You would have noticed the following while using MS Word:
You begin typing a new paragraph, but do not begin with an uppercase letter. However, the moment you hit the space bar (or a punctuation mark), the first letter changes to uppercase.
You intend to write a list of items, a numbered list let’s say. You start typing 1 followed by a period. Once the space bar is hit, the entry becomes a numbered list entry, with indentation and other associated changes.
These and many other changes are due to what is called the autocorrect option. MS Office has a great library of autocorrect entries. In these entries, a predefined string is associated with a particular output, with a variety of challenges: not easy to accomplish (like the copyright symbol) or most common conventions (capitalizing the beginning of a paragraph) or most common mispellings (see what I have done here?).
Some most common autocorrect changes
You may access the list of autocorrect entries here: File > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options. Here are some of the common entries:
Here is a list of some common formatting changes, generally classified as autoformatting options:
- Straight quotes to smart quotes
- Fractions to fraction characters
- Ordinals to superscripts
- Double/triple hyphens to en or em dashes
- Internet and network paths are converted into links
- Automatically converting to bullet or numbered lists
- Table cell capitalization
- Tab space before a paragraph to indentation
Creating your own autocorrect entry
What’s cool is that we can create our own autocorrect entries. Microsoft Office offers the power to create more entries into our own hands. Here is how you can create an autocorrect entry:
- Go to File > Options > Proofing.
- In the main window, click on AutoCorrect Options.
- A new dialog box with five tabs (of two rows) open. Choose AutoCorrect if you are already not on it.
- Look for a two-column row with empty cells, under the entry “Replace text as you type”.
- Leave your preferred string combination on the first cell. Leave the expected corrected text on the second cell.
- Click Add. Click OK. Now you are all set with a new autocorrect entry.
I was super-excited when I first came across this cool hack and decided to try this out for a set of standard copyediting queries. We were working for a journal publisher who preferred to have a standard set of queries to authors. For example, one of the queries to the author went like this:
I have made changes to the sentence beginning “…” for clarity. Please confirm that the changes retain your intended meaning.
(There are two autocorrect entries in the above query. Can you guess them?) Here is how I created my autocorrect entry:
- Selected the query text.
- Went to File > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options
- Under “Replace text as you type”, I typed InsQ4 (to indicate “insert query 4 from the list”) on the left column.
- Clicked Add and click OK.
Now all I have to do is select the first few words of a sentence, copy them, press Ctrl + Alt + M (to insert a query), and type InsQ4 in the comment box. MS Word replaces this string with the query text. The final part is to replace the three-dot ellipsis with the beginning of the sentence I copied earlier!
Uber-cool, isn’t it?
Some more use cases
Considering that many of us editors are also writers, here are some more examples of how autocorrect can help remove the pain.
Case 1: Typing the chemistry compound ZnxCu(1 − x)Fe2O4
Can you guess how many hits on the keyboard are performed for this seemingly simple molecular formula involving just four elements? Almost 50! If you don’t believe me, I will wait here and you may open a Word document and try typing this compound exactly the same way as I typed it here. I used zicfo (so I can remember it as si–k–foe) as the autocorrect string.
This I recommended to a research scholar who was authoring her thesis. Not only would she use this technique to indicate this compound in the rest of her chapters. As a person who performed research using this compound, she would use this molecular formula often in her career. You may guess how many keystroke combinations this hack would save for her.
Case 2: Typing a money value
I have been involved in the developmental editing of a book on money. Three strings appear quite often in this nearly 300-page manuscript: ₹1 LC, ₹0.03 LC and ₹0.97 LC. With the rupee symbol not available in many standard keyboards (at least in my keyboard), each of these strings needed more than 10 keystroke combinations – not as many as in the zicfo case above, but still it is too many.
I used 1lc, 3lc and 97lc as the autocorrect input strings, respectively, for these three values.
Migrating autocorrect entries
Once you realize the power of creating and using autocorrect entries, you might keep building this list over years. In future, you may want to switch to a new laptop/PC. What will happen to these autocorrect entries that you have fondly created over years? Can you carry them to your new system?
Fret not! These autocorrect entries are NOT document-specific, but system-specific. So entries you created on your laptop/PC can be used for any Word document on your laptop/PC. Furthermore, migrating all your autocorrect entries from your old desktop/PC to a desktop/PC is also possible. We will have a separate post on that later.
More on autocorrect
- There is no limitation for the number of autocorrect entries you create.
- The autocorrect is in fact an action. So you can undo it. For example, in the money string example above, if I don’t want to convert 97lc to ₹0.97 LC, all I have to do is undo once the autocorrection is executed (ctrl + z).
- Another cool aspect is that these autocorrect entries are available across the MS Office suite. What I created in MS Word is available in MS Excel or PPT.
- For the standard query hack above, you don’t have to copy and paste the queries on the right column. All you have to do is select the appropriate query entry before you set out to create an autocorrect entry. You will notice that the selected entry is pre-filled in the second column.
- By default, the autocorrect option is enabled by default. If you don’t like it for any reason, you may disable it.
Do you have something in mind to add to your autocorrect list? Share it in the comment box.