Grammar Grab Bag: How to Hack Spell Check


It is a truth universally acknowledged that Microsoft Word’s spell check is not very good at its job. While spell check has come a long way since it was first introduced, it remains nothing more than a computer program that frequently fails to correct errors a human editor would have caught.

Spell check might not be perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective at catching common errors. However, part of the reason spell check gets a bad rap is because it isn’t being used to its full potential. While most, if not all, of us are familiar with spell check’s “Add to Dictionary” function that prevents it from calling out uncommon names, brands and industry acronyms as misspellings, there is so much more you can do with spell check.

The Basics

In order to adjust the settings on your spell check, navigate to Microsoft Word’s options menu and select “proofing.” First, check your basic settings to ensure that common mistakes get caught – turn on “flag repeated words,” but turn off “ignore words that contain numbers.” Make sure that all of the options for grammar are turned on. Remember that if you received a document from a colleague or just want to do one final proof using spell check, you can use the “check document” option to reset the spell check for the document and re-check any previously ignored errors.


Fine Tuning the Options

This is where most people fail to take advantage of all the potential spell check has to offer. On the main options screen, select the “settings” button next to the “writing style” drop down menu. This is where you can fine-tune your spell check to ensure you are meeting stylistic guidelines, catching common and uncommon grammar errors, and turning your documents into flawless examples of exemplary grammar. You can use this section to:

  • Check your document to ensure consistency of spacing after a period
  • Change your settings for Oxford commas. By default, Microsoft will not call you out if you use Oxford commas consistently and, as you may recall from my previous post about this, consistency is key. If your organization prefers to use Oxford commas, you can instruct Microsoft Word to always require them. Or you can have it call out Oxford commas as errors, if you follow AP style and don’t use them.
  • Ensure your punctuation is properly placed next to a quotation mark
  • Mark contractions as incorrect, if your organization is formal and prefers not to use them
  • Flag the use of first person


The Internet

In our increasingly interconnected world, it’s almost laughable to imagine doing all of our writing in Microsoft Word. What happens when you need spell check tools for social media engagement or online project management tools? Fortunately, there are numerous browser extensions you can download to check your grammar and spelling for any writing you do online. This can be a lifesaver, especially if you are a frequent social media user. I personally recommend Grammarly, but there are many other free tools. If you don’t have one, it is worth downloading. You don’t realize how many inadvertent errors you make until someone is checking you.

How did you like today’s Grammar lesson? Let us know in the comments below!