Three Cheers for Word’s Grammar Check

Grammar Check is not perfect, but it keeps improving, and I’ve come to rely on it as a polishing tool. The short video above gives you a bird’s eye view of how the combination of Spelling and Grammar Check work in tandem.

Until recently I ignored the Grammar Check function in Word, because only a small percentage of the items it flagged were relevant, and my writing style is, well, some might say quirky. That has changed largely changed. My writing is still quirky, but Grammar Check's improved analytical tools now accommodate that better. The percentage of relevant flags has improved to the point they are all worth considering, though some will still be off-base.

Whether I’m working on my own document or someone else’s, I polish the piece as well as I can the traditional way. Then I click over to the Review tab and click Spelling & Grammar to check grammar. I leave it off while I’m writing for two reasons. It’s distracting, and it can stifle creativity. Grammar Check is rule bound. Spellbinding phrases may transcend rules. Give your Inner Artist free reign. Write with colorful creativity, then use Grammar Check to tweak the results rather than stifling them.

I keep Spell Check on all the time, but only run Grammar Check as a last pass tool. It picks up easily missed things like periods outside quotation marks or missing Oxford commas. It alerts me to passive sentences. Or not. You can set the factors you want it to check. You can select a specific one, or you can activate all 35. Depending on what I’m working on, I use about six.

This next video shows how to select which factors to activate. This is especially  helpful for rechecks where you only want to check one or two things.

These videos are based on Word 2013. You may find slight differences in older or newer versions. Never forget that any time you have tech questions about software, YouTube is an entire university at your fingertips. Some videos are more helpful than others, so if you don’t find an answer on your first try, watch another.

When you look at the list of options, or read explanations in the Review panel that opens on the right side of your screen, you may see things you don’t understand. Look them up. You will always find the answer online. Use a search engine, not the help button in Word.

You may decide you won’t bother with this step because you plan to pay an editor. Please understand that your editor may well be using these same tools, and you can save time and money by doing this yourself so your editor can focus on what really matters. A few times I’ve been baffled about what the heck a client was trying to say. That invoked an additional round of editing and extra charges. Grammar Check would have red-flagged those areas, saving that client lots of money and both of us frustration.

You can find other grammar checkers online. may be the best known and gets high ratings. Teachers often use it to check student work for plagiarism, but that won’t be a problem for you.  It’s now available as a free Chrome extension and plug-in for Word that seems to work even better than Word's native grammar checker.  Although the installation process is well-explained, many find it intimidating. If you are one of those people, pasting your story into the online window may work well for you.

Here’s to clear, flowing rivers of writing, thanks to the help of sophisticated digital editors.


Amber Starfire said...

Great advice, Sharon. I agree that grammar checker in Word can be useful when polishing your piece, but is distracting if you leave it on while writing.

I'm going to add a link to this post as a resource, in my Word for Writers blog series.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Yes, Amber. I sometimes turn off spell check to avoid distraction. Anything like that can interrupt the flow of story. Ah. I added the Grammarly Chrome app and it's interrupting me as I write this comment, trying to change MY voice. Grammarly is going away now. I did run several paragraphs through Word's Grammar Check, Grammarly, and ProWriting Aid, which seems to be built on Grammarly as an underlying engine. I got the same advice from all three and added a few commas to my hastily written piece.

Grammarly is full of reminders to subscribe to their full-featured service, which seems overpriced to me. I'll stick with Word.

Anyway, I had not noticed that Grammar Check has been missing from your excellent series. Good addition.

Amy said...

Your knowledge of Word continues to amaze me. I am so lucky to have found you as a mentor.

I ignore spelling errors (mostly typos) until I am finished. And I've found grammar checkers annoying in many instances. I like to think I know grammar (perhaps incorrectly). And I hate having the computer tell me to change something that works for me. If I were writing a formal document, perhaps I'd feel differently, but when writing creatively, I prefer to write to the beat of my own drummer!

Amy said...

My daughter had a teacher in middle school who told her that you put a comma whenever you take a breath. As you might imagine, she had commas galore---almost after every other word. I have been trying to "un-teach" this lesson ever since. I had a wonderful English teacher in high school who was a real stickler for grammar and punctuation. I like to think he taught us well and taught us correctly. But there are a few rules I do ignore---I've given up on avoiding split infinitives. No one talks like that. I also often start a sentence with but or however for purposes of emphasis. But I still am a believer in the Oxford comma. :)

Sharon Lippincott said...

Good points Amy. Rules are made to be broken, but that's best done as a deliberate decision. Commas may be the best example. They serve as signals for slight pauses to set thoughts apart. They give rhythm to words on a page. But some sentences with every recommended comma sound choppy. That's where art trumps craft.