Spellchecker Drives a Stake Through Vampire Words
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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15 Responses to “Spellchecker Drives a Stake Through Vampire Words”
I have never used Microsoft Word with such depth. I guess I’m still learning all about writing. So Thanks for the great tips!
Thanks for the notes. Good Luck.
Some great tips here and will be handy for me when I come to write my next blog. I admit sometimes that I do make spelling mistakes when I’m in a rush and this will help me. Thanks for sharing these tips with us.
I’ve always prided myself in being an excellent speller. Spell checker and other tools have been both an eye opener and a life saver. I can’t count the times these nifty little Language 101 tools have kept me from looking like a real goober!
@> BWI, reza
Thanks for the comments. Sometimes the words actually provide value — if so, I generally leave them in. 🙂 This just gives you a cue while proofreading.
@> drool, Thanks for the note. I think the world can forgive a spelling mistake once in a while. Good Luck.
@> Robert, Thanks, I hope that it helps. Your blog looks like its doing great. Looks like you have embraced the adversity. Congratulations, and I’ll add myself to your subscribers.
What a great post. This is especially useful for me. I am not a writer, nor a journalist. I have dyslexia, so writing is especially hard for me. Yet I enjoy blogging.
All these great tips, just helps to make me a better writer, despite my shortcomings.
LoL at BWI reply (#7) 😀
i dont know that those words show a lack of confidence from the writer…maybe ‘maybe’ does, but ‘usually’, ‘typically’, or ‘generally’? i dont think so
Spelling is my common mistake, not because I do not know the spelling, but sometimes, it’s because of rushing to post. Great tip, thanks!
Nice tip…I usually use those words, typically on my favorite blog. I maybe doing it to my Firefox spellcheck as well. It’s generally what I use to write my posts.
Excluding them from the dictionary, makes Word highlight them during spell check. I use it to alert me to double-check that I have used the word appropriately – so that I ~can~ learn. It helps me avoid some bad habits, but your mileage may vary.
Thanks for the note. Good Luck!
Good post I will try the last method by using the microsoft word exclusion list. I hope it helps my writing style.
However, wouldn’t it be better to learn the correct way rather than excluding them from the dictionary. I can understand your point completly with “Vampire words”, however it seems like turning your back to a problem.
Some text editors have spellcheckers in them. I haven’t investigated, but you might find a similar auto-correct or exclusion dictionary concept in there, too.
Many of the text editors that I use focus on writing code. Many of these, have a function for syntax highlighting which can also be used in a similar fashion.
Thanks for the note. Good Luck.
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Wow … seems to me that you really have in depth knowledge about Word and I am sure this will help you a lot.
But while writing I prefer to use text but from now onward I will try Word first and from there I will add those contents to txt file.
Many bloggers and writer avoid this but I am sure this one is really beneficial.
Tom – StandOutBlogger.com
That is really handy! especially for the words that you feel you use to frequently. It will give you a chance to go and find a suitable synonym.
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