If you’re anything like me, over the last few years you’ve made the shift to writing in Google Docs.
They’re great for sharing and collaboration.
It’s easy to view change history.
You don’t have to worry about losing your work.
And now Grammarly even integrates with it!
As much as I love Google Docs, I recently realized that I was missing a lot of the powerful editing tools baked into Microsoft Word.
You heard me correctly. Microsoft Word.
A tool so seemingly ancient that the only thing you may remember about it is its helpful mascot, Clippy.
But hear me out. Microsoft Word has saved me on multiple occasions. Let me take you back about seven years (don’t worry, we’ll get to the tips soon – or hey, just jump ahead now if you’re not in the mood for story time).
My first job in digital marketing was as a content developer at an agency that worked primarily with law firms. While you may be thinking of your run-of-the-mill billboard attorneys or the Cellino & Barnes jingle, I worked with some pretty high-brow firms. I wrote content for a lawyer who was running for state Senate as well as the content for lawyers who were handling highly publicized civil cases (ones you’ve definitely heard of). When it came to their content, I couldn’t afford to get it wrong.
It all started with my client who had an axe to grind with passive sentences. He had a zero-tolerance policy. As soon as I discovered you could add passive sentences to the spelling & grammar check in Word, I was hooked.
How to use Microsoft Word’s advanced grammar settings
Everyone who has Microsoft Word has access to its advanced grammar settings.
Go to the “Review” tab and click “Check Document” in the top navigation.
Microsoft Word will then display an editor box. Click “settings.”
Once you’re in settings, you’ll go to “Proofing” and select “Settings” next to “Writing Style.”
There are other tools in Word Options that I’ll go over in this guide, but some of the primary ones I want to focus on are in this section.
One last point before we dive in – I’m going over my personal top ten tools. Those ten barely scratch the surface of everything you can get out of Microsoft Word’s editing software, so I encourage anyone who wants to produce better content to check it out!
1. Cut out complex words
The original heading for this section was “Eliminate complex words.”
That might seem ridiculously restrictive, but this setting forces you to simplify, making your content clearer and more approachable.
To have Microsoft Word start checking your content for overly complex words, once you’re in the grammar & refinements settings, select “Complex Words” under the “Clarity & Conciseness” section.
2. Ditch the jargon
We’re all guilty of using words that confuse and alienate our audience. These are the words that might be common in our own industries but not layman’s terms. If you want to avoid losing your readers, make sure you have the “Jargon” box checked (same settings).
3. Get active!
The setting that sparked my love for Microsoft Word’s editing tools, “Passive Voice” and “Passive Voice with Unknown Actor” promote concise, punchy content that’s easier to read.
What’s the difference between the two? Passive Voice will suggest flip-flopping your sentence order. For example:
(Before) The fence was repaired by the handyman. (After) The handyman repaired the fence.
Passive Voice with Unknown Actor, on the other hand, shows passive sentences with no subject (or an unclear one). For example:
(Before) The cookies were baked. (After) She [had to add in a subject] baked the cookies.
4. Cut the clutter
The “Wordiness” setting is another one of my favorites. It catches words that don’t need to be there (the sentence would be fine – even clearer – without them).
A common one is “period of time” or “large in size.” You can usually change these to simply “period” or “large.”
5. “Read aloud” to catch mistakes!
You see what you want to see.
That’s as true in life as it is in content. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visually proofed something, only to have a client find a mistake. “How on earth did I miss that? I reviewed it ten times!”
It’s because we read our content how we meant to write it, not how we actually wrote it.
The tool will start reading wherever you place your cursor. You can speed up or slow down the reading pace according to your preferences, and you can even change the voice (my personal favorite is Mark).
6. Get a readability score
On the main “Proofing” page, make sure you have “show readability statistics” selected. This is what gives you your Flesch readability score.
You should aim for a score of 70-60, which is an 8th or 9th grading reading level. Best practices define this as “plain English” and easy for most people to understand.
Anything lower than 60 is difficult to read.
If you’re having trouble finding where to go to get your score, Microsoft Word notes that you must run through the editing process and address all issues before you can get your score.
There are no readability statistics in Google Docs, so if you want to view things like Flesch Reading Ease and Grade Level, you’ll need Microsoft Word.
7. Keep it brief
In addition to your Flesch score, the readability check will also show your average sentences per paragraph and average words per sentence.
Paragraphs are easiest to read when they’re about three to five sentences long. If you’re unsure when you should start a new paragraph, a good rule of thumb is to hit “Enter” whenever you start a new idea.
Keep your sentences around 15-20 words, but remember, cadence is just as important as average length. Cadence is rhythm. It makes your content more enjoyable to read. (See what I did there?)
8. Edit for other English dialects
My writers had the hardest time on their UK and Canadian clients until we realized they could switch Microsoft Word to edit for different English dialects.
This made it so much easier to catch things like flavor/flavour, optimization/optimisation, etc.
Just keep in mind that there are plenty of other colloquialisms and word variances between English-speaking countries (ex: torch vs. flashlight). Check them out.
9. Find synonyms and antonyms quickly
Yeah, you could just open Google or Thesaurus.com, but isn’t it nice to have a Thesaurus right in your Word processor? I think so.
Just go to the “Review” tab, select a word, and click “Thesaurus.”
This is especially helpful if you want to avoid repeat words or if you’re struggling to find the perfect word for your sentence.
10. Try Smart Lookup
Bing powers Microsoft Word’s Smart Lookup tool. Yeah yeah, it’s not Google and the search results aren’t as great, but it’s a terrific way to quickly explore content that’s ranking for certain phrases/concepts you’re addressing on the page.
Smart Lookup is located under the “References” tab. Enable it, select a section of your content, then right-click “Smart Lookup.”
You’ll get a pop-up that looks like this:
I tested it on the phrase “write better content.” Evaluating the Smart Lookup results against Bing’s SERP, I noticed that Microsoft Word pulled in the first and fifth results.
As an SEO, I find this helpful for quickly discovering what content is performing well for my targeted concepts. I can click to open those results and see how those top-performing pages are addressing the topic and use that for inspiration.
Still not convinced?
There’s no shame in admitting you need help. We’re human. We make mistakes. I’ve been writing professionally for more than seven years and I know I could still use the help.
When I realized I had switched almost entirely to Google Docs, I moved the project I was working on at the time to Microsoft Word, and you know what? There were things I absolutely had not caught!
I love Microsoft Word’s editing tools because they supply an extra layer of accountability. Whether you’re writing for yourself or you’re writing for clients, someone’s reputation is on the line. Why wouldn’t you use that safeguard?