Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Checking grammar using Microsoft Word

Part of my routine towards the end of writing projects is to check spelling and grammar. When I write things using Microsoft Word, I use the spelling and grammar checker it offers.

I also ensure that it shows me readability statistics. Why? The simpler I write, the more likely the message gets through.

A bug in the system?

You can imagine my surprise when, upon running the grammar checker and getting statistics on a 2,000-word document, Word told me it hadn’t checked my entire document.

And it only counted 44 words.

This happens often enough with various documents that I’ve puzzled over the matter and come up with a solution.

Working through the issue

For some reason I have yet to understand, Word ignores substantial parts of my documents during this check. As I dug into the problem, I discovered Word seems to not recognize that the entire document is written in English. This is obvious when a language is not selected in the Language dialog.

Before I opened this dialog, I selected the whole document. If Word detects multiple languages in the selection, it does not highlight any of the options in this list (at least I think that’s the case). If you don’t select the whole document, Word tells you what language is “active” wherever the cursor is in the document.

Note: This may have something to do with the “Detect language automatically” feature (check box) being active (checked). I like this setting since I occasionally write documents in languages other than English.

A technical note on check boxes in Word (and other software)

Also, for some reason, certain parts of the document are flagged as “Do not check spelling or grammar,” an issue which seems the more likely culprit.

Technical note:

  • When a check box has a check mark, that means the feature is active.
  • When a check box is empty, the feature is inactive.
  • When a check box has a line through it, that means the feature is active for certain parts of the document but not for others.

Making Word check the whole document

To fix this issue, I:

  1. selected all the text in my document.
  2. opened the Language dialog (on a Mac, it’s under the Tools menu).
  3. chose the language for the whole document.
  4. cleared the “Do not check spelling or grammar” check box.
  5. ran the spelling and grammar check again.

I haven’t made time to research the issue in greater depth. Doing so would likely cost me more time than the simple workaround I detailed here, if past experience is anything to go by.

Actual scores and request for advice

Do you understand this issue? If you can provide any insight, please let me know in the comments below.

One other question for writers: here are the readability stats for the document as a whole.

Leaving aside the benefits of shorter sentences, how would you improve the readability scores at the bottom?