Formula Autobuildup in Word 2007

This is an introductory post to help users who want to create stunning technical documents in Word 2007. If you’ve typed Alt+= in Word 2007, you’ve seen a math-zone object inserted that says “Type equation here”. Actually you can type any mathematical expression there, even just a simple variable like x. If the expression's math zone is the only text in the paragraph, it'll be displayed in "display mode". Else it's displayed in the somewhat compressed "inline mode" as part of the paragraph (TeX's $$ vs $). As you type enough for an expression to be unambiguous, presto, it builds up right smack in front of your eyes! This process is called “formula autobuildup”, FAB for short, and expression ambiguity is determined by the UnicodeMath linear format documented in the Unicode Technical Note (UTN) I recommend you read at least the introductory sections of this UTN. In general terms, formula autobuildup occurs whenever the user types a character that forces the text preceding the character to be the unambiguous linearly formatted text for a built-up expression as defined by the UTN. As such the character itself is not part of the resulting built-up expression. The UTN doesn’t state how already built-up objects are handled by the build-up code. For the most part, such expressions are just treated as parts of operands, but the build-up code does look inside some objects to see it they can be converted in some way. One example of this is that when a subscript object is being superscripted or a superscript object is being subscripted, the result is a subsup object. Try this kind of entry. It's the fastest way to enter equations that I've ever seen and I've been editing technical text ever since 1968.

Comments (28)
  1. Some really interesting things to note for the week:

    New blog on Math in Office – Murray Sargent who…

  2. My name is Jennifer Michelstein, and I’m a Program Manager on the Word team. I mainly work on academic

  3. edwin says:

    Hi, will there be a legal issue if I redistribute the rich edit support dll with my application?

  4. Oscar says:

    When I print (either Pdf or on a regular printer) equations made with the office editor the printing quality is realy miserable. Is there a way to set improved and better printing options?

  5. Uncle W says:

    It is just not working. When I print I only get little stripes and no equitations. I tried with different printers hp 930c / canon ip4200 and a  pdf printer: pdf995 and nothing works. I’m desperate.

  6. Alex Lush says:

    I’m getting the same problem as Uncle W. The save as PDF plug-in seems to generate a pdf that displays the formulas correctly, then this pdf can be opened and printed.

    This is a long workaround and is unacceptable.

    Has else anyone found a better fix for this?

  7. Torben Herrmann says:

    I have the same problem. My equations are shown correctly on the screen but are not printed. If I use the pdf tool provided by Microsoft, equations are shown correctly in the pdf-document. If I use other pdf-tools to create the pdf-file the equations do NOT show up in the generated pdf document.

    However, the problem exists ONLY on pages containing graphics files – I have tried different formats (BMP, JPG, PNG ….) with no luck.

    It is sad. The new eqaution tool is really, really great except for this problem that makes it virtually useless to me.

  8. Carol St.Denis says:

    I had the same problem with printing equations.  I couldn’t figure out why one page would print just fine, but another would not.  I read the note from Torben about graphics, went back to my document and sure enough I had a graphic on the page that wouldn’t print the equations.  I removed the graphic and voila!

    Sure would like to be able to have both on one page.

    Why doesn’t microsoft fix this?

    I also found that I couldn’t put call-out boxes or other shapes in the same area as equations, or it would seperate my equation paragraph. I had to resort to putting all my equations that I want to keep together into text boxes.  I am a math teacher and want to show the progression of simplifying an expression, with call out boxes to point to and describe what I have done.  The text box thing is the only thing that is working for me.

    Thanks for your help!

  9. Mark M says:

    I am also in the same position.

    I just had to revert to 2003 format and redo most of the equations in a 65 page document because they would not print to PDF using Acrobat Distiller…

    Next time I’m using openoffice, a program that actually works. Shame on microsoft for charging an arm and a leg for a product that doesn’t.

  10. Jan Rames says:

    About the equation printing problem, for me it really deas occur only when there is other raster image on the same page as the equation (in my special case I modified the background to be transparent) and then the equation disappeared. I figured out a workaround, simply add a drawing and put the image in it, make sure the picture is inside the drawing box and is not overlaping, then it should print just fine.

  11. Scott says:

    i think the problem is with the formatting algorithm of in-document images such as charts or pictures are causing the equations to not print. for me the equations printed out perfectly w/o having to convert to a different file format (using .docx) when i removed all the images. I just compensated by printing the document w/ the error but w/ the images then by adding space by typing enter then printing then printing the copy then pasting the images by hand for the document printed beforehand and then scanned/copied the document for a final document 🙂

  12. Greg says:

    It’s amazing this hasn’t been corrected yet.  The bug has been identified since last fall.  I understand that the critical combination for failure is WindowsXP, The new equation editor, and a graphic on the same page as the equation.

  13. EJ says:

    The suggestion from Jan Rames really helped me out. Thanks! Here is a more detailed explanation in case anyone else winds up here looking for a solution:

    All you need to do is insert a drawing canvas and place the image inside the drawing canvas. Then your equation(s) should print fine. To do this, go to Insert->Shapes, then look all the way at the bottom of the flyout and there is an entry for "New Drawing Canvas". If you paste in your image and then use the crop handles, they will snap to the image border and everything prints okay without having to redo any of your equations.

