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Managing and sharing company AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word

Recently my colleagues at Cognitum were asked to help a company give their users access to the company standard AutoCorrect list, and of course an easy way to update it from time to time. Their first stop was Google, where they were surprised to find a lot of frustrated people but no good solutions. Now, you can do it all manually, but it is a time consuming and fiddly process. We talked about it and I decided to have a go at making a good solution. The result was the AutoCorrect Manager which you can read about elsewhere. This blog entry looks at some of the things I learnt about AutoCorrect. There are still gaps in my understanding, so if you can help fill in some of those I’d really appreciate you using the comments section below.

What is AutoCorrect?

AutoCorrect’s main functions are fixing common typos as you type (turning abouta into about a), automatically expanding acronyms (turning csw into Clockwork Software Pty Ltd), and replacing acronyms by formatted text, though in my opinion that last function is better served by AutoText. It has been present in Microsoft Word for over a decade, and over the years has become available in Outlook and other parts of Office.

AutoText is similar but different. Its main function is storing small or large blocks of preformatted boilerplate text for you to insert on demand. AutoText used to have to be selected from a list but since Word 2007 and the introduction of “Building Blocks”, of which AutoText is a subset, typing an acronym and pressing “F3” inserts the preformatted text. I may blog about AutoText and Building Blocks in the future.

AutoCorrect depends on Language

AutoCorrect works off the “language” of the text currently being typed (the language is often displayed on the left of the bottom bar of the Microsoft Word window). The theory is that as spelling varies even within a language (English US and UK have many differences for the same words – centre and center, etc) common typos need to be AutoCorrected correctly. So AutoCorrects are stored in a separate file for each language.

Now that’s the theory. In practise it seems that some English variants use the same files (English-Australian and English-New Zealand) and that the content in them all seems the same – even English UK has some American spellings within it. I’m still not sure if that is the way I have set things up or is actually how it works for the English variants.

However, Word will use the different files according to the language at the point you are typing, so at worst we can correct these files.

Warning: Some of the research I did revealed that it is also strongly advised to have the default language for your computer the same as the default language for Microsoft Office and Microsoft Word. Everything will work if you don’t do this but you are likely to get odd behaviour with languages from time to time if you don’t. Setting the language correctly is outlined in a nice article at Microsoft Word MVP Shauna Kelly’s site – http://www.shaunakelly.com/word/management/australianenglish.html

Viewing the AutoCorrect file for a particular language

AutoCorrect works off the language at the cursor position, so either position the cursor appropriately or mark some text as the desired language. (Select the text, click on the language bar at the bottom of your Word document, and select the language)

The next step depends on the version of MS Word you are using:

  • for Word 2002 (XP) and 2003 go to the Tools menu and select AutoCorrect Options
  • for Word 2007 go to the Office Button in the top left and choose Word Options from along the bottom and you’ll see the AutoCorrect options button near the top
  • for Word 2010 go to the File tab and select Options and then Proofing and you’ll see the AutoCorrect options button near the top.

See the language specified in the blue bar at the top of the AutoCorrect options window? That is the language in use in your current document at the position of the cursor. The screen shot below is from Word 2007 – the tabs vary according to your version of Word.

ACM

Notes:

  • How to change the language – select some text in your document, click on the language displayed on the bottom of your Word window, and select the desired language.
  • Note that if the AutoCorrect list is very small then you probably need to install or reinstall the proofing tools for that language in MS Office.

How AutoCorrect are stored

The two types of AutoCorrect are stored differently.

The text only ones, the ones used for fixing typos etc, are stored in files like mso3081.acl. The number is Microsoft’s code for the language (3081 is Australian English, 1033 is US English). These “mso” files are usually found in the users “\Application Data\Microsoft\Office\” folder. For Windows XP that might be “C:\Documents and Settings\BloggsJ\ Application Data\Microsoft\Office\”. They are typically about 38k in size and have over 900 entries of standard typos and their corrections for the language. I mention the size because sometimes if the language isn’t properly installed they are created with no content so it’s worth checking if you are going to use a file as the basis of an AutoCorrect set you plan to give to your users.

The formatted AutoCorrects are stored in normal.dot.

Sharing AutoCorrect

If you want everyone to have access to the same corporate AutoCorrect lists and have them kept up to date there are several ways to do it.

Real Sharing – not good.

From what I read it is technically possible to put the acl files on a network drive and share them provide you make them read only (ie users can’t make their own AutoCorrect). However people seem to have had issues with this so I won’t recommend it or get into how to do it.

Make master files and copy master acl files and normal.dot to users

Creating “good” acl files for each language you use and a “good” normal.dot and copying them to the other users is a straight forward, if somewhat painstaking way of doing this. The main limitation is that users will lose any AutoCorrect they make themselves each time you update the files.

If you don’t have many languages, or many items on your corporate AutoCorrect, list this is straight forward enough to do. As I said above, users can’t have their personal AutoCorrect.

The AutoCorrect Manager tool

I mentioned at the start in solving this I created a tool to make this process easier – the AutoCorrect Manager.

It lets you keep your master AutoCorrect list(s) in Word documents (company AutoCorrect lists, team AutoCorrect lists, individuals own AutoCorrect lists, etc). You then use the AutoCorrect Manager to merge the AutoCorrect List(s) into the language(s) of your choice. It will add or update AutoCorrect as appropriate. It can also be used to delete items.

Users can do it themselves, or system people can organise all users to have the master “acl” files.

In its current version it deals with the “acl” files only – the ones that hold the 900+ text AutoCorrect for each language. You can read more about it here.

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