This time, we’re going to look at customizing the dictionaries used by spellcheck to get the most out of this automated support for what editors do. You know spellcheck, and in the previous post you learned about running and rerunning spellcheck as well as what readability statistics are about. In the post before that, we talked about spellcheck’s language preferences and how to control them.
Aside from choosing which language the spellcheck is using, you can customize the dictionary that Word is using so that it reflects the style sheet in use. There are a few ways to customize the list. One is adding words, and the other is excluding words. (We’ll look at exclusions in the next instalment.)
To add words to the spellcheck dictionary, simply right-click on a word that has been flagged as misspelled (underlined with a squiggly red line) and select “Add to Dictionary” from the context menu that pops up.
These customizations affect only the “custom” dictionary; Word creates a custom dictionary automatically when you start customizing by adding words. Additions don’t alter the list in the language dictionaries.
Importing Custom Dictionaries
Have more than a few words to add? You can also import whole dictionaries into spellcheck—some with over 150,000 words. In the December 2017 issue of the Copyediting Newsletter, you can learn about ready-made dictionaries for niches like law, medicine, and chemistry. Some of these dictionaries are distributed free, and some are sold by dictionary companies.
Importing a dictionary is pretty painless, whether you’re using a Mac or Windows computer. Word has an interface that makes it easy; no need to dig into system files and try to place a dictionary in the right location. Look either in proofing options or in spelling and grammar preferences, depending on your operating system, then click Add or Edit. The specifics vary depending on the version of Word, too. Beware that some options are more tedious. For example, “New” might require that you add individual words, whereas “Edit” might let you add an entire file. If the method you try seems unruly, there’s probably an easier (less intuitive) way to do it.
Using Multiple Dictionaries
As many as 10 dictionaries can be used simultaneously by Word’s spellcheck. That means you can select the preferred language as well as a niche dictionaries to get a truly custom spellcheck. You can make that even more custom with an exclude dictionary, which we’ll cover next time.