Two Experienced Freelance Writers Share Their Secret Tips for Clear Writing

By Monisha Arya & Sheeva Azma

With over 1.2 billion users, Microsoft Word is arguably the most commonly-used word processing and editing software throughout the world — but are you getting the most out of it?

Monisha Arya of Arya Communications and Sheeva Azma of Fancy Comma, LLC have teamed up to share their secret tips for producing better writing using Microsoft Word.

Monisha’s Tip: Use Advanced Proofing Features of Microsoft Word

Clear and impactful medical writing requires education and experience in medicine or health, writing skills and talent, attention to detail, and passion. Microsoft Word’s little-known proofing features can be another key to producing great copy.

It was many years into my medical writing career that I learned about Microsoft Word’s advanced proofing features. That’s because these features are “hidden” and are not enabled by default.

Did you know that Microsoft Word can alert you to jargon, simpler language, and passive voice? This Microsoft Word proofing review will make suggestions for you to accept or ignore. I run a complete proofing check on all of my writing products.

Microsoft Word’s hidden proofing features take a bit of time to find, but they are well worth the effort. #WritingTips #WritingAdvice #AmWriting #AmEditing #AryaWritingTips

To start, open a blank document in Microsoft Word.

opening a blank document in microsoft word

Monisha’s secret to uncover hidden proofing features in Microsoft Word

1. Go to File and select “Options” at the very bottom of the menu.

2. Under Word Options, select “Proofing.”

microsoft word proofing options

3. Go the section entitled, “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word.”

4. Ensure that all boxes are checked.

5. For Writing Style, select the drop-down option for “Grammar & Refinements” (This may also be listed as “Grammar & More”).

6. Click on “Settings…” (Here is where a lot of secret proofing features live!).

microsoft word grammar and refinements settings

7. There are over 100 (!) features listed! I select ALL of them.

8. Click “OK” to save changes.

9. Click “Check Document” to allow Microsoft Word to do a new review (This may also be listed as “Recheck Document”).

microsoft word proofing options - check document

You may be asked to click “Yes” on the following dialog box to reset the Microsoft Word spelling and grammar checker and apply the new settings.

There’s another way to get to the Proofing features in Microsoft Word.  You may also see the Editor icon in the Review panel of your version of Microsoft Word. You can click on this button, and click “Settings.” Then, follow the steps above starting at #6.

microsoft word review panel

Of course, the Microsoft Word proofing feature is not perfect, and will not find all elements that you could (or should) refine to make your writing clearer and impactful. I have found that the proofing feature still misses some grammar or syntax mistakes. Using the feature is a start. Depending upon what is on the line for your final writing product, you may need to hire a professional medical writer or medical editor to add a human element to proofing.

Sheeva’s Tip: Use Microsoft Word’s “Read Aloud” Feature

I am always learning new things, even after using Microsoft Word and other Office suite products for over two decades.  Recently, I learned that Microsoft Office 2019 has a “Read Aloud” function which will read your Word file out loud.  This can be useful in editing if you are pressed for time and don’t feel like reviewing a text yourself — with the Read Aloud function, you can sit back as Microsoft reads through the document.  

Our brains use different cognitive processes to read text from a page versus listening to text being read out loud.  As a neuroscientist by training, I appreciate that listening to text — as opposed to reading it — offers a novel approach to catch errors which literally engages different parts of the brain.

Sheeva’s secret to reveal the read aloud feature in Microsoft Word

The “Read Aloud” function of Microsoft Word 2019 can be found in the Review tab.

microsoft word's read aloud option

When you click the “Read Aloud” button, a sidebar pops up with the following controls: 

microsoft read aloud controls

These buttons correspond to:

microsoft read aloud controls, explained

The settings icon allows you to select from different reading voices and change reading speed.  If you are, like me, using the American English version of Microsoft Word, you can choose from several reading voices, including two male voices (Microsoft David and Microsoft Mark) and a female voice (Microsoft Zira).

Microsoft Word’s “Read Aloud” feature can be useful to quickly review a document for errors. #WritingTips #WritingAdvice #AmWriting #AmEditing #FancyComma

“Read Aloud” can be a useful feature if you have written a document that you are trying to quickly review for errors.  However, a main downside of the “Read Aloud” function is that, if you try to type or make edits to the document while it is being read, you risk accidentally deleting text as the cursor tracks the text being read.  You must first exit or pause “Read Aloud” mode before making any changes to the document.

We hope that sharing our secrets for the hidden but incredibly powerful Microsoft Word tools will help with your writing experience and will lead to more clear writing for your projects.

This post is a collaboration with Monisha Arya, Founder & President of Arya Communications and Sheeva Azma, Owner & Lead Writer at Fancy Comma, LLC. 

Monisha is a physician, public health professional, health communications expert, and freelance medical writer. She has spent two decades writing for diverse audiences including popular press, policymakers, academic journals, and patients. She launched Arya Communications in 2019. Monisha can be found on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/monisha-arya and on Twitter @AryaCampaigns

Sheeva is a science writer who has over 10+ years of academic research experience from MIT, Harvard Medical School, and Georgetown.  Sheeva, who has been freelance writing since 2013, launched Fancy Comma, LLC in early 2020.  Visit Fancy Comma, LLC on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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