Equations in books

Equations in Books

One of the best things about books is their diversity. We rarely see two the same. For every picture book, there’s a dense saga. For every anthology of poetry, there’s a book filled with lines of equations.

Including equations in a published book is something of a fine art. They come with different rules and potential problems to plain text. They’re also made more complicated by the fact that writers often use a number of different inputting methods when including them in their manuscript.

If you’re using MS Word, you may have inserted an equation as a separate image. Or maybe you wrote one out in normal text using conventional keyboard characters. If you have a little more experience, you may have used the inbuilt MS Equation Editor. This one is the ideal, as it constructs equations and all terms, operators and mathematical notations using the correct symbols.

Using the right inputting method and characters is important. If you’ve unwittingly typed equations using standard keyboard characters, you’ll find you have a lot of extra work ahead of you to get everything in the right format.

However, even if you’ve carefully created your equations using the right symbols, you’ll still hit a hurdle when it comes to typesetting. When a book designer typesets your book, they won’t use Word. First, they’ll need to convert all those neat and finely-honed equations, ready to use them in a different software package such as Adobe InDesign.

Typesetting mathematical text takes time and isn’t easy. That’s worth you bearing in mind if you’re considering trying to do it yourself, but also when you’re pricing up book design services. Typesetting equations will cost extra and slow down the process, but we hope you’ll soon see that professional input is invaluable.

Here’s what needs to happen to get your manuscript equations into a finished book.

Converting equations

Most book designers now use Adobe InDesign to typeset your books, with a few still using Quark Express. In either case, the designer will have to take your Word document and convert it before they can work.

If you’ve included equations as images or normal text in Word, you or your designer will first have to retype them as proper equation objects, so they won’t interfere with the conversion. Your draft’s font and the final typeset font will be very different. When it comes to equations, that can lead to lots of errors. Word’s Equation Editor helps to preserve the accuracy of equations during conversion. Once they’re in the right format, your designer can start to bring them over into InDesign and incorporate them into the rest of the book.

Now, while this sounds simple, it is still a surprisingly complex process. Word’s Equation Editor won’t convert directly to InDesign, of course, because nothing is ever that easy! Your designer will first need to run the equations through another piece of software to turn them into objects. MathType, by Design Sciences, lets designers import these objects into InDesign as vector-quality images. They’ll look great, but the downside is that now their content will be fixed. That means that if you spot an error or a font change is needed later, it will take time to change and convert it all over again.

How can you help speed things up?

So now you know how it’s done, what can you do to make things easier?

Depending on the way that you’re using equations and for what purpose, there are a number of things you can do now. All will help make things easier and faster for your book designer further down the line. And that will make the whole process cheaper for you.

Let’s go through each type of equation and consideration in turn:

Display equations

These are the more complex equations. You’ll likely set them apart in their own paragraph with space above and below, and often label them (1), (2), etc. The paragraph will be large enough to display the largest symbols, and the equation may also have dividing lines and indices. All these make it much taller than a normal line of text.

The most important thing to remember when preparing display equations is to write the entire equation with the Equation Editor. Don’t write part of it in normal text and part with the editor. You’ll only end up with the whole equation needing to be retyped from scratch as a single equation object when it comes to typesetting time.

Inline equations

These are the equations that you might see mixed in with the text. A good example would be, “Newton’s second law of motion is F = ma; force is equal to mass times acceleration.”

Again, you need to write the terms in an inline equation as a single, proper equation object. Don’t string them together with normal body text in-between. This way, the equation will be styled and spaced consistently, and your designer can convert it over to InDesign as a single object.

Make sure you also style all inline equations in the same font as any display equations you’ve used elsewhere. This will ensure that any Greek symbols or unusual variables appear exactly the same throughout the book.

Bear in mind that if you try to place a big, multi-line equation with a dividing line as an inline equation, it won’t look very attractive. When it comes to typesetting, it will suddenly need much wider line spacing than all the lines of text around it, throwing out the style. Like this, for example:


Inline equations are only really suitable for simple, short equations. If it’s too long or complex, we’d highly recommend you make it a display equation.

Finally, if you’re planning to convert your book to an ebook format like Kindle or ePub, it’s important to know that your inline equations will be affected. Take a look at the ebook section mentioned later to learn more.


Variables are simply letters you’d include throughout the book to reference a mathematical term. You may have used these terms elsewhere within equations and want to extrapolate on their meaning with a written description. That’s no problem. You won’t always need to write variables as inline equation objects, but it is still important to keep them consistent with the font and styling used in other equations.

Book convention says that you should italicize any scalar variables, such as in T for temperature. It also says that you should bold but non-italicize any vector variables, like F for force. This helps make the meaning of your variables clear and helps them stand out from regular text in a paragraph,

Font conversions

So, you write your equations in the Equation Editor, and then your designer converts them into vector-quality images using MathsType. As a conversion process, this works really well. However, as we’ve mentioned, once your equations are little vector images, your designer can’t edit them in InDesign.

When you write an equation in the Word Equation Editor, you’ll need to choose a font to write it in – probably a Microsoft default font. However, when your designer comes to typeset the rest of your book, they’ll need to use a different font entirely.

This can all lead to a frustrating back and forth process. Once your designer has chosen a font they think is appropriate for the whole book, they’ll have to go back and update the Word document accordingly and then convert to InDesign for the typesetting. If they later find a different font works better, they’ll need to go back and repeat the process.

There isn’t much you can do about this: just bear in mind that it will slow things down. One small thing you can do to help, however, is to write everything using a single font family that includes all the standard characters plus any symbols used in your equations. Not all font families have some of the more obscure characters and some display them unconventionally. Using a standard, comprehensive font family will help your designer ensure that characters and symbols don’t disappear or change during the design process.


If you intend to convert your book into an ebook, you’ll need to consider certain things carefully before you start.

Display equations are fine. Your designer can simply insert them as an image between paragraphs, and they’ll look great. Inline equations are more problematic, however, because they’re images that need to fit within the lines of text.

Ebooks make text ‘flowable.’ This means the words can fill the screen irrespective of what size device you’re using. It also allows the text to be adaptive so that readers can change the font size, spacing, margins, and so on.  You can’t make inline images scalable within ebooks in the same way as text, and so they’ll quickly fall out of alignment. The result will be a screen peppered with text and little equation images all out of line. It will look awful and be very hard to read.

For this reason, you’ll need to re-enter inline equations in an ebook as normal text. We know: that goes against everything we’ve said up to now. In our defense, we did say it was complicated.

As we’ve seen, if you enter equations as plain text, it can and will cause its own problems. Your ebook designer will have to handle these inline text equations very, very carefully. That’s why we’d highly recommend that for anything other than very simple, basic equations, you always use display equations in your ebook file. We promise you that it will save you and your designer a lot of time and stress.


So there we have it. If you decide to – or have to – use equations in your book, it will mean some extra work for both you and for your designer. Hiring someone to handle the conversion process will mean some additional costs and patience, but it’s very worthwhile. You need someone on your team who has practical experience of all these issues, so you don’t end up embarrassed with your finished book. With a bit of investment, a good designer can make sure your equations all look beautiful. And – even more importantly – present accurately!

And it’ll all be worth it when you win that Nobel Prize, hey?

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