Exploiting AutoCorrect

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Word’s AutoCorrect feature—not just for “errors”

The AutoCorrect dialog

The AutoCorrect dialog in Word is accessed as follows:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: Tools | AutoCorrect... or Tools | AutoCorrect Options...

  •  Word 2007: Office Button | Word Options | Proofing: AutoCorrect Options...

  •  Word 2010 and 2013: File | Options | Proofing: AutoCorrect Options...

Regardless of how it is accessed, the dialog looks pretty much the same in every version, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The AutoCorrect dialog in Word 2010

Standard AutoCorrect features

Many users think of Word’s AutoCorrect feature as just a crutch for poor spellers and clumsy typists or the source of maddening and unwanted changes in the text they enter. For some, especially those who have left the option to “Automatically use suggestions from the spelling checker” enabled (as it is by default), it is a source of either entertainment or embarrassment, depending on whether or not they catch the “corrections” before the document is printed or distributed.

The core of AutoCorrect is a built-in list of frequently misspelled or mistyped words. When you type a space or punctuation mark following the text in the “Replace” box, it is automatically replaced by the text in the “With” box. For example, if you often type teh for the, you may not even notice that Word is silently correcting this for you, and you almost certainly wont mind—except in the rare instances (as in this sentence) when you actually want to type teh.

You may notice that the title bar of the dialog shown above says “AutoCorrect: English (U.S.). That's because there are separate AutoCorrect entries for every language. If you have a different language applied to the text at the insertion point when you open the dialog, you'll get a different list. For more about language-specific AutoCorrect files, see below.

Although the built-in AutoCorrect list is extensive, it is just the tip of the iceberg. You can make AutoCorrect do so much more. To begin with, you can add your own personal typing/spelling bugaboos. This is especially easy to do (in versions before Word 2013) if youre using Words Check spelling as you type option. To enable this option, check the box at this location:

  •  Word 2003 and earlier: Tools | Options | Spelling & Grammar

  •  Word 2007: Office Button | Word Options | Proofing

  •  Word 2010 and 2013: File | Options | Proofing

With this option enabled, when Word marks a word as misspelled, right-click on it. Instead of choosing the correct spelling from the list at the top of the shortcut menu, choose AutoCorrect instead, then choose the word from the list in that submenu. The correction will be added to the AutoCorrect list, and youll never have to make the correction manually again.

Important Note: Sadly, Word 2013 removed this option from the shortcut menu. For a workaround, see here.

If you want to add several AutoCorrect entries at one time, you can, of course, type the “Replace” and “With” text manually, but you can still save time by selecting text in the document. If you do, note the following general behavior:

  •  If you select a phrase to be used for the “With” text (assuming that none of the words are misspelled), Word will automatically place this text in the “With” box.

  •  If you select a misspelled or made-up word, Word will automatically place this in the “Replace” box.

There are, of course, exceptions; if you (as recommended below) select something like ;word” as your “Replace” text, you'll find it in the “With” box. For more on creating custom AutoCorrect entries, see below.

Beyond spelling correction

AutoCorrect is more than just spelling correction. Used correctly, it can fantastically increase your productivity. Word has already given you a head start in this direction by including some helpful built-in AutoCorrect features that you can use or not use at your discretion. As you can see from Figure 1 above, these include the ability to automatically capitalize the beginnings of sentences (or what Word interprets as sentences) and correct other anomalies in capitalization.

Important Note: You can define exceptions to the capitalization settings. Check the Exceptions... button to set exceptions on the First Letter, INitial CAps, and Other Corrections tabs. And if you find that Word is not capitalizing words when you expect it to, you can check to make sure that there is not an Exception causing this (and be sure to clear the check box for Automatically add words to list, since this is guaranteed to add a lot of unintended exceptions).

Caveat: Another common reason for failure to correct capitalization errors is misspellings. Unfortunately, if you have “Check spelling as you type” enabled and a word is marked as misspelled, Word will not correct capitalization errors in it. This behavior was no doubt based on the not-unreasonable assumption that a “misspelled” word might be a brand name with anomalous capitalization, but it is nonetheless very annoying.

