Math Features in Microsoft Word

By Robert Delwood, Senior Programmer-Writer

Long time users of Word might remember an early feature of built-in math functions. These have long since been forgotten, removed from the tool bar since Word 6.0 in 1995, but not gone. Excel offers a more extensive math library, but in many cases, you might only need to add a simple range of numbers. In that case, Word’s math becomes convenient. There are two types: Calculate and Fields.


Calculate is a menu item summing a range of numbers, or alternately, a simple math equation. Before using it, you need to add it to a menu. Select Tools->Customize, Commands tab. Click on All Commands in the Categories column and then ToolsCalculate in the right side. Drag that function to a menu, perhaps Tools and under Speech. Initially, the command is dimmed but activates when you select text with numbers in it. To use it, do precisely that and select a region that includes numbers. Clicking Calculate sums all numeric values. The total displays in the status bar (although curiously only for a brief time) and is placed in the clipboard, ready for pasting.

The total within the selected area displays in the status bar and in the clipboard. Any range of text with numbers may be used, just not tables. Equations can also be calculated.

Equations can be used.
Operation Operator Example Result
Addition + or space 100+200 300 600
Subtraction – or () 100-50 (30) 20
Multiplication * 25*1.25 31.25
Division / 200/6 33.33
Exponential ^ 2^8 256
Percentage % $100*108% $108.00
Precedence () (100*40)/100 40


Fields are best known for automatically displaying preset information but they can also be used for customized math operations. This supports basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), combinations, and advanced operations such as comparisons, logic operations, and Excel-like functions. For example, {=2+2} displays 4, of course; the square root of three calculates as {3^(1/2)}.

To enter the formula, you must insert the field notation using Ctrl-9. The resulting set of brackets ( ) are special to fields and may only be entered this way. Within the brackets, type the values, beginning with the equals sign. Fields do not update automatically (other than when opening a document). To force an update, right click on the field, selecting Update Field. Alternately, select a range and click F9.

However, the last two math examples are simple and not much of an advantage over the Calculate method. The real power starts to come with the functions. These are known as table functions and include AVERAGE(), MIN(), MAX(), and SUM(). See Word’s Help for a complete list (“Field codes: = (Formula) field”). You enter the values in the same way. For example, {=AVERAGE(100, 92, 95, 89, 99)}  displays 95. To further extend the usefulness, the values can be referenced, as from cells in a table, using the column/row format (A1, A2, and so on). The follow example demonstrates this:

Value 1 Value 2 Formula Result
100 90 {=AVERAGE(A2:B2)} 95
30 -40 {=MIN(A2:B3)} -40

References are made as individual cells (A1), entire rows (1:1), entire columns (A:A), or mixed (A1:B3, as in the above example). The table functions can reference cells outside the table. First, the referenced table has to be bookmarked. Click anywhere in the table, insert a bookmark and title it. In this case, the above table is bookmarked as Table1. Now, anywhere in the document, add a field such as {=SUM(Table1 A2:B3)} and it displays 180.

Finally, you can format the number at the time, using numeric picture switches. The field {=SUM(Table1 A2:B3) # $0.00} displays $180.00. The switch # starts the formatting and the zeros indicate required numbers to display. Here, it adds two decimal places that would otherwise be omitted. Other characters (the dollar sign in this case) get included. Numeric picture switches have a richer set of formats (see Word Help topic “Numeric Picture (#) field switch”) but can include different formats for positive and negative numbers. For example {=SUM(Table1 A3:B3) # $0.00} displays $-10.00 while {=SUM(Table1 A3:B3) # $,0.00;($,00);} displays as ($10).

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