  14. xnick says:

    I have tried recently MS Word 2007, and I agree it’s pretty quick to type math into. But I wouldn’t say it’s the fastest. It is faster than LaTeX if you know how to handle the FAB sustitutions, but doesn’t beats using MathType with a good setup of hotkeys (i haven’t yet found how to customize hotkeys for 2007’s math mode). I’ve used intensively Mathtype with MS Word XP.

    Also I found cumbersome the edition of some equation already typed, if you have to correct some error. Maybe I’m just too used to MathType’s Tab-Key navigation system… And I’m also annoyed by the fact that there is little control about how the equations would look, besides inline or shown mode (how can you setup equations side by side, but in shown mode? I don’t know — with Mathtype, that’s pretty easy to do).

    Still, I think 2007’s math editor  is a very good improvement, and I encourage everyone to use it. There’s a lot of room for improvement there.

  15. pingli says:

    Hi Dear All

    Really this technique for typing mathematical equation is fantastic. before this i was in trouble in typing equation and finding shortcut keys in help but MS word 2007 do not have shortcut keys like 2003.  

    this is very easy and quick. here i also want to write thanks to  "Karen" who asked this beautiful question and to Patrick Schmid who answered this question.

    Patrick Schmid; really we are positively surprised by knowing this, thank you very much.


  16. pingli says:


    i want to ask you that when i save a file the equation editor is no more active after saving a doc in office 2007. I can not edit equation in a save mode. for this i have to open new-doc and then copy paste.

    please help me in this.


  17. Maria says:

    Jan Rames and EJ, LOVE YOU!!!!!

    i was desperate, until i found your solution!

    it works! it realy works!

  18. Evatt says:

    Thanks for the post Ran James. This works.

    I have been trying to write documents with figures and equations on different pages. Yikes!

    It took me a while to find this. Adding some search phrases:

    Equations don’t appear

    Equations do not appear

    Equations disappear

    acrobat pdf pdfwriter

    microsoft word 2007

  19. david0128 says:

    This worked for me 🙂

    To work around this issue, install the Complex Script support files. To do this, follow these steps:

      1. Click Start, and then click Run

      2. Type intl.cpl, and then click OK.

      3. Click the Languages tab.

      4. Under Supplemental language support, click to select the Install files for complex script and right-to-left languages (including Thai) check box.

      5. When you receive the following message, click OK to close the message:

         You chose to install the Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Hebrew, Indic, Thai and Vietnamese language files. This will require 10 MB or more of available disk space. The files will be installed after you click OK or Apply on the Regional and Language Options dialog box.

      6. Click OK to close the Regional and Language Options dialog box.

  20. sparreira says:


    The workaround from david0128 worked just fine!! The word 2007 formulas are printed in pdf as well as directly to the printer.

    Thank youuuuuuu!

  21. Jakob says:

    I have av problem with the autocorrect. I insert a equation in word from MatLab with the use of anf ActiveX handle. Then MatLab tell word to set the equation in proffesional mode. But when I do it from MatLab Word does not seem to reconginize the commands that start with "" such as "int" or "sum". Same happens if I write a macro that puts all the equations into professional mode. If I run it from Word it works fines. But if I run the macro from MatLab the same problem occurs.

    It is almost as if AutoBuildUp works but no Math AutoCorrect. Why does this happen?

    Is there a way to force Word to use Math AutoCorrect on the equations?

  22. Charlificus says:

    My new Office for Mac automatically converts subscripts but not superscripts (i.e. ˆ2 stays as is and doesn't become a power). How do I fix this?

  23. MurrayS3 says:

    The superscript expression needs to be followed by an operator of lower precedence than the ^ to build up. If you don't have any such operator, use a space. So to type in the Pythagorean Theorem in a math zone, type a^2+b^2=c^2<space>

  24. johnvbunny says:

    how to enter theta with a single dot on the top of it?

  25. MurrayS3 says:

    thetadot<space><space>. Note that you don't need the two spaces if you follow theta dot with any operator other than space. So thetadot+phidot=0 doesn't need any spaces.

  26. KB says:

    Typing in place is a lot easier than using a mouse. The only way to type out symbols in place is Unicode for many of the characters, isn't it? I find this method of entry is not really gered to typesetting. Why don't you have a mode that does LaTeX expressions. You double click and it gives you a double paned window where ypou can enter linear on one side or LaTex on the other and the formats auto-convert.

  27. MurrayS3 says:

    You can type the [La]TeX names for operators and they will be inserted. Or you can type the Unicode value followed by alt+x, e.g., for ≤ type 2265 alt+x. There are some other tricks. My 11/2011 and 12/2011 posts describe some interesting options. Clearly we need improved ways to enter symbols via a keyboard, since as you point out, keyboards are substantially quicker than symbol boxes/dialogs. OTOH, the latter are often easier to discover. Touch symbol boxes may offer some very cool capabilities.

  28. Hermann Klinke says:

    Hello KB,

    as Murray has already mentioned, you might want to try my notation that is introduced in Murray's 11/2011 post. It's easier and faster than LaTex.

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