If you’ve worked in Microsoft Word any length of time (a few decades for us), then you’re probably familiar with the red and blue squiggly lines that underlines potential spelling and grammar mistakes. They’re incredible handy tools for anybody that wants to make sure their documents are as professional and as correct as possible. But sometimes you need to tweak the settings because they’re a bit overzealous. Here’s how you adjust things to your liking.
First off, so we’re all on the same page, here’s how Office marks potential spelling errors:
Here’s how Office marks potential grammatical and clarity errors (at least on the Windows 7 machine I’m typing this on):
Office recommends the above sentence reads “The home run had no effect on the outcome.”
The simplest way to see how Office would like to correct the sentences above is to right-click on the underlined text and see its suggestions:
However, say you need to make tweaks to those settings. For example, say you work in a medical, technical, or scientific environment where Office isn’t going understand some of the terminology your industry uses. Or say you are really passionate about the Oxford comma. Here’s how you tweak the Word grammatical settings a bit more to your liking.
In the “File” tab of Microsoft Word, click on “Options” and select “Proofing.” There you will see the first page of the various proofing options you can tweak:
There are several places you can tweak things in here (and note these settings will apply to other Office programs that use the grammar and spelling features, like Outlook). There are a few things you can dig into to check and tweak according to your preferences:
AutoCorrect Options: Here you can tweaks some of the settings that basically Microsoft trying to be smart, and it generally does a pretty good job. However, if you want to turn off some of the auto-correction and auto-formatting that Word does (like auto formatting lists and lines and borders, based on what it thinks you’re trying to do, which can mess up formatting of a document), you can tweak the settings further in here.
Custom Dictionaries: If you’ve added words to your custom dictionary (by right-clicking misspelled words and selecting “Add to Dictionary”), you can edit those additions here. You can also import custom dictionaries here should the need arise. Doing a bit of google research, there are some community-related medical, chemistry and scientific dictionaries that might help you out.
Grammar Settings: Next to the “Writing Style” drop down, you’ll see a “Settings…” button. Click on that to get into the grammar settings dialog where you can tweak the settings. By default, a lot of Word’s grammar checks are actually turned off so if you’re looking to have it question a lot more of what you write, here’s the place to do it. This would include the use of clichés, slang, Oxford commas, gender-specific language, and more:
Need more? If you are wanting to make your grammar as good as it can be and you don’t want to hire a copy-editor, it’s always good to get a second opinion. Microsoft has made a lot of strides in their grammar checking tools. However, if you’re wanting something else to have a check on your document, the popular service Grammarly has an Office add-in.