How to Make the Most of Word’s Custom Dictionary

Dictionary and laptop

Devilish Details

Fiendish Tips for Writers and Editors

Customising your Word dictionary to each unique writing or editing project — such as a research thesis, book or journal paper — has many benefits. Here’s how to make the most of it. (Microsoft Word 365,  2019, 2016, 2013)

This blog post outlines the benefits of creating a custom dictionary for each unique writing or editing project, followed by step-by-step instructions on how to create, add/edit/delete a word, make default, change the language of and transfer your custom dictionary to another person.

Benefits of creating a custom dictionary
  1. You can add words that Word doesn’t recognise — place names, authors of cited publications, foreign language words, character names, special terms, and accented words — to make sure you use them consistently every time.

  2. While writing, you can quickly add a word to your custom dictionary, and it’s just as easy to edit or delete words in your custom dictionary. Similarly, while running the spellcheck tool, you can ‘ignore’ a word by adding it to your dictionary.

  3. It frees your page from the clutter of spellcheck’s red underlines, making it easier to spot actual spelling errors when you make them. This is preferable to turning off the spellcheck, where you then run the risk of missing all spelling errors in your manuscript.
  4. You can transfer your custom dictionary to another person — such as your copyeditor — which can act as a back-up vocabulary sheet and reduce the risk of inadvertently introduced errors.
Create a custom dictionary

Follow these instructions to create a custom dictionary for a specific project. You can create up to 10 custom dictionaries at a time, useful, for example, when you’re simultaneously writing a thesis using Australian spelling and a journal paper using UK or US spelling — plus of course all the other benefits I’ve listed above.

  1. In Word, go to File > Options > Proofing and uncheck the box ‘Suggest from main dictionary only’.

  2. Select Custom Dictionaries — you’ll find all dictionaries listed, with the default dictionary at the top. You should select only one default dictionary.

  3. Click on New — a ‘Create custom dictionary’ dialogue box will open.

  4. Give your custom dictionary a name. I use my clients’ surnames, but you might name yours ‘Thesis’, ‘Novel’ or ‘Journal paper’, for example. Click Save. Your dictionary will appear in the list.

  5. Tick the box in front of your dictionary name to select it. Highlight the dictionary by clicking on it, then choose your preferred language from the Dictionary language drop-down list, and then click OK twice.
Add, edit or delete a word from a custom dictionary
  1. To add a word to your custom dictionary, open the Custom Dictionaries dialogue box as described above. Click on your dictionary name to selFiendish Tip #1ect it (but don’t uncheck the box), and then click on Edit Word List. See also Fiendish Tip #1.

  2. To edit a word in your custom dictionary, click on Edit Word List per (1) above, delete the word you want to edit and then add the correct spelling.
Add words to a custom dictionary while running spellcheck

When you’re running your spelling and grammar tool, click Add or Add to dictionary whenever you come across a word that Word flags as being misspelled but you want to ignore.

Make a custom dictionary default

If you want your new custom dictionary to be your main default dictionary, open the Custom Dictionaries dialogue box, select the dictionary you’d like to make default, and then select Change default. This option will be greyed out if your dictionary is already default.

Change the language of a custom dictionary

Fiendish Tip #2_2

  1. Open the Custom Dictionaries dialogue box.

  2. Highlight the dictionary by clicking on it. From the Dictionary language drop-down list, choose the dictionary language you want to change to and then press Save. Note that you’ll need to ensure your manuscript’s language is set to the same language, or the Add to dictionary option will be greyed out when adding a word to your dictionary. See Fiendish Tip #2.
Transfer a custom dictionary to another person

This is super-handy if another person will be reading your draft work, for example, your copyeditor or proofreader, a supervisor/adviser or beta reader.

  1. Locate your custom dictionary file on your computer. The simplest way to do this is to open your Custom Dictionaries dialogue box (as above), then copy the pathway shown.

  2. Open your File Explorer dialogue box and paste the pathway into the search box. Your custom dictionary file (.dic) should now be visible.

  3. Click on the file name (.dic) you want to transfer, then either (a) copy the file to a USB stick or other device, using either Right-click > Copy, using the shortcut Ctrl + C (PC) or Cmd + C (Mac), or by dragging the file to the folder on another device, or (b) send the file directly by email to a person by Right-click > Send To > Mail Recipient.

  4. The recipient can then save the file to the same pathway as explained in (1) above. They should then be able to see the custom dictionary when they open their Custom Dictionaries dialogue box and select it for use when reviewing your manuscript.
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