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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grammar Wars: Working With Microsoft Word

Microsoft word can be difficult to work with, sometimes.  You'll think it's on your side, and then it'll turn around and mess you up at every opportunity.  But if you learn to work with it, writing your novel will be that much easier.

Spellcheck is there for a reason.  Use it.  If something has a red line underneath it, then you need to fix it.  If your character's name isn't recognized as a word, right-click and add to dictionary.  Like this:

If you add your made-up words to the dictionary, then it'll correct you if you happen to spell them wrong.  And it fixes those annoying little lines. 

With the grammar checker, there are some things it'll help you with.  Some things, though, will just get annoying.  You'll want to change your settings to help out with this.*  Right click any word or phrase with a green line; click "grammar"; when the box pops up, click "options".  Under "writing style", make sure you've selected "check grammar and style".  Click "settings".  For "punctuation required with quotes", make sure you've selected "inside".  Make sure every box is checked, except for "contractions".  If you don't have this unchecked, it'll get mad at you every time you say "don't" instead of "do not".  And that's just annoying.  If you are writing in first-person, you'll also want to uncheck the box that says "use of first person".

As you write, pay attention to the green lines (especially to the "passive voice" one).  Right click; click "about this sentence".  It'll explain what the problem is, with examples to help you fix your own sentence.  If you get one that says "fragment", use your own judgement.  You can probably ignore it, since fragments are acceptable in fiction (if used deliberately and with a solid purpose, of course).  Ignore most of its suggestions regarding dialogue formatting; often, it'll suggest the wrong thing.  This is one thing that MS Word is clueless about; you'll just have to learn it yourself.  Use your own, human judgement.  When in doubt, find a human editor.  Ignore pretty much every grammar mistake it finds in your characters' dialogue, unless you have a character who always used spotless grammar.  Again, use your judgement here.  You are smarter than MS Word. 

Finding your word count is easy in Word.  In older versions, click "tools", then "word count".  It'll be helpful to click "show toolbar", so it's easier to access your word count.  In newer versions, the current word count should be at the bottom of your screen.  If you highlight a certain part of your text, it'll tell you the word count of just that selection, like this: "500/10,000". 

If you have a word that constantly mixes up your fingers while typing, you can set Word to correct this automatically.  For example, I almost always type "caslte" when I meant to type "castle".  To fix these issues, click "tools", then "control Autocorrect options" (newer versions: "review", "spelling and grammar", then "autocorrect".  Simply type your common error in the left box, and what it should be in the right. 

Page numbers are always helpful.  To add them, click "insert", then "page numbers".  Select your settings, then you're good to go.  Also, after you finish a chapter, don't keep pressing enter until you get to a fresh page.  This will screw you up big time if you add or delete anything later.  Instead, click "instert", then "break", then "page break".  It's much easier. 

If you document is stored on your computer, anyone who uses that machine will be able to open and edit the document.  If you aren't comfortable with this, you can password-protect the document.  Under "tools", click "options".  One of the tabs should say "security".  Open it, and type a password where it says "password to open".  Click "OK". (Newer versions: "file", "info", "permissions," "encrypt with password".) Save your project, then close it.  Now, when you open it back up again, a box should pop up, asking for a password.  This probably won't withstand even the most amateur hacker, but you should be fine.

Once and awhile, you might run into a problem where you type something, but when you go back to add a word, it deletes what you previously wrote as you type.  All this means is that you hit the "insert" key by accident.  To fix it, press "insert" (should be on the top right of your keyboard).

Word has many different settings.  Mess around with them until you find something that works for you.  Always remember to save your project before making any setting changes.  And save even if you aren't making any changes.

I'm sorry, but I can't help anyone who used a Mac, since I avoid them whenever possible.
*Only change your settings if you're using your computer.  Don't play with somebody else's settings.  They won't appreciate that.  Don't add things to somebody else's dictionaries, either. 

Brought to you by your resident Grammar Nazi.
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1 comment:

  1. Cool! I used to use Microsoft Word all the time but then 2010 and 2007 both crashed and self destructed so I can't use them anymore. I'm left to use Wordpad, Libre Office, and Google Docs if I want to type something.


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