windows Character Map

The Windows Character Map is a visual representation of ASCII character key codes. To open the Character Map, use the Search box in the Start screen to find the Character Map application, or click the Down arrow at the bottom of the Start screen and locate it in the "Windows Accessories" section of the All Apps screen. On Windows 7, select "All Programs" from the Start menu, then "Accessories." Choose "System Tools" and then "Character Map." You can click a symbol from the Character Map and copy it to your clipboard to paste elsewhere. Not only does the Character Map show you the symbol so you don't have to remember the code, it also displays the symbol in different font sets. Note that some characters may not be available for all fonts.

Bullet Symbols in Word Processors

Bullet symbols inserted by a word processing program are constructed from formatted code specific to that word processor -- so these are often incompatible with other applications. If you try to copy the word processor bullet symbol and paste it into another application, you may see either nothing, a line of un-formatted code, or an error message. Symbols generated by an Alt-code or the Windows Character Map do not generally share the same limitations and can be pasted into a wider variety of programs, including Web browsers.

Origin of ASCII Character Codes

The original ASCII character set was based upon telegraphy standards used by the Bell company and included only numbers and upper case letters. Lower case letters and non-printable computer programming control characters were added later. Over time, other symbols were added to make the character set more flexible, including diacritical marks, foreign language accent symbols and special characters such as the bullet symbol.