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Equation Numbers in OpenOffice

OpenOffice turns out to have a perfectly adequate equation editor. There’s no further need for a LaTeX add-in for equations.

Academics need three main functions for equation editors.

  1. Format the text.
  2. Assign sequential numbers.
  3. Update references to Equation (2), whenever the number changes.

OpenOffice has all this built in. Neat! Read the wiki FAQs on OpenOffice Math or the concise, illustrated Getting Started with Math. The tricky part is to remember:

“fn” + F3

In order to add an equation, type “fn” and then hit F3. This creates a box for the equation and assigns it a number. The equation’s box and number appear in the text, and the equation editor appears in a separate pane at the bottom of the screen. You type in plain text, which is converted to graceful mathematical typesetting.

The syntax for OpenOffice equations is remarkably similar to LaTeX syntax, and fairly intuitive. For example, “integrate x dx” is typed “int{x}dx”. Superscripts use the ^ character, and subscripts the _ character. Greek letters, calculus, and set operations are straightforward.

Later, you will want to refer to an equation by number. This is, after all, the main purpose of numbering the equations, so you don’t have to repeat the entire thing each time you discuss it. OpenOffice thinks of these equation numbers as “cross-references,” meaning that you have to >Insert >Cross-reference, and then select how you’d like it to appear.

“Equation ” + >Insert >Cross-reference >Reference …becomes…

Equation (2)

And the number (2) will change if you add further equations to the text. If OpenOffice forgets to update this field, you can update all using the >Tools >Update menu.

What about other ways of referring to the equation? Changing the format of the cross-reference to a caption does pretty much what it says.

>Insert >Cross-reference >Caption …becomes…

Newton’s Third Law of Motion (e.g.)

Cross-references across chapters of a book (sub-documents in a master document) are possible. Read the FAQs above.

Compare this to the equation numbering in MS Word.

About Ben Mazzotta

Ben Mazzotta is a postdoc at the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME). His study of the Cost of Cash is part of CEME's research into inclusive growth.



  1. Pingback: Network mapping roundup « Ben Mazzotta’s Weblog - December 15, 2010

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March 2010
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