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Microsoft Tips on Grammar, Punctuation, Etc.

People in business writing seminars often ask me this excellent question:

How can I know whether the changes suggested by my Microsoft grammar and spelling checker are correct?

You can’t, not without understanding the rules of grammar, punctuation, usage, and sentence structure. But one way to find out more is to turn on your “Office Assistant,” a Microsoft Help feature. Here is how:

From the Help menu, click Show the Office Assistant.

In my version, Office 2003, the Assistant appears as an animated paperclip, robot, genie, dog, or one of four other entities.

To choose a different Assistant, click the Assistant, then Options. Choose Gallery, and then scroll through the Assistants until you find one you like. Click OK.

When you use your grammar and spelling checker, your Assistant will provide explanations. For example, in a guide I am working on, I wrote:

Will you write under your own name, or will your supervisor’s name be on the pieces you write?

The Assistant gave me excellent advice on sentence structure, along with three examples. Although none of the examples was just like my sentence, one was close enough that I understood how I might revise my sentence, like this:

Will you write under your own name or your supervisor’s name?

If an explanation does not appear, click Explain.

The explanations are helpful when Microsoft’s suggestions are general, such as “Passive Voice (consider revising)” and “Verb Use (consider revising).” Sometimes explanations may not seem to apply to your sentence, for example, those on verb use. But the fact that Microsoft has flagged your sentence should prompt you to consider simplifying it.

As someone who teaches business writing, I know a lot about sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and the rules of writing. Yet I still find the grammar and spelling checker and the Assistant’s guidance helpful, especially for finding passive voice verbs. Although a suggested change may not always fit my situation, the explanation is correct, just not applicable. That is why I suggest reading the explanations as an easy way to learn more about writing rules.

If you are using Office 2007, please comment on any new features in the grammar and spelling checker and the Office Assistant. I will appreciate the information, and I am sure others will too.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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.