A handout from the Online Information Series
Copyright (c) 2004, Jolene M. Morris, All Rights Reserved

Configure Word™ to Correct Your Writing

Regardless of the version of Microsoft Word you use, you can configure it to catch many writing errors. Obviously, you would rather have your software locate your errors than submit them for your teacher to find. Unfortunately, Word will not mark all your writing errors, but it will find a surprising number of them.

Word will automatically check your spelling and grammar as you type, unless you turn off this feature. When a spelling error is found, Word will mark it with a wavy, red line. You can right-click on the word (or press the right-click key on the keyboard) to see correct spellings suggested. When a grammar error is located, Word will mark it with a wavy, green line (GReen for GRammar). Again, you right-click on the word or phrase to see an abbreviated explanation of the error and a suggestion for correcting the error.

Note that the grammar checker will locate and mark only the first error in a sentence. After fixing a grammar error, Word should locate the next error in the same sentence if one exists. Occasionally and depending upon the location of your cursor, the grammar checker will miss a second or third error in the same sentence. It helps to run the grammar checker again before submitting a final draft (F7).

By default, the grammar checker only looks for casual or business-style writing. Unless you configure Word to do so, it will not check for formal writing as required at the university level and in APA submissions. The rest of this handout will explain how to configure the spelling and grammar checker in Microsoft Word.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Start Word running--it does not matter whether you have a document open.
  2. Click the Tools menu.
  3. Select the Options choice.
  4. Go to the Spelling & Grammar Tab:

Options in Word XP


Options in Word 2000

  1. Check the box for "Check spelling as you type." See the red arrow #1 in the graphics above.
  2. Check the box for "Check grammar as you type." See the red arrow #2.
  3. Set the "Writing Style." In Word 2000, change this to Custom. In Word XP, change this to Grammar & Style. See the red arrow #3.
  4. Click the Settings button. See the red arrow #4.

Grammar Settings in Word XP


Grammar Settings in Word 2000

  1. In the top "Require" section, set the drop-down boxes to always, inside, and 1.
  2. In the bottom "Grammar" and "Style" sections, check every box except "1st person."
  3. Click OK to leave the grammar settings.
  4. Click OK to leave the options window.


Find Out More

In order to improve your writing, you may want to find out more about why Word flagged a particular word or phrase. When you right-click the word or phrase, you will see the question mark button () beside a menu option for "About this sentence." Click on this menu option to obtain a description of the relevant grammar rule:


What Does Each Checkbox Detect?

In the grammar settings, each checkbox will detect a specific type of error. The table below indicates each checkbox option and what it detects. This information comes from the Knowledgebase at www.Microsoft.com/office. Obviously you do not want to depend on Word's spelling and grammar checker to catch all of your errors. You will still need to manually check for sentences beginning with There, for use of colloquial words, for homophones errors (such as to, two, and too), for all 25 comma rules, for accurate capitalization, and for prepositions at the end of a sentence. If you commonly forget to capitalize words such as Internet and Web, you can use Word's AutoCorrect feature to make those corrections for you.


Grammar option

What it detects

Capitalization Capitalization errors, such as proper nouns (“Mr. jones” should be “Mr. Jones”) or titles that precede proper nouns (“aunt Helen” should be “Aunt Helen”). Also detects overuse of capitalization.
Commonly confused words Incorrect usage of homophones or other commonly misused words, such as it’s/its or there/their/they’re.
Hyphenated and compound words Hyphenated words that should not be hyphenated, and vice versa. Also detects closed compounds that should be open, and vice versa.
Misused words Incorrect usage of adjectives and adverbs, comparatives and superlatives, “like” as a conjunction, “nor” versus “or,” “what” versus “which,” “who” versus “whom,” units of measure, conjunctions, prepositions, and pronouns.
Negation Use of multiple negation.
Numbers Numerals that should be spelled out (use nine instead of 9), and vice versa (use 12 instead of twelve). Also detects incorrect usage of “%” in place of “percentage.”
Passive sentences Sentences written in the passive voice. When possible, the suggestions are rewritten in the active voice.
Possessives and plurals Use of a possessive in place of a plural, and vice versa. Also detects omitted apostrophes in possessives.
Punctuation Incorrect punctuation, including commas, colons, end-of-sentence punctuation, punctuation in quotations, multiple spaces between words, or a semicolon used in place of a comma or colon.
Relative clauses Incorrect use of relative pronouns and punctuation, including “who” used in place of “which” to refer to things, “which” used in place of “who” to refer to people, unnecessary use of “that” with “whatever” and “whichever,” or “that’s” used in place of “whose.”
Sentence structure Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, overuse of conjunctions (such as “and” or “or”), nonparallel sentence structure (such as shifts between active and passive voice in a sentence), incorrect sentence structure of questions, and misplaced modifiers.
Subject-verb agreement Disagreement between the subject and its verb, subject-complement agreement, and subject-verb agreement with pronouns and quantifiers (for example, “All of the students has left” instead of “All of the students have left”).
Verb and noun phrases Incorrect noun and verb phrases; a/an misuse; incorrect verb tenses; transitive verbs used as intransitive verbs; number agreement errors in noun phrases (“five machine” instead of “five machines”).


