Editing a custom dictionary in Word

If your students use a custom dictionary—and they should—mistakes are bound to creep into it. Show them how to keep their dictionaries accurate and useful.

Word’s spelling checker can make the difference between a professional, error-free document and one plagued with enough typos to raise the boss’ eyebrows. And checking the spelling on a document couldn’t be easier since Word does all the work behind the scenes. But your students can get a lot more mileage from this tool if they create a custom dictionary that contains the special terms and proper names they commonly type.

Teaching your students how to build a custom dictionary doesn’t take long—in fact, it boils down to this:
  • Right-click on a correctly spelled term that Word has flagged as unrecognized and click Add.

  • Word will put the item in the custom dictionary and never flag it again. But inevitably, users will click Add only to realize that Word was right—the term was indeed incorrect. They’ve added a misspelling to their custom dictionary, which makes the feature of somewhat dubious value.

    Luckily, if your students accidentally place a misspelled word in a custom dictionary, they can open the dictionary file and fix the problem. Here’s how it works.

    Dictionary cleanup
    To demonstrate the procedure for fixing errors in a custom dictionary, start by creating an error. Just type a name that you know is not in Word’s standard dictionary, say Soso, and point out the wavy red underline that flags it as unrecognized. Right-click on the name and choose Add from the shortcut menu to put it in your custom dictionary. Then, to play out the example, explain to your students that you actually meant to add the name Sosa to your custom dictionary. The scene thus set, you can proceed to fix the problem:
    1. Choose Options from the Tools menu, and select the Spelling & Grammar tab.
    2. Click Dictionaries to open the Custom Dictionaries dialog box.

    To open this dialog box, click Dictionaries in the Spelling & Grammar tab of the Options dialog box.

    1. Click Edit. (We’re keeping it simple, but in some cases, users may have multiple custom dictionaries. If so, they’ll need to select the one they want to correct from the Custom Dictionaries list box before clicking Edit.)
    2. If you have automatic spelling checker activated, which is the default, Word will present a message explaining that it needs to turn off the feature before you edit your dictionary. That’s fine—just click OK. You can turn it back on when you finish.

    Word will now open the dictionary file, which essentially is a list of custom entries stored in a special plain text format.

    The custom dictionary file consists of a list of plain text entries.

    To correct the misspelled name, Soso, simply change it to Sosa, editing the text as you would in a regular document. Then close the dictionary file by choosing Close from the File menu and clicking Yes to save your changes.

    Reactivate automatic spelling
    The final step is to turn the automatic spelling checker back on so you can demonstrate the effect of your correction:
    1. Choose Options from the Tools menu, and click the Spelling & Grammar tab (it should still be active).
    2. Select the Check Spelling As You Type check box and click OK.

    Now, type Soso and note that Word flags it as misspelled. Retype it as Sosa, and Word will ignore it—thereby proving that the correctly spelled name is now in the custom dictionary.
    What other handy techniques do you teach your students to help them get the most out of Word’s proofing tools? Drop usa note with your favorite proofing tool tricks or post a comment below to share your thoughts and experiences with other trainers.


    Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

    Editor's Picks

    Free Newsletters, In your Inbox