Three Handy MS Word Tools for Authors

Three Handy MS Word Tools for Authors


Editing your own work can be tedious and slow. Luckily, Word has a few tricks up its sleeve to help you find and address those pesky errors before you share your work with others.

Here are three great tools to make your writing and editing process more effective.


Showing All Characters

Some of the characters in a document aren’t shown in MS Word by default. Spaces are obviously blank, but other invisible characters can be problematic to writers and editors. For example, if you hit ‘Enter’ (or ‘Return’) at the end of a line and continue writing on the next one, you may not notice the invisible character called a hard return at the end of the line. However, when the length of the paragraph changes or the document is formatted for print, the hard return character can cause a line to break too early.

By using the Show/Hide button, you can see all of the hidden characters that can play havoc to your document layout.

To use it, click this icon in the Paragraph section of the Home ribbon:

When it’s selected, look for areas where too many spaces are added between words or after sentences, or where hard returns break up paragraphs. This simple tool can help keep your document clean and easy to use.


Setting the Document Language

To ensure the spell checker works properly in Word, it’s important to set the language and regional spelling conventions for the document. For example, words that may be misspelled in American English may be correct in British English, and vice versa.

If you are editing your own writing, Word is probably already set to your regional language convention. However, perhaps you are in Canada but intent to market your book in the US and want to use American spellings. To do this for the whole document, first select all the text by clicking on the Select button on the right side of the Home ribbon and picking Select All (or by pressing CTRL-A in Windows).

With all the text in your document highlighted, click on the language listed at the bottom of the screen beside the document’s word count.

This will open a box that allows you to select the language or regional style for the whole document. When you do, spelling and grammatical errors in that language or style will be highlighted as usual. Be sure not to check the boxes labelled ‘Do not check spelling or grammar’ and ‘Detect language automatically’.


Changing Word’s Proofing Settings

This technique is a little more advanced, but it’s worth looking at if you want to clean up the text before sending it to an editor. Most people know that Word underlines grammatical errors in blue as you type to help you fix things right away. However, you can change what Word flags as an error to either avoid having it catch something you intend to do, or draw attention to problems you didn’t realize were there.

To start, click on the File menu and select Options at the bottom of the list, then click on Proofing on the left side.

Here you have several options for how Word flags spelling and grammatical issues. For example, if you are writing a technical book with a lot of uppercase acronyms, you may wish to turn on ‘Ignore words in UPPERCASE’. If you find the grammar tool distracting while you write, you can turn off ‘Check spelling as you type’ and ‘Mark grammar errors as you type’.

For more options, click on the Settings button beside Writing Style.

In this box, you can choose what type of problems Word will flag.

This can be an excellent tool for editing your work and can even make your writing stronger. However, be careful with what I call false positives. Some of the grammar options you can select in this box will flag issues that don’t really need to be changed. For example, sometimes it’s appropriate to use the passive voice. If you use any of these settings, I suggest reviewing your document carefully before making too many changes.

Do you want more help on using Word to edit your work? Get in touch and let us know what you need. Know of other great MS Word tips? Tell us in the comments below.