Style option

What it detects

Clichés Words or phrases identified as clichés in the dictionary.
Colloquialisms Sentences that contain colloquial words and phrases, including "real," "awfully," and "plenty" used as adverbs; two consecutive possessives; "get" used as a passive verb; "kind of" used in place of "somewhat"; "scared of" used in place of "afraid of"; and "how come" used in place of "why."
Contractions Use of contractions that should be spelled out or that are considered too informal for a specific writing style—for example, "We won't leave 'til tomorrow" instead of "We will not leave until tomorrow."
Gender-specific words Gender-specific language, such as "councilman" and "councilwomen."
Jargon Use of technical, business, or industry jargon.
Sentence length Sentences that include more than 60 words.
Sentences beginning with "And," "But," and "Hopefully" Use of conjunctions and adverbs at the beginning of a sentence, or use of "plus" as a conjunction between two independent clauses.
Successive nouns (more than three) Strings of several nouns that may be unclear, as in “The income tax office business practices remained the same.”
Successive prepositional phrases (more than three) Strings of prepositional phrases, as in “The book on the shelf in the corner at the library on the edge of town was checked out.”
Unclear phrasing Ambiguous phrasing, such as "more" followed by an adjective and a plural or mass noun ("We need more thorough employees," instead of "We need more employees who are thorough"), or sentences in which there is more than one possible referent for a pronoun ("All of the departments did not file a report" instead of "Not all of the departments filed a report").
Use of first person Pronouns “I” and “me,” which shouldn’t be used in scientific or technical writing.
Wordiness Wordy relative clauses or vague modifiers (such as "fairly" or "pretty"), redundant adverbs, too many negatives, the unnecessary use of "or not" in the phrase "whether or not," or the use of "possible … may" in place of "possible … will."
Words in split infinitives (more than one) Two or more words between “to” and an infinitive verb, as in “to very boldly enter the market.”


Creating an Exclude Dictionary

Oftentimes, you will want Word to flag other words as errors, even though they are not actually errors. For example, in formal writing you should not begin sentences with the word There, but the word There is an actual word so the spelling checker does not flag it. Starting a sentence with There is not one of the things the grammar checker will check. Likewise, in formal writing you should not use a lot, really, like, and get; but these words are accepted by both the spelling checker and the grammar checker.

If you want the spelling checker to flag these words (even though they are spelled correctly), you can create an exclude dictionary:

  1. In Word, select FILE and NEW to create a new document.
  2. Type each word you want the spelling checker to flag. Press the Enter-key after each word so you have only one word per line.
  3. Now you want to save this file as an ASCII TEXT file in the same directory as your Word dictionary is saved. Your Word dictionary is named mssp2_en.lex (Word 97) or mssp3en.lex (Word 2000 and 2002/XP) and will be in one of the following folders:
  4. Save your exclude dictionary with the same filename as your main dictionary. Simply use the extension of exc instead of lex (thus as mssp2_en.exc in Word 97 or mssp3en.exc in Word 2000 and 2002/XP). Be sure the file type is plain text.

Here is a graphic showing how to save your exclude dictionary:

Here is a list of the words I have in my exclude dictionary:




One final note: Do not rely on Microsoft Word to catch every error. Your editorial eye is the definitive exclude dictionary. Study the feedback from your instructor. Right click on errors to learn from the grammar helper. Visit your university's writing lab. Study grammar sites on the Web. Set a goal for yourself that each paper you write will be better than the one before.

Copyright (c) 2004, Jolene M. Morris, All Rights Reserved