Many industries use special vocabularies (read jargon) encompassing words that Microsoft Word's built-in dictionary doesn't recognize. Fiction editing — especially science fiction and fantasy — can take “special vocabulary” to a whole new level, with many words that are entirely made up. It can be enough to make Word's spell-check feature almost useless.
You could right-click each of those odd new words as you edit and add them to Word's dictionary, but A) that takes a lot of time, and B) Word will assume that those spellings are legitimate for every document you open. It makes more sense to create a custom dictionary that you can turn on and off only when you're working on a particular document. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do — especially if you or your author has kept a good style sheet. Just follow these steps:
Step 1. Create a text document that only lists all your special words.
In Windows, right-click the desktop and choose New > Text Document. Open the document that appears and then copy and paste your new words into it. Each word should appear on its own line (which allows you to enter short phrases as well). List each form of the word — as a plural or an adjective, for example — and make sure that if the word should always be capitalized, it appears capitalized in the list.
Step 2. Save the document in Unicode encoding with a .dic suffix.
When your list is complete, choose File > Save As. In the dialog box that appears, you should see a drop-down box called Encoding; select Unicode from the list. Give the file a descriptive name followed by “.dic” (replacing the.txt) and save it to your Desktop.
Step 3. Figure out where to put the file.
Different systems are set up differently, so trying to tell you where your custom dictionaries live would be folly. Finding out for yourself is simple, though.
Open Word and choose File > Options. In the Word Options dialog box, click the Proofing tab on the left and then click the Custom Dictionaries button. In the next dialog box, you should see a dictionary called CUSTOM.DIC or something similar. Select that dictionary; the File Path line should tell you what folder it's in. (On my computer,* it ultimately resides in a folder called UProof.)
Step 4. Move your custom dictionary to its new home.
It's a good idea to keep all your custom dictionaries in one place, so follow the file path you discovered in Step 3 to open your custom dictionaries folder and then drag your new dictionary file from your Desktop into that folder.
Step 5. Tell Word about your new dictionary.
Return to the Custom Dictionaries dialog box from Step 3 and click the Add button. It should take you right to a dialog box open to the folder you dragged your dictionary into. Click your new custom dictionary and then click the Open button.
Word's spell-checker will now start recognizing those words and their correct spellings.
You'll want to remember how to get to the Custom Dictionaries dialog box (Step 3). When you don't want Word to use a custom dictionary, you need to return to that dialog box and click the check mark next to the custom dictionary you no longer want Word to use.
Also, if you need to tweak the entries in a custom dictionary, select the dictionary in the Custom Dictionaries dialog box and click the Edit Word List button. Then you can add new words or correct old ones.
*My apologies to Mac-using readers for this Windows-focused post. Creating and using a custom dictionary for Word for Mac will be a bit different. But I trust that, once you understand basically how it should work, you will be able to figure out how to do it on your Mac.