Improve Your Grammar & Spelling Checker

As we rapidly generate documents and email, we rely more and more on Microsoft’s grammar and spelling checker. But you may not be getting as much as you could from that tool. For example:

Does your grammar checker catch passive-verb sentences, such as “The meter should be read”?
The active-verb form is “Read the meter.”

Does it catch a pile-up of nouns, such as “Service Agreement Addendum Discussion”?
The phrase reads more clearly as “Discussion on the Addendum to the Service Agreement.”

Does it provide Readability Statistics, such as the average number of words in your sentences?
In business writing, sentences should average no more than 15 to 20 words. In this post, sentences average 12 words.

If your software isn’t flagging the above items, here’s how to change the Grammar & Spelling settings so that it does:

  1. In MS Word or Outlook, go to TOOLS. Select OPTIONS, then SPELLING & GRAMMAR.
  2. In the lower right corner, under Writing Style, select either “FORMAL” or “GRAMMAR & STYLE,” depending on your version of MS Office.
  3. Click SETTINGS. Be sure you have selected “Passive sentences,” “Successive nouns (more than 3),” and any other error you want to identify.
  4. On the main SPELLING & GRAMMAR menu, select SHOW READABILITY STATISTICS.
  5. Recheck your document for errors.

When you correct a spelling error that has been flagged, correct it carefully. If you don’t, you may be like the person who wrote to me about being unable to attend a workshop. He wrote, “I hope it doesn’t cause you any incontinence.” Although disappointed, I had no such physical reaction!

Note on passives: Many passive-verb sentences work perfectly. For more information on passive vs. active verbs, click here.

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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact. A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors. A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media. Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.