Adding special characters in content management systems

In the previous post, I covered a little bit about unwanted special characters. This post is about the more likely case when you want to add a special character.

Every content management system’s admin interface looks a little different, but there should be a way to add special characters to your page.

Where are Special Characters?

In Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign, these characters are found in the Glyphs panels. In Microsoft Word, they are found under the Insert tab, Advanced Symbol button. It kind of looks like a horseshoe Ω, but it’s the Greek letter Omega. I have a bone to pick with whoever decided that this character would be the poster child for all special characters. For crying out loud, it is much more common to need the é (e acute) for words like “resumé” or “café” on the american keyboard.

My top 8 frequently needed special characters:

  • & ampersand  &
  • — em dash  —
  • é e acute é
  •   non-breaking space  
  • – en dash –
  • © copyright ©
  • ™ trademark ™
  • “ ” left and right double quotes "

Encoding Special Characters in Static HTML

When I code content for static pages, I encode special characters. For instance, some writers use the em dash as liberally as a comma, but some browser/operating systems don’t render em dashes properly when they have been pasted in from a Word document. CSS-tricks has a good resource page to help you find the encoding and the name of the character you need. Use this if your CMS editor does not offer the character you need.

Using Special Characters in a CMS

But, when I am putting content into a CMS, I need to learn the quirks of that CMS. Sometimes you can encode special characters all day and when you enter them into your CMS, the engine converts them into a symbol in the code view. I used to work in OpenText and it was one of those.

Basically, your CMS should have a button for special characters, but if the one you need isn’t in the out-of-the-box panel, then you’ll need to look it up elsewhere.