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Superscript or Subscript in Word [For Students]

May 13, 2024

Students from multiple disciplines need to write papers. Some of these disciplines might need you to write a chemistry lab report or a Mathematical theory paper. In situations like these, how do you type in compounds or powers like H2O or x2 without it looking like H2O or x2?

In Word, learning how to add superscripts and subscripts can elevate your formatting skills, but that’s something that a lot of students struggle with. How do you add a superscript and subscript in Word? Let me help you out. Follow this guide for complete step-by-step instructions using WPS Office.

Superscript or Subscript in Word [For Students]

How Students can use Superscript and Subscript for Paper

Superscripts and subscripts are used in a variety of texts. In many papers, using superscripts and subscripts are important to accurately represent the information you are writing about. It is critical for STEM majors and students who have to write academic papers.

Use Superscript and Subscript for Academic Writing

When writing academic papers, many students are confused on how to express information where superscripts and subscripts are involved. The main distinction between them is whether they appear at the base or at the top of the line you’re writing in. Let’s break these down with examples.

Oftentimes, when writing about chemical ionic compounds, mathematical sequences, or doing homework involving a computer programming language, there are text items that we need to express as subscripts. These might appear like this:

a1, b3, H2O

Superscripts are used in references or to indicate any degree or notation. These might appear like this:

C24, Robert3, Organograma

Use Superscript and Subscript for Citations

In academic writing, citations and references are the most important parts of your research and writing. Formatting for citations can be a bit tricky since it might involve footnotes or endnotes.

When inserting a citation, make sure to use a number as a superscript at the end of the citation. In your respective footnote, enter in the corresponding number and type in your complete citation.

To make it easier to understand, I’ll show you an example of what this looks like:

Superscript used for Citation in the footnote

Practical Tips for Formatting

As students, you have to write academic papers very frequently. It is helpful to refer to citation style guides like APA, MLA, or Chicago to understand their usage of superscripts and subscripts.

For your ease, APA style recommends the use of superscripts within the text for citations, while subscripts for chemical arrangements and mathematical expressions. MLA and Chicago might differ slightly in this regard.

However, once you do refer to these style guides, your paper will be easy to read, and will be more consistent and professional in presentation.

Here's a breakdown of common scenarios where you might use superscript and subscript:

Superscript Formatting:

  • Ordinal Numerals: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.

  • Copyright and Trademark Symbols: ©, ™, ®

  • Footnote and Endnote Numbers: Numbers referring to additional information within a text.

  • Mathematical Functions (Exponents): x^2 (x squared), e^x (exponential function), etc.

  • Chemical Symbols (Ion Charges): Na⁺ (sodium ion with a positive charge)

Superscript use cases

Subscript Formatting:

  • Chemical Formulas (Number of Atoms): H₂O (water, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom)

  • Mathematical Settings (Indices): A_i (ith element in a matrix A)

Subscript use cases

Steps of Using Superscript and Subscript

In using superscripts and subscripts, there are two ways you can go about it. I’ll explain both in a simple way so you can easily follow along. To do that, I’ll be using WPS, a free office suite that is compatible with all versions of Word documents, and is available on Mobile, Windows, and Mac.

I prefer it because it's free and can even convert your papers to PDF without losing the format. It reduces the hassle of using other softwares, and acts as an all-in-one tool when working on your document. Let’s begin:

Step 1: Type in your sentence or text as you normally would until you reach the point where you need to add a superscript/subscript in Word.

Step 2: Go to the Home tab.

Step 3: In the “Font” section, you will see the options for superscript and subscript, marked by an “x” as a base and a corresponding number in superscript/subscript. Click on your desired option.

Visually, the option would look like this:

Superscript and Subscript option in the Home tab

Disclaimer: In Word, these options would appear side by side in the same section, so instead of dropping down the menu, click on your desired option directly.

Step 4: Start typing in your text that needs to be in superscript/subscript.

