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10 tips for using spell check more efficiently

Most users know the basics of spell checking a document -- but they don't always do it in the most efficient way.

Spell check is a powerful and flexible feature that helps you reduce the number of typos and grammatical errors in your Office documents. It won't catch everything -- you still have to proof your work. But spell check will reduce the time and effort you put into that process. Now, most everyone knows how to use spell check, but these 10 tips will help you use this feature more efficiently.

Note that not every tip applies to every Office app. And while these tips are written for Office apps, many will apply to spell check features in other applications.

1: Ignore or change them all

Spell check will stop at every instance of a misspelled word until you tell it not to. Repeatedly stopping for the same word is a waste of time, when the feature can deal with them all with one click. The first or at least by the second time spell check stops at the same word, choose Ignore All if the word, such as a proper noun, is spelled correctly. Or click Change All to update all instances of the misspelled word. Together, these two options, shown in Figure A, provide the most efficiency in casual use -- yet many users ignore it.

Figure A

Use Ignore All and Change All to handle encounters quickly and efficiently.

2: Add words to the custom dictionary

Spell check relies on a large main dictionary, but it isn't all-inclusive. Occasionally, it stops at words it can't find. You'll want to add these terms to the custom dictionary. That way, spell check will skip the word in subsequent documents.

Spell check refers to both the main and custom dictionary. If your custom dictionary is large, spell check sessions will slow down. Read Suppress the Office custom dictionary for faster spell checking to learn how to disable a custom dictionary when it isn't needed.

3: Take nothing for granted

Spell check does the best it can, but sometimes its best isn't good enough. There are instances when it will suggest a change that's just plain wrong. For instance, if you enter the phrase please advise, spell check may suggest that you change advise to advice, which is incorrect. There are other instances. Just be careful and pay attention, so you don't inadvertently introduce an error when you think you're correcting one!

4: Disable grammar check

Spell check can spot grammatical errors, but you can disable the feature temporarily to save a bit of time when grammar isn't an issue. Simply uncheck the Check Grammar option, shown in Figure B. This setting stays in effect until you recheck the option.

Figure B

Disable the grammar check to speed things up.

5: Skip text using styles (in Word)

Checking technical terms and jargon will slow you down. You can add terms to a custom dictionary (#2), but that's not always practical. Skipping the text may sometimes make more sense. When this is the case, you can tell spell check to ignore the content's style (if different from the rest of the document), as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab and click the Styles group's dialog launcher. In Word 2003, choose Styles And Formatting from the Format menu.
  2. In the Styles task pane, select the style you want skipped.
  3. From the style's drop-down menu, choose Modify.
  4. In the resulting dialog box, choose Language from the Format drop-down.
  5. Check the Do Not Check Spelling Or Grammar option.
  6. Click OK twice and close the Styles task pane.

Subsequent spell checks will skip all text with the specified style, even if you add new content using the same style later.

6: Skip text using the Language setting (in Word)

You can also skip text without relying on a style. Instead, use a language option:

  1. Select the text you want to skip and click the Review tab.
  2. Click Language in the Language group and choose Set Language Proofing. In Word 2007, click Language in the Proofing group and choose Set Language. In 2003, choose Language from the Tools menu and select Set Language.
  3. Check the Do Not Check Spelling And Grammar option, shown in Figure C.
  4. Click OK.

Figure C

Mark text you want to skip.

A quicker route is via the Status bar. If the Language indicator is visible, click it. If it isn't, display it by right-clicking the Status bar. Then, choose Language.

Spell check will ignore the marked block(s) of text. This method requires that you mark the text first, unlike the style method, but it's helpful when the style method isn't feasible.

7: Ignore Internet addresses

By default, spell check stops at all email addresses and URLs. It's certainly annoying and inefficient. Fortunately, you can inhibit this behavior as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Office 2007, click the Office button and then click app Options. In an Office 2003 app, choose Options from the Tools menu.
  2. Select Proofing in the left pane. Click the Spelling & Grammar tab in 2003.
  3. Check Ignore Internet And File Addresses in the When Correcting Spelling In Microsoft Office Programs section, as shown in Figure D.
  4. Click OK.

Figure D

Avoid stopping at Internet addresses and URLs.

8: Quick check

You can launch spell check by pressing [F7]. But if you want to check a specific word or phrase, simply select the text before you press [F7]. When you do, spell check offers suggestions, if any. You can accept the suggestion or ignore it and continue with your work.

9: Customize the rules (in Word)

The grammar component adheres to general rules, but you can fine-tune them to suit your needs. The list of options is long, so we can't explore each one here. However, knowing how to access the options will get you started:

  1. 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.
  2. Select Proofing in the left pane. Click the Spelling & Grammar tab in 2003.
  3. In the When Correcting Spelling And Grammar In Word section, choose Grammar And Style or Grammar Only from the Writing Style control and then click Settings.
  4. As you can see in Figure E, there are a number of settings for customizing the grammar (and style) options. After making your selections, click OK twice.