Beyond error correction

But theres still more! AutoCorrect can do more than correct misspelling or mistyping. It can also expand abbreviations. Suppose you are typing a long report in which the company name Consolidated International Automated Widgets, Inc. is repeated very frequently. This gets old in a hurry, especially since any text that involves a lot of capitals and punctuation tends to break your typing rhythm. So create an AutoCorrect entry to insert this phrase for you. Here’s how:

  1. Type Consolidated International Automated Widgets, Inc. in your text.

  2. Select the phrase.

  3. Open the AutoCorrect dialog as instructed above.

  4. The text will already be inserted in the With box.

  5. In the Replace box, type the abbreviation youd like to use for this entry—perhaps ciaw.

Helpful Tip: Make sure your abbreviation is not an actual word or the beginning of a word and that it does not duplicate any other AutoCorrect entry. Many users prefer to begin AutoCorrect entries with a non-alphabetic character such as a slash or semicolon. This allows them to use actual words, since it is very unlikely that, say, ;word would appear in ordinary text. Another advantage is that entries beginning with punctuation will be placed near the top of the AutoCorrect list, making it easy to distinguish your entries from the built-in ones.

From now on, whenever you type ciaw, Word will insert Consolidated International Automated Widgets, Inc. The text will be inserted with the formatting at the insertion point; for example, if you are typing in a Heading 1 paragraph, Consolidated International Automated Widgets, Inc. will be inserted with Heading 1 font formatting.

Formatted AutoCorrect entries

If your replacement text contains characters that are not part of the basic character set, you will need to designate your AutoCorrect entry as formatted text. For example, if you select First‑Class Widget Sales (using a nonbreaking hyphen in First‑Class), you will see that the text appears in the With box as First*Class Widget Sales. Click the radio button for Formatted text, and youll see the nonbreaking hyphen.

You can also use formatted text for entries with direct font formatting. For example, I have an entry wsj that is expanded into The Wall Street Journal (in italics). Formatted text entries will still adapt to their surroundings except for the specific font formatting directly applied to the entry. So if you want to save an italic or bold entry, make sure that the font of the selection is otherwise the Default Paragraph Font (that is, you havent changed the font itself or the point size).

Ad hoc AutoCorrect entries

You can easily set up AutoCorrect entries for a specific document and then remove them later. If youre careful to maintain the list in this way, you can get away with some abbreviations that might not otherwise be suitable. For example, in one novel I was typing, there were characters named John T. and C‑Boy (using a nonbreaking space in one and a nonbreaking hyphen in the other); I entered these as jt and cb. Long after I finished the book, my husband was using my computer and couldnt understand what was happening when he typed CB. Id neglected to delete those AutoCorrect entries!

Used correctly, AutoCorrect can make you more productive not only by keeping you from having to correct your common typing errors but also by saving you from repetitive typing of frequently used long words and phrases.

Where AutoCorrect entries are stored

Unformatted AutoCorrect entries are stored in *.acl files by language. The name of each file has the syntax MSOLanguage ID Number.acl, where Language ID Number” is a the “Locale ID” (LCID) corresponding to the specific language. For example, the AutoCorrect file for English (U.S.) is MSO1033.acl. You can find a list of LCIDs here. These files are stored in the user profile; the default path on Windows XP is C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Microsoft\Office; for Windows 7 it is C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Office.

Formatted AutoCorrect entries are stored in the Normal template (Normal.dot or Normal.dotm).

If you need to move AutoCorrect entries (both formatted and unformatted) from one computer to another, you can use the AutoCorrect.dotm template that can be downloaded here. This template contains macros to back up and restore your AutoCorrect entries. (An older version, for Word 2003 and earlier, can be found here.)

AutoCorrect in Word 2007

AutoCorrect assumed new importance in Word 2007 because in that version AutoComplete is no longer available for AutoText entries. Although there is a limit of 255 characters for unformatted AutoCorrect entries, formatted ones can contain pretty much anything you can save as an AutoText entry, and insertion is triggered automatically by typing the prompt text so that you could, for example, insert an entire formatted table by typing ;table or a picture just by typing a few letters.

Fortunately, AutoComplete for AutoText was restored in Word 2010.

This article copyright © 2002, 2008, 2014 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.