How to Write Chemical Formulas in Microsoft Word

By Filonia LeChat

Microsoft Word 2013 users looking to document their breakthroughs in the laboratory don’t need to be limited to just the characters on their keyboards. Scientists may use complicated chemical formulas to denote systematic studies, but writing those formulas takes the same amount of keyboard clicking as regular characters. Finding formulas means enabling one of Word’s more hidden features, its Equations Editor, and tapping into its available features.

Writing a Formula From Scratch

Step 1

Open a new or existing Word document and click the “Insert” tab.

Step 2

Click the “Equation” menu on the right side of the tab’s ribbon.

Step 3

Click the “Insert New Equation” option. A “Type equation here” box opens with a basic sample formula inserted.” Note that the purple Equation Tools tab also opens. If you click off the formula and onto the Word page, this tab disappears. Click the formula again to re-enable it.

Step 4

Click into the “Type equation here” box and type the formula. You can also copy and paste the formula from another Word document, Notepad file or other program.

Built-in Formulas

Step 1

Open a new or existing Word document and click the “Insert” tab.

Step 2

Click the “Equation” menu on the right side of the tab’s ribbon.

Step 3

Choose a formula from the drop-down menu or select “More equations from Office.com” and select one from the options available. Word inserts the chosen formula onto the page.

Editing the Formula

Step 1

Click the formula to enable the Equation Tools tab and its Design ribbon. Note that you will not see these options if you do not have a formula enabled on the Word page.

Step 2

Highlight a symbol in the formula and click one in the Symbols section of the ribbon to make a change.

Step 3

Click buttons on the ribbon such as “Radical” or “Fraction” to make changes to the formula as desired. Note that if Word does not sense it is possible to make this change, you will not see any difference on the Word page.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you've simply typed characters onto the Word page without the formula or equation tools, you can still format it to look more scientific. Highlight a character, click the "Home" tab and click either "Subscript" or "Superscript" to change the item's alignment, such as making a simple "2" into the symbol for a square root.
  • You can also click the "Insert" tab's "Symbol" menu, where many chemical formula icons are available. Simply click one to insert the character onto the page.