The content on your website must be readable or people will just go to another site. Readability encompasses several areas from spelling to grammar to the correct use of punctuation and vocabulary. While there are many ways you can improve the grammar of your website content, today I want to focus on the tools that are part of Microsoft Word. In the past, I have been a strong proponent of a free/paid tool called Grammarly. I refer to it as a free/paid tool because while the basic functionality is available as a free add-in that works within your browser as well as Microsoft Office and other products, Grammarly also has a premium version which provides even more assistance with your writing. I still use Grammarly, but there is nothing wrong with using several tools with overlapping functionality. I have found that some issues found with Grammarly are not found with other tools and vice versa.
However, since many of you may create your website content using Microsoft Word, I want to remind you that Word includes several valuable tools that many users of Word do not even know exist. But first, you have to turn these readability tools on.
To do this, open Microsoft and click on the File tab in the main navigation, and select Options. You will find Options at the bottom of the menu that opens on the left side of the screen. You may have gone here previously to turn on some of Microsoft’s other options that do not turn on by default.
Why have options that do not turn on by default? Well, perhaps the simplest answer is that besides taking more machine cycles while you work, not everyone has an interest in all options. Therefore, Microsoft allows you to select which options are important to you.
The following figure shows the Word Options screen. There are too many options to appear on a single dialog page. Therefore, MS Word groups options by categories found along the left side of the screen. You can find the options that I want you to look at in the Proofing category.
Note that this dialog lets you define the autocorrect options for the built-in spell-checking ability of Word. It also allows you to add custom AutoCorrect character sequences (which I use to build a library of shortcut replacements for words and phrases that I frequently use), but it can also be used for infrequently used words such spondulicks which although antiquated is a correctly spelled word for ‘cash’.
The second section on this page has a series of checkboxes related to how Word checks spelling and grammar. However, the entries I want to call your attention to are the fourth and fifth options. The first of these turns on grammar and other refinements in the Editor Pane. Turn this option on by clicking the checkbox if it does not already have a checkmark in the box. Then select the next option to show the readability statistics in the Editor Pane. Microsoft Word allows you to customize the grammar and refinements you want to use by clicking the Settings button. Again, there are dozens of options and not all are selected by default. For now, I suggest you accept the defaults, and only as you get used to the default settings should you begin to customize the settings. Click the Ok button in the lower right frame of this dialog to save your changes and return to your document. The good news is that your option changes are saved and are applied automatically to all new documents as well as older documents that you open.
With the readability statistics and grammar and refinements set in the Proofing Options, you are ready to check your document. With a document loaded, open the Review ribbon. The button for the Editor Pane appears as the first button on the left.
When you open the Editor Pane, a panel appears on the right side of your Word window. It begins with an overall Editor Score. Note however, that this editor score is a function of the writing style chosen. For example, in the figure below, I selected a casual writing style resulting in a score of 98%. However, if I were to change the writing style to Formal or Professional (the other two options available when you click the down caret on the right side), the resulting score recalculates based on the grammar and refinement rules for the selected style.
This editor score is based on facts such as spelling, grammar, and other pertinent refinements. The first box contains the two corrections: spelling and grammar. To the right of each of these is either a number or a circle with a checkmark. If you see the circle with a checkmark, great, you are done. However, if a number appears, that indicates the number of spelling or grammar errors that Word has identified. You can go to any of these by clicking anywhere in the Spelling or Grammar line. For example, suppose you still have two spelling errors in the document, after clicking on the Spelling line of the Corrections box, you see a panel like the following:
The panel begins by reminding you of the number of spelling errors and the arrows to the right of this text allow you to quickly navigate back and forth to each of the spelling errors.
As you select each spelling error, a short portion of the text appears in the Not in Dictionary box. The misspelled word will have a red wavy underline to highlight it within this text.
Next, Word displays up to three suggestions. You can accept any of the displayed suggestions by clicking anywhere within the line showing one of the correctly spelled suggestions. Note that each suggestion also includes a few synonyms of the suggested word.
Word also displays a dropdown menu using the down-pointing caret which allows you to tell Word to read the box aloud, spell out the corrected word, change all occurrences of the misspelled word, or add the word to the dictionary because it is a correctly spelled word.
I find the Change All option helpful when I consistently misspell a word so that I do not have to check each occurrence individually.
There are also options at the bottom of the pane that allow you to ignore the misspelled word either just this one time or to ignore all additional occurrences within the current document. This option does not add the misspelled word to the dictionary and will not affect whether the word is flagged as misspelled in other documents. On the other hand, you can add the word to the dictionary so that Word and other Microsoft Office applications will recognize this word as a correctly spelled word in all documents.
As you correct each spelling and grammar error, the number shown to the right in the Corrections box of the Editor panel updates until you either correct or ignore each potential error. When all the spelling and grammar errors have been corrected, Word displays a circle with a checkmark inside of it instead of a number.
Next, you can examine the refinements listed in the Editor panel. Strictly speaking, these are not errors like spelling or grammar errors that you must correct. Rather these are suggestions that will improve the readability of your document.
As with spelling and grammar errors, the refinements can be selected by clicking on any refinement that has at least one suggested change. In the figure to the left, a refinement in the category Formality has been identified. Word tells us that this word or phrase may strike a reader as too informal. It then displays a portion of the text and shows us that it is suggesting a replacement for the phrase ‘reading through’. Note that Word displays a portion of the document in this panel that contains the phrase, but it also displays the full document on the left with the word or phrase highlighted with a grey background. In the Editor Panel, the original phrase that Word wants you to consider replacing has a dashed purple underline.
Again, Word provides up to three possible suggestions to correct the issue. In this case, there is only one suggestion that replaces ‘reading through’ with just ‘reading’. To accept this suggestion and update your document, just click anywhere within the suggestion. Each suggestion also has a dropdown menu with the options to read aloud or spell out the suggestion. (Yes, this ability to read aloud or spell the suggestions is a nod to ADA.)
At the bottom of the panel, you can also choose to ignore this issue by selecting Ignore Once. You can also tell Word to ignore all occurrences of this issue by clicking Don’t check for this issue.
While I have a few more points to make about using the Editor Pane and the Readability checking available within Microsoft Word, I will pause this discussion until next week’s post.