Office 365 tip: Using 'Add to AutoCorrect' to make you more productive

Never make the same typos again by using AutoCorrect to make your typing much more efficient.

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Why should I have to tell Word or OneNote over and over again that yes, I did really mean 'platform', not some randomly similar arrangement of letters, when I could just tell it once?

Image: Przemyslaw Koch, Getty Images/iStockphoto

When I take notes in a meeting or an interview, I type pretty fast; it's not a full transcript but I can capture enough of what's said to be able to find the quotes I want to use or the nugget of information I need later pretty quickly.

But when I type that fast, I make a lot of typos.

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A typical page in OneNote is spattered with red from all the typing errors. Spellcheck picks up nearly all of them but this is a computer and computers are good at automating things. Why should I have to tell Word or OneNote over and over again that yes, I did really mean platform, not some randomly similar arrangement of letters, when I could just tell it once?

That's what AutoCorrect is for, after all.

But for several years, adding your own corrections to AutoCorrect in Office has been frustratingly hard. That wasn't always the case; add to AutoCorrect used to be on the spelling context menu alongside the suggested spelling, and it used to be a button in the spellcheck dialog.

That's how I built up some 3,000 entries in my AutoCorrect dictionary, along with some typing shortcuts I use, like 'authentn' for authentication and 'dl' for download, which speed me up no end.

long list of autocorrect entries for just two words

How many ways can I type one word wrong? This many...

Image: Mary Branscombe

But somewhere along the line, the Office team decided that the context menu and the dialog were too cluttered and stripped the Add option out of the user interface. The functionality was still there, and you could get it back with a macro, but that meant installing a third-party macro on every PC -- when Office has long since made it the default to block macros because there are so many that are malware -- and I never did track down a macro that did it for any language other than US English.

That meant copying every misspelling into the AutoCorrect Options dialog, which is hidden under Proofing in the Options dialog (unless you take the time to add it to the Quick Address Toolbar on every PC you use). If you have to do that, leave the errant word selected; often it will get copied into the dialog when you open it and you just need to type the replacement (and double check that you got it right).

Office 365 users can rejoice at this point; the new Editor spell checker in Word 2016 brings back Add to Autocorrect in a recent build, although it's hidden on a third level flyout so you'll need a steady mouse hand to use it.

If the word you want to always get instead isn't visible, AutoCorrect Options is on there as well, and it automatically picks up the word you're correcting. That's saving me a lot of time already, although I really wish both commands were in the spelling task pane as well as on the fiddly flyout.

autocorrect flyout expanded

The Add to AutoCorrect flyout is back in Word 2016, if you have Office 365

Image: Mary Branscombe

Editor is just for Office 365 subscribers (both commercial and consumer); Microsoft says that's less a perk of the subscription and more about needing the connection to deliver updates to Editor as they add new words like company names. I'm hoping that my autocorrects might end up in the default AutoCorrect dictionary somewhere down the line, if enough people add them to their own list.

I'm also hoping that one day, they'll sync to each PC I use. Until then, I'll keep using the handymacro from this Word MVP, which will back up the entries from one PC and restore them on another without you having to transfer the entire Normal template (which is where Word stores the AutoCorrect entries).

AutoCorrect is useful everywhere in Office; it works in Outlook and OneNote and PowerPoint and even Excel. But Word is the easiest place to add new entries and the only way I've found to transfer them from PC to PC.

To use the macro, dl, I mean, download the ZIP file and open the .dot file. Click Enable Editing in the InfoBar at the top to tell Word that yes, you want to use a document you downloaded.

autocorrect macro interface

Enable the macro and then use it to back up and restore AutoCorrect entries.

Image: Mary Branscombe

Then click Enable Content, because Word disables macros by default, in case they're malicious.

Then select the Add-ins tab the macro adds to the ribbon, and click Start to open this dialog box. Click Backup to back up existing entries; this creates a new Word file you can save wherever you want. If you have a lot of entries, the status bar will flash repeatedly and it may take a few minutes. Click Restore to replace all the existing entries with a backup you've made previously.

Once you've restored an AutoCorrect backup, close Word and all the other Office applications. When you open them again, the other apps will pick up your new autocorrects.

Read more about Microsoft by Mary Branscombe

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