Over the last number of weeks, we have looked at Accessibility in MS Word and covered many things. This week we turn our attention to proofing tools in MS Word, those which are available from opening the software and those you need to activate.

Let’s get started.

What are proofing tools?

Proofing tools are digital aids built into MS Word (and other applications) to assist you with written communications. These include:

  • Spell check
  • Word count
  • Translate
  • Language
  • Comments
  • Track changes

Of course, there are other proofing tools which you can activate within Word as well. We’ll touch upon each of these items now.

Spell check

The spell check does what it says, it checks the spelling but there are some considerations:

  • dictionary customization – US or UK
  • the spelling may be correct but inappropriate, i.e., they’re, there, their
  • specific terminology, i.e., scientific language
  • people’s and place names need added to the local dictionary
  • words spelt in capitals get ignored by default
  • words containing numbers get ignored by default
Pitfalls of spell check

The dictionary in MS Word is very general. It will cover the everyday use of language for the masses. It is important to set your dictionary for the world region you are in. The American and UK spellings are not always the same, i.e. favor (US) / favour (UK).

Along with this, the spell check does not deal with homophones very well. What’s a homophone? These are similar sounding words using different spellings and have different meanings, i.e., hear, here and heir; there, their and they’re.

Terminology may not be included in the standard MS Word dictionary. If you work in the areas of science and/or medicine, many of those technical terms will need added to your local computers dictionary.

Additionally, place and people’s names will not be part of the dictionary and need added in too.

Customizing spell check

To set your dictionary for a particular region, go to File and Options to open the Word Options dialogue box. Click on Proofing. There’s an option for Custom Dictionaries where you can decide to use UK and/or US dictionaries.

MS Word - Custom dictionaries
MS Word – Custom dictionaries

If you want to add words to your local dictionary (i.e., terminology, people’s and/or place names), go to File and Options to open the Word Options dialogue box. Then click on Proofing. There’s an option for Custom Dictionaries.

From the Custom Dictionary dialogue box, choose Edit Word List. From here you can add / delete words specific to your needs:

MS Word - Edit Word list
MS Word – Edit Word list

So, you’ve nailed everything else in terms of setting the dictionary and what you want included/excluded as the spell check but what do the different coloured lines that appear in your Word document mean?

  • Red lines denote misspelled words
  • Blue lines show contextual spelling errors, i.e., no and know. This is where the wrong word is used although that word is spelled correctly
  • Green lines highlight grammatical errors

To correct underlined words, simply right-click the word and work your way through the options to correct, add or ignore. When the spell check is complete, you will receive confirmation.

Word count

A word count is just that, it’s the total number of words in your document. You can find this several ways in MS Word. By the ribbons, click on Review and Word Count or on screen, look at the bottom left of the screen and it will tell you the Word Count (1).

Furthermore, if you click the Word Count (1) on the bottom left of the screen, you can access the Word Count dialogue box (2) with further information regards pages, characters (with and without spaces), paragraphs and lines.

And, if you need to know how many words are in a paragraph, simply highlight the paragraph and the word count for the selection will appear. For those of you with word limits on your essays or journal articles or character limits on application forms, this is useful.


The Translate function is useful for audience members where English is not their first language. In the example below, I highlighted a paragraph of text and clicked on the Review ribbon, then Translate. MS Word detected the highlighted text as English and gave me a number of translation options. In the example below, you can see the paragraph translated into Spanish in the pop out Translator panel (bottom right).

MS Word - Translate example
MS Word – Translate example

Translations can apply to the whole document or to highlighted sections of the document. There’s no limit to the number of languages you can translate to.

This is beneficial to assist non-English speakers to engage with content and when it comes to writing, the student can write in their own language and translate to the language required for submission.

Another benefit. Imagine you are hosting a multi-language conference. The digital materials only need created once and translate. Albeit the materials will need proof read but this Translate feature will save time and money compared to traditional translation services.


The Language feature allows users to set the language they prefer to work in on their own local installation of MS Word. To do this, click on the Review ribbon. Click Language and Set Preferred Language.

This brings up the dialogue box below. By selecting Install additional display languages from Office.com, users can add in another display language. This can then be marked as Set as Preferred.

MS Word - Display languages
MS Word – Display languages

Whilst still in this dialogue box, users can also add in authoring language and proofing options. Simply click the Add Language option, choose the language and Add it to the list.

When add in proofing options, put a tick mark in the Get Proofing Tools toward the bottom of the second dialogue box (as seen here on the right hand side). When doing a spell check, the language can be set to the added in language.


Comments can be made on the content within MS Word. This might be feedback from a teacher to a student, notes from a colleague to another or reminder notes to yourself as a document develops.

To make a comment, this can be done in one of two ways. Highlight the text you want the comment to apply to either (Option 1) click the Review ribbon and New Comment or (Option 2) right-click, choose New Comment (as seen below).

MS Word - Option 1 adding in Comments
MS Word – Option 1 adding in Comments
MS Word - adding in Comments
MS Word – Option 2 adding in Comments

The paragraph will highlight and a comments icon will appear with a Comments box for you to add comment to. As you can see from the image below, there are options to reply to comments made or resolve comments, i.e., once something has been completed, the comment can be removed.

MS Word - leaving a comment
MS Word – leaving a comment

When the mouse is hovered over the comment icon, the text relating the comment is highlighted. To view the comment in the document, click the comment icon.

Of course, if you use the Review ribbon, there are additional Comment icons available which allow you to quickly jump from comment to comment within the same document. These comments could be spaced over multiple pages and easy to miss. Comments can also be hidden from view.

MS Word - Comment Icons in the Review ribbon
MS Word – Comment Icons in the Review ribbon
Track changes

What are ‘track changes‘? This Track Changes function allows authors to keep a record of document amendments. The author can choose to accept or reject the suggested amendments.

On the Review tab and under Tracking, click the Track Changes icon and then the menu option track changes to turn this feature on (as seen below).

MS Word - Track Changes
MS Word – Track Changes

Tip: Each persons tracked changes in the document are displayed in a different colour. When there are upwards of eight people making changes, MS Word will reuse colours. This is just something to be aware of.

The tracking of changes is useful for managing changes made by multiple viewers of the same document. This might be students working on a project, teacher’s given students formative feedback and/or staff working on documents. Regardless of why tracking changes is being used, it’s useful for feedback and collaboration whilst keeping a record of the changes and by whom.

When working through the tracking comments, when using the Review ribbon there are some tracking icons to take note of. Firstly, whether tracking is turned on or not. Then where the Review Pane is on screen (left or bottom).

Following on from there, there are Accept and Reject changes options and a quick Previous and Next navigation icons. Again, the tracking comments can be widely dispersed through multiple pages of a document. These icons can be seen below.

MS Word - Tracking Changes icons
MS Word – Tracking Changes icons
The accessibility bit

By improving the content of the document, whether it’s spelling or grammar, etc., this benefits users of screen readers and makes the announcements of information clearer. Additionally, JAWS and Narrator screen readers can read any comments or tracking of changes added in.

This has been a whistle stop tour of the different review items within MS Word and we hope it’s useful.

Next time

This article on MS Word Proofing tools is already quite long and we’d like to show you how to add in additional proofing tools with MS Word. These additional tools will help with your writing as they highlight sentence and paragraph length, passive voice and other things.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *