This is a guest post by Mike Marshall. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.
Ali Hale’s recent CopyBlogger post spoke about Vampire Words: the conditional words like “usually”, “typically”, “maybe”, or “generally” that can portray a lack of confidence, muddle your message, and suck the life from your writing. If you fall prey to these words in your writings, there are a few tools within Microsoft Word that can help you drive a stake through the heart of these vampire words.
1. A Simple “Find”
The good old “Find” function is a simple approach. In the dialog box, the demon words can be entered and you can search for them individually. A function of particular interest is the “Reading Highlight” button. With this feature, you can enter each word and then highlight all of the instances of this word in your document. All words can be highlighted prior to closing the Find dialog box. This is a simple approach, but entering each word individually may be too cumbersome and too much work to be used routinely.
2. Use AutoCorrect to Highlight Them
A better solution would be to highlight the words as you type them. The AutoCorrect feature can be used to do this. In the Proofing tab of Microsoft Word Options, click on the “AutoCorrect Options…” button. Under the “Replace Text as you Type” section, enter the words you would like to flag. As an example, I entered the word “usually” and replaced it with “*usually*”. Save the settings, and go back to your document. The AutoCorrect setting takes effect immediately, so the next time you type the vampire word, the AutoCorrect feature will wrap it with asterisks as a highlight.
3. Use Exclusion Dictionaries to Mark Them
My favorite solution, although it requires a little more energy, is to establish an “Exclusion Dictionary”. This dictionary lists words that you want to exclude from the basic spelling dictionary within MS-Word. When the word is added to the exclusion dictionary, the spell checker will no longer perceive it as a correctly spelled word, and will flag it as an error. When configured to check spelling as you type, this prevents these nasty words from creeping into your text by immediately marking them as issues.
To create an exclusion list, you need only add the word to your exclusion dictionary (a text file) under your MS-WORD application data. Each vampire word is entered on a single line in this file, and from that point forward is considered a misspelled word and highlighted by the spell checker.
What makes this method so nice is that you can consider the word’s real value, and tell the spellchecker to ignore its use, if desired.
Below is a screen shot of my exclusion dictionary file location (Win XP, US English Dictionary), and further information on MS Word exclusion dictionaries can be found here.
After you have established your exclusion dictionary and restarted MS-WORD, the vampire words are exposed, and you can eliminate them from your document.
4. Exposing other writing mistakes
These same techniques can be used to highlight some other common spelling and grammar mistakes. For example, if you sometimes mix up the words “accept” and “except”, adding them to the exclusion dictionary calls attention to their use. If you find that you simply overuse a word and would like to stop, add it to the exclusion dictionary so it is highlighted.
These features can help you eliminate conditional words and other common mistakes in your articles and free yourself from many personal writing demons.
Mike Marshall is a software design professional and has just started a new blog called “The Politics of Design.”
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