What the spell checker and grammar checker do

The spell checker compares letters between spaces with the words it has in a dictionary that is part of the word processing system. It also checks a personal dictionary containing words you use that are not in the main dictionary, but which you don’t want the system to stop at each time it does a spell check. If the spell checker does not find the sequence of letters in its dictionary or your personal dictionary, it notifies you. That doesn’t mean the word isn’t appropriate or isn’t spelled correctly. It just means it didn’t find the letters in that sequence in its dictionaries. You have to make the final decision about whether the word is acceptable.

Guideline 1: Set your spell checker and grammar checker to check spelling and grammar as you type.

Microsoft Word has a function that checks spelling as you type. That is useful because you will catch most spelling mistakes immediately after you have typed them.

After you type a word and press the space bar, Word will compare the sequence of letters in the word with the words in its dictionaries. If it can’t find the sequence, it will place a red squiggly line under the word to alert you that the word may be spelled incorrectly. Place your mouse cursor over the word and click with the right mouse button. You will see this window with the following options:

  • Possible alternatives for the word will be listed first, bolded. If you really meant to type one of those, just click on it and Word will insert it for you.
  • Add to dictionary will add the word to your personal dictionary. That way, when Word checks any document you write, it will find the word in your personal dictionary and will not flag it again. If you are in a specialized field such as medicine or law, type a list of the words you use that are so unusual they will not be in Word’s dictionary. Word will put blue squiggly lines under each as you type the word. Check to be sure you have spelled the word correctly; then click on it with the right mouse button and add it to your personal dictionary. If you have co-workers who also use the words, create a master list and have each person go through the list and add the words to his or her personal dictionary.
  • Click on Ignore all if you want Word to ignore this word any time it sees it in this document. Word will still flag it when you go on to work on another document.

Guideline 2: Use the AutoCorrect function to correct words you misspell frequently

Spell checker and grammar checkerUse the AutoCorrect function if you want Word to automatically correct a misspelling every time you type it in any of your documents. For example, if you tend to type “yo” when you mean “you” because you are typing quickly, set AutoCorrect to change “yo” to “you” every time you type “yo” and press the space bar. You could do that with words you often misspell as well, such as “timud” instead of “timid.” When you press the space bar after typing that misspelling in any of your documents from then on, Word will correct it automatically.

To set AutoCorrect, follow this procedure:

  1. Click on “File” on Word’s menu across the top of the page. You will see a column of options on the left side of the screen.
  2. Click on “Options” near the bottom of the column.
  3. Click on “Proofing” in the left column of options that appears. You will see a window with “AutoCorrect options” in a gray bar.
  4. Click on “AutoCorrect Options…” You will see the screen image presented here on the right.

Type the incorrect spelling you often use in the left column of the window that appears and the correct spelling in the right column. Click on “OK.” AutoCorrect will correct it automatically from then on, in any document you write.

Guideline 3: Follow this procedure to set the spell checker to check spelling automatically as you type.

  • On Word’s menu across the top of the screen, click on “File.”
  • In the left column, click on “Options” near the bottom of the screen.
  • In the left column, click on “Proofing.”
  • You will see a window similar to the one to the right.
  • Make sure Word has check marks in “Check spelling as you type,” “Mark grammar errors as you type,” “Frequently confused words,” and “Show readability statistics.” You can learn more about readability statistics at this link: Readability statistics
  • Click on “OK” to close the window.

Guideline 4: Still do a manual check of your spelling

The dictionary does not flag words that are in the dictionary but spelled wrong in your text. For example, the word processor would not flag any of the words in “Eye cam too sea ewe to day.” Every word is in the dictionary.

Guideline 5: Do a manual check of your grammar

The grammar checker checks sequences of words and has certain sequences that it flags as possibly being incorrect. For example, it would flag “Mistakes were made” and “Mistake were made” for two different reasons. It would ask you whether you really want a passive sentence for the first and whether you really need an “s” on “mistake” for the second.

The word processor can’t think, however. It is just notifying you about something its formulas indicate may be a problem. You must make the final decision about whether to change the text. Don’t change every instance where the grammar checker flags something.

Also don’t assume that the grammar checker has identified every problem with usage in your writing. Read your sentences carefully to make sure they are clear and correct.

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