Editing your own work is difficult at best. Your mind glosses over any mistakes and reads what you meant to write, not what you actually wrote. It's a difficult phenomenon to beat. Word can help you improve your editing skills, thereby improving the quality of what you write, whether you're editing your own documents or collaborating as a team.
Add downtime to the schedule
My first piece of advice might be the most difficult to implement: put the document aside for a day or two. In the real world, who has that kind of time? Unfortunately, if you edit the document right away, you'll miss some of your errors. Allowing a little time lets you forget your best intentions and read what you actually wrote with fresh eyes. It might seem like you're wasting time, but the more time your work sits, the more productive your editing pass will be. When possible, add this downtime to your schedule.
Customize Spelling and Grammar
Spelling and Grammar is Word's technical name for the feature most of us know as Spell Check, and it's a good place to start, regardless of whether or not you've had time to let the document sit. This feature ([F7] or on the Review tab) finds typos and grammatical errors, and most users learn how to use it right away. What you might not realize is that you can customize Spelling and Grammar to be more effective for you and your organization:
- Add words that are correct, but unknown to Word, so Word won't stop at the word again
- Skip content formatted with a specific style when that style is applied to content that Word won't recognize (technical, scientific, mathematical, and so on)
- Tell Word to ignore internet addresses
- Customize the grammar component to employ the rules your organization has adopted
The article "10 tips for using Spell Check more efficiently" offers step-by-step instructions for customizing Spelling and Grammar. A fine-tuned Spelling and Grammar will save you time by finding many errors before you do!
Correct as you go — or not
As you work, Word quietly lets you know when you've made a spelling or grammar error:
- A red line indicates a word not found in the dictionary (possibly misspelled)
- A green line indicates a possible grammatical error
- A wavy blue line indicates an inconsistent format
Users react differently to these defaults. Some disable them, because they find them distracting. Others make corrections while they're working. Still others return to these highlights once they've written the entire document.
It's at this point that many users miss a helpful editing tool — the book icon in the status bar. A red X, as shown in Figure A, means your document contains errors. This tool is most helpful in a large document, when a quick scan won't do and you're not the edit-as-you-go type. Click the icon and Word will highlight each error along with possible corrections. Choose one of the suggested corrections or select Ignore. This process is similar to Spelling and Grammar ([F7]) in purpose and implementation. Some users simply prefer the list to the Spelling and Grammar interface. The key is to settle on the routine that you find most efficient.
When the book icon has a red X in the status bar, that means your document contains errors.
Don't forget the underused Thesaurus
The Thesaurus feature is in the Proofing group on the Review tab. Use it to replace overused or inappropriate words. Simply select a word and press [Shift]+[F7] or click Thesaurus in the Proofing group, and Word will display a list of alternative words. It's up to you to read the document and find these words, but Word's Thesaurus will help you find the best word for the job.
Track Changes efficiency tips
Most users think of Word's Track Changes as a collaborative tool, but you might find some of its options helpful even when working alone. It's easy to change your mind — simply reject a change. Doing so is more efficient than retyping or recreating part of the original text.
When using Track Changes with others, I have a few easy-to-implement suggestions for improving efficiency:
- Use comments to ask questions, clarify something, or share information. Don't use comments to suggest a specific change — just make the change and allow the author to reject or accept the change later.
- Avoid highlighting text. When using Track Changes, highlighting is superfluous and creates more work for the author who has to remove it. If someone in your group insists on highlighting, you can use Word's Find & Replace feature to remove them. (Read #10 in "10 cool ways to get more from Word's Find and Replace feature."
- You can temporarily disable Track Changes by clicking the TRK indicator on the Status bar. Doing so will allow you to make a quick change that you don't need to track. Just remember to double-click it to turn the feature back on when you're done.
When you're finally done, you're really not
Don't stop too soon. When you think the document is perfect, run Spelling and Grammar one more time. But before you do, reset it for a comprehensive review. You see, Spelling and Grammar remembers words you ignored previously and skips them in subsequent checks. Usually, that's an efficient behavior. However, you'll want your final review to be as thorough as the first. Reset Spelling and Grammar as follows before that last run-through:
- Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Word 2007, click the Office button and then click Word Options. In Word 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu.
- Select Proofing in the left pane. Click the Spelling and Grammar tab in 2003.
- In the When Correcting Spelling And Grammar In Word section, click the Recheck Document button.
- Click Yes to confirm.
- Click OK to return to Spelling and Grammar.
Now, Word will review your document as if you hadn't run Spelling and Grammar before.
Nothing beats knowledge
Putting Word's features to good use will make you more efficient, but knowing yourself is also important. Pay attention to the mistakes you make repeatedly. If you can't train yourself to stop making them, at least you can train yourself to find and correct them.
These tips aren't the end all of editing practices by any means, but it's often the little changes that save us the most time. Do you have an editing tip you'd like to add to the discussion?
Send me your question about Office
I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. When contacting me, be as specific as possible: For instance, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise, nor do I ask for a fee from readers. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.