Step 5: Click the option again to deselect the superscript/subscript and return to normal font size.

In these 5 easy steps, you have now typed your superscripts/subscripts.

You might have noticed that if your document needs a lot of citations, or deals primarily with subscripts and superscripts, this process can take up a lot of your time.

To make it a little quicker, consider simply selecting the text. Let me show you how to do that:

Step 1: Select the text that you want to use as superscript/subscript.

Step 2: Go to the Home tab.

Step 3: In the “Font” section, click on the respective superscript/subscript option that you want.

Selecting text and then choosing the subscript option

Once you click somewhere else on the document, the option will automatically deselect so you can return to your normal font size.

Subscripts in text

I have found these steps very easy to follow when writing. However, if you’re really short in time, I’ll let you in on some keyboard shortcuts to use as well. All you have to do is select your text that you need as a superscript/subscript in Word and press your shortcut keys.

The keyboard shortcut for adding a superscript is:

Ctrl + Shift +  Plus Sign (+)

The keyboard shortcut for adding a subscript is:

Ctrl + Equal Sign (=)

Side Tip: Make sure you’re pressing all your shortcut keys at the same time for them to work.

How WPS Office Can Help Students Create Academic Documents

WPS Office has always been a favorite among students for its user-friendly interface and robust features. With the integration of WPS AI, it's become even more powerful. The AI feature significantly enhances the quality of your language, and ensures that your academic documents are polished and error-free with real-time grammar and spell-checks.

WPS AI Spell Check

Additionally, WPS has a wide collection of ready-to-use, editable templates specifically designed for academic use. These templates provide a structured format for various academic documents, from research papers to reports and essays, allowing you to start writing with confidence.

WPS Templates

Coupled with the templates, WPS’s seamless PDF conversion feature can convert your documents to PDF in just a click without losing formatting. This is especially useful when submitting assignments, sharing work with classmates, or sending documents to professors or supervisors.


FAQs about Superscript and Subscript in Word for Students

Q1. How do I ensure my superscript and subscript text remains aligned with the main text?

There's no way to directly adjust the default position of superscripts and subscripts in most text editors. However, you can use the Advanced tab of the Font dialogue to raise or lower selected text, which indirectly affects their alignment with the main text. This method allows you to manually adjust the vertical position of superscripts and subscripts. It is important to note that this technique applies to regular document text. If you're dealing with equations created by the built-in equation editor, these adjustments may not be applicable.

Q2. Can superscript and subscript formatting be applied in WPS Office mobile apps?

In WPS Office, you can format text as superscript or subscript in the desktop version and the mobile apps. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Launch your WPS Office Writer document on your mobile device.

Step 2: Select the text you want to format as superscript or subscript.

Step 3: Click on the menu icon to access additional options.

Step 4: Scroll down until you locate T2 and T2.

Step 5: If you want to format your text as superscript, then choose T2 and if you want to format the text as subscript then select T2.

Q3. What distinguishes subscript from superscript?

Subscript is when text is lowered below the regular line, while superscript is when text is raised above the regular line.

Subscript is commonly used in:

  • Chemical formulas (e.g., H₂O).

  • Mathematical expressions (e.g., CO₂).

  • Footnotes or references in academic writing.

Superscript is often used for:

  • Exponents in mathematical equations (e.g., x²).

  • Footnote numbers in academic papers.

  • Indicating units (e.g., m² for square meters).

Mastering Superscripts and Subscripts in Word for Clear and Polished Writing

Adding superscripts and subscripts in Word is an easy formatting way to express your writing. Whether it’s adding citations or adding a mathematical equation in your paper, you will be able to present your argument in a clear and appealing way. If you feel stuck at any point, make sure to refer to this guide for clarity, and use WPS Office for a clean, simple, and student-friendly experience to add your superscripts and subscripts.

15 years of office industry experience, tech lover and copywriter. Follow me for product reviews, comparisons, and recommendations for new apps and software.