Create an Exclusion Dictionary and Avoid Embarrassing Pubic Errors

The next time you’re feeling a little adolescent, visit a government website and type in the word “public,” minus the “l.”  The IRS, for example, any interaction with whom we all dread, has more than 2 pages of knee-slappers. And the Department of Education, with whom we entrust our nation’s youth, has 167 results.

What’s the favorite word at your corporation? Is it manger for manager? Form for from? What about “assess” minus the last “s”? (Bureau of Land Management is good for that particular error.)

As you well know, the problem with all of these words is they are words; they’re only misspelled in context. So how do we protect ourselves from these embarrassing errors?

Microsoft is working on the answer to that question. They thought they had it in their contextual speller, which is great tool, when it works. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very often.

And yes, we should be proofreading carefully using all of the strategies available to us. Change the style and the color and the size of the font on your computer screen. Print your document. Read it out loud. Read it backward. Have a colleague review it. Let it sit for a day.

Still, the reality is sometimes those small transpositions and omissions escape us. So let’s look at the problem from a different angle. If you’re not writing about genitalia, is “pubic” part of your vocabulary? Consider “mangers” and “asses.” Unless you’re writing about farms with mules and zebras, those words are not part of your lexicon. So remove them.

You can do that in Microsoft by creating an exclusion dictionary. An exclusion dictionary allows you to specify words that might be part of the English language, but are not part of your personal vocabulary set. Word will then highlight them as misspellings, forcing you to manually verify each instance of their use.

The process is a lot easier in Word 2007 and 2010 where the exclude dictionaries have been built into Office. You can find your exclude dictionary by following this file path

C:UsersUser NameAppDataRoamingMicrosoftUProof

and locating this file


Open the file in Notepad and add the words you wish to have highlighted for manual review.

In Word 2003, the process is a little more complicated. Not only do you have create the exclude dictionary yourself, you also have to save it in the right place and name it to correspond with the dictionary in use. Check your help menu for troubleshooting should these instructions not work.

Decide which words you want to exclude, and in a new blank document type them in all lower case, one word per line. Click save file as and navigate to the following folder:

C:Documents and Settingsuser nameApplication DataMicrosoftProof

NOTE: You may have to revisit your start menu to show hidden files and folders in order to access the file path. Here’s how you do that.

On the Start menu in Microsoft Windows, click My Computer. On the Tools menu, click Folder Options, and then click the View tab. Under Hidden files and folders, click Show hidden files and folders.

Select the option save as plain text and title the file, Mssp3en.exc. You’ll need to restart Word for the exclusion dictionary to activate.

Obviouslly, creating an exclusion dictionary is not an easy process. You need confidence as both an editor and a technological geek to give it a try. But it’s certainly one response to the embarasing errors that continue to arise in our pubications, no matter how had we try to catch them all.

(Note some instructions taken from Microsoft Office Word Help and Office Natural Language Team Blog.)

P.S. Is your office in need of writing training? I’m booking dates NOW for November and December 2013. Email or call for more information!
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