Three proofing tips for MS Word

Andrew LaveryProofreading is an often forgotten task, and with recent improvements in AI and language technology, we can easily be fooled into thinking it’s no longer required. Proofreading is also usually our final task before hitting ‘send’, and we all know that the time allocated for final checks can be subsumed by the other tasks that took just a little longer than expected. While AI-based tools such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid (to name a few) are useful, below are three tips that don’t require additional technology, don’t take long to implement, and that I don’t believe many people know about.

Navigation Pane

There are several advantages to using heading styles in your document, such as helping structure your writing, creating a table of contents and cross-referencing. However, styles can also be useful when proofreading.

If you’ve used heading styles in your document, the Navigation Pane can be used to scan headings quickly and ensure you have consistently used the same case and punctuation marks (see yellow highlights below – note: I added the highlights manually).

You’ll find that not only will you catch more errors and be able to make changes easily (just click on the heading that needs to be changed), but it will be much faster than manually scrolling through each page looking for headings.

Read Aloud

Reading text aloud has long been promoted as being more effective than silent reading for catching errors, which was confirmed in a recent study.

However, I’m not suggesting you sit and read aloud (you can, but your family or co-workers may take umbrage with this). Instead, grab a set of headphones and use the Read Aloud feature in Microsoft Word.

The Read Aloud feature can be found in the Review toolbar:

This feature not only assists in identifying spelling and grammatical errors but also helps detect sentence structure and overall readability issues. Mistakes that might be missed during a visual review, such as awkward phrasing, missing words, or incorrect word choices can also be detected.

You can also customise Read Aloud to suit your preferences, such as adjusting the reading speed, voice, or highlighting words as it reads:

Ensure That All Writing is Being Checked

Microsoft Word’s built-in spelling and grammar check is a great first defence against errors. One aspect of this feature that many are unaware of is that text can be excluded from checking. Excluding text from being checked can be useful in certain circumstances, such as when you include words, phrases or sentences in different languages (although there are much better ways of dealing with this).

In my example document below, Word has detected one instance of a typo and has presented the famous red wavy underline, but has not alerted me to the exact same typo on the next line:

If I select the first line and choose Review > Language > Set Proofing Language, I get the following window, which tells me that the text is marked as “Do not check spelling or grammar”:

Removing the tick for “Do not check spelling or grammar” results in the following:

That's much better! But why does this happen? It can happen for several reasons, but it is most often introduced when you copy and paste from another document. Because of this, you may want to periodically perform the steps below to ensure all text is being checked:

  1. Highlight the entire document (Ctrl + A)
  2. Choose Review > Language > Set Proofing Language
  3. Remove the tick for “Do not check spelling or grammar” (and while you are there, check that the language setting is correct!)

Hopefully you found these three tips useful and your academic writing will be more accurate and pleasurable for your readers. However, if you feel that your work needs more polish and another set of eyes to review it, please get in touch for a proofreading quote.