Figure E

Fine-tune the grammar rules.

10: Reset (in Word)

Spell check remembers words you ignore in a document during the current Word session and skips them in subsequent checks. That's usually what you'll want to do. When it isn't, reset the feature, as follows:

  1. 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.
  2. Select Proofing in the left pane. Click the Spelling & Grammar tab in 2003.
  3. In the When Correcting Spelling And Grammar In Word section, click the Recheck Document button.
  4. Click Yes to confirm.
  5. Click OK to return to spell check.

Spell check will review the entire document, including words you ignored earlier.

About

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.

11 comments
N4AOF
N4AOF

The main dictionary apparently keeps track of root words and various prefixes and suffixes that are allowed with the root. For example, on regular adjectives, it allows the suffixes er and est -- unfortunately it allows these suffixes even on adjectives that are absolute and should not ever have either suffix. One example is the word SOLID. Something can be solid or not, but nothing is more solid or most solid, so there should never be any such word as solider or solidest. (Yes, I know, today's Language Arts teachers will let you use the comparative and superlative forms even with absolute adjectives -- but that is simply a failure of last generation's schools being passed along to the next generation).

jevans4949
jevans4949

Another Tip. I used this with Libre Office, which comes with a wide range of dictionaries (from Afrikaans to Zulu). If you are including a section in French (and probably other languages with accents) and using a UK or US keyboard, mark the passage as French language and type away withou putting in the accents. The spell-checker will pick up the correct accents. This won't work with words where the same letter combination is valid without accents, so you will still have to check, but a time-saver relative to fiddling with inserting special characters.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

When I started using Office back in the day, I really gotta kick out of two errors in the spell check and thesaurus. 1. Internet was NOT a recognized word. 2. If you used the thesaurus over "zzzz" to indicate snoring or being bored, the suggestion it would give was "sex". Not kidding.

aos168b
aos168b

I think it would be helpful to add a tip covering how to edit words in one's custom dictionary (Custom.dic, in Word 2003). Sometimes, I have added words too fast, and ended up adding a misspelled version. It would also be beneficial to let folks know how to back up their custom dictionaries, and even transfer them betweeen different PCs. Is it possible, for those using Microsoft's new Office 365 (web based programs) to edit/copy/backup a custom dictionary to a regular installation (non-web) of Office?

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

"Takeaway: Most users know how the basics of spell checking a document - but they dont always do it in the most efficient way." I get a kick out of that teaser for two reasons: First, because I think most users (and yes, I'm using "most users" both as an over-generalization, and also because it was used in the teaser) don't use spell check at all. I think I see more atrocious spelling every day now than I saw throughout the entirety of my formative years. Second, because it appears that while someone may have used spell check on that line, she didn't use grammar check - "Most users know how the basics..." Thanks for giving me a smile this morning :)

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

Is it possible to make Word offer user-added words (in the custom dictionary) in the suggested spelling/word list? For example, if you are writing about Star Trek, the spell checker will baulk at race names (e.g. Klingon). You can add these to the custom dictionary, but I [s]cant'[/s] can't recall seeing any user-added words offered as suggestions (I've only used Word 2007 and earlier).

ssharkins
ssharkins

Almost everyone makes grammatical mistakes, typos, and other logical errors when writing. I've been in the publishing business for over 20 years now and I've only met two people who don't make errors -- and the editor of this blog is one of them! ;) Historically, a book or magazine article went through numerous edits. That's happening less now, in most publishing mediums. It use to take a long time to work a book through the publishing process. If a book was rushed, others were dropped temporarily. Now, everything is rushed and consequently, the content receives fewer edits and fewer editors view it (not redundant, they're not the same thing). This change is even more pronounced in the electronic format. What use to receive several edit passes, might receive one or two before it's online! Author(s) and editors aren't any less intelligent than their predecessors. We're just responding to audience demand -- in an effort to remain competitive, we have to supply it... albeit sometimes with an error or two. I think some people have little emotional attachment to the change (that would be me). If I let it bother me, I'd go nuts! Besides, we are an innovative species -- this "problem" will eventually create a solution. :) I use spell check and am thankful for it daily. :)

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

You have evidenced that spell check is not a substitute for proof reading. It's a minor typo, but a common one, and since "cant" is in fact a word, your typing "cant' recall" could possibly slip past spell check, although grammar and/or punctuation check would probably catch it.

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I've been misplacing my apostrophes a lot lately.

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

I can't say I've never done it myself - it's usually when I'm in a hurry.