Handwrite complicated equations instead of piecing together symbols


by Kara Hiltz

Application: Microsoft Excel 2016

Operating System: Microsoft Windows

Building a complex mathematical equation in an Excel worksheetcan take a lot of time and effort. Scripts, radicals, operators, brackets, and functions (just to name a few required elements) have led many Excel users to throw up their hands. But Excel 2016’s Ink Equation feature allows you to handwrite your equations, which Excel then translates into type!

To enter a complex mathematical equation into an Excel spreadsheet using the Ink Equation feature, we’ll:

  • Ensure that our equation isn’t already offered in Excel’s list of pre-determined common equations.
  • Handwrite our equation using the Ink Equation feature.
  • Edit the parts of the equation that Excel didn’t identify correctly.

Excel’s Equation Tools are comprehensive but not always user-friendly. Inserting a mathematical equation in your spreadsheet might take more time and effort than you’d like. Excel 2016’s Ink Equation feature tries to save you time and frustration by letting you handwrite an equation. Then, as shown in Figure A, Excel translates the handwritten equation (somewhat successfully) into a type equation that you can use in Excel.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the new Ink Equation feature and tell you how to handwrite an equation—and fix the errors that may occur when Excel tries to translate it.



As you handwrite your equation, you’ll see Excel’s translation update in real time.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Before you try out the Ink Equation feature, you should ensure that Excel doesn’t have a premade equation matching the one you need. Many common mathematical and scientific equations are available for immediate use on Excel’s Insert tab.

To search for a premade equation:

  1. Open your workbook and go to the Insert tab.
  2. In the Symbols area, click on the Equation dropdown palette, as shown in Figure B.
  3. Scroll through the available equations and search for the one you have in mind.
  4. If you see the equation you need, click on it to insert it into your worksheet.



The available premade equations include the binomial theorem, the Pythagorean theorem, and the quadratic formula, to name a few.

Handwrite your equation

If you don’t see the equation you want to use in the Equation dropdown palette (or you know that it isn’t a commonly used equation), the Ink Equation feature is a great alternative. You can handwrite your equation and let Excel do the hard work. For our example, we’ll handwrite Carleman’s equation.

To use a touchscreen or cursor to handwrite an equation:

  1. Go to the Insert tab and click on the Equation dropdown list.
  2. Click on Ink Equation at the bottom of the Equation dropdown palette. A new window opens with a writing area and a few editing tools, as shown in Figure C.
  3. Write your equation in the space labeled Write math here using either your finger (on a touchscreen), your mouse cursor, or your stylus.
  4. Use the Erase button or the Clear button to make corrections if needed.

As you write your equation, you’ll see E[...]

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