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These three features of Microsoft Word often get confused with each other. Partly this is because they share some functions, and partly because the settings for each used to all be in the same place. Hopefully these notes will help ease the confusion. First I briefly explain each and then I talk a bit about suggestions for using them, especially when functionality overlaps.

 

AutoCorrect

AutoCorrect is best known for automatically fixing typos and spelling, and expanding acronyms into plain text. It can also be used to expand acronyms into formatted text or blocks of text. There are several AutoCorrect options you can set in Word (or Excel etc.):

  • Capitalise the first letter of sentences, table cells, and names of days (Monday etc.)
  • Change two capitals to one if you start a word with two capitals – "if YOu start a word" automatically becomes "if you start a word"
  • You can also choose to automatically use suggestions from the spell checker

AutoCorrect uses a file for each language you use to store the AutoCorrect text items (eg MSO1033.acl), and the “active” AutoCorrect file is the one associated with the language at the cursor location in your document. The formatted items are stored in one language independent list in normal.dot (or normal.dotm).

Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and other Microsoft Office applications you have all share the same text AutoCorrect files (like MSO1033.acl which is US English). The formatted items in Normal.dot are only available to MS Word. Outlook uses NormalEmail.dot for its formatted AutoCorrect.

AutoText

AutoText is also used for storing formatted blocks of text. For both AutoCorrect and AutoText the formatted text can include quite complex formatting. In Office 2007 and 2010 acronyms can be associated with AutoText items and can be semi-automatically replaced by the AutoText item. In Office 2007 and 2010 AutoText is part of a much bigger collection of components to build documents called “building blocks”.

A key difference between AutoText and AutoCorrect is that AutoText items can stored in any template. Normal.dot is the default location but you can create AutoText to go any template. This means you can keep job specific AutoText in templates for that task only.

AutoFormat

AutoFormat is quite different from AutoCorrect and AutoText. There are no lists of items. It is all about layout settings. You can have them automatically applied or just there in the back ground.

It includes things like built in heading styles, automatic bulleted lists, list styles, smart quotes, turning fractions into the fraction character (1/2 to ½), dashes to hyphens, making hyperlinks automatically work as a link.

I’m not going to get into detail on this just yet – there is quite a bit to say.

AutoCorrect or AutoText – which one to use

  • Always use AutoCorrect for correcting typos automatically
  • Use AutoCorrect to expand acronyms into plain text, except when you have an acronym that you sometimes don’t want expanded, and you have Word 2007 or 2010. In this case use AutoText. This example explains why.
    • A client likes to expand mini to Ministry of XYZ. If this is done in AutoCorrect it is always awkward to talk about the mini cooper car as you have to cancel the AutoCorrect (easily done with control-Z but if you don’t notice it is a pain). Using AutoText for this in Word 2007/2010 allows you to have Word ask if you want to expand it like it does when you start typing a date.
  • Formatted text. You can use both AutoCorrect and AutoText for formatted blocks of text. In Word 2002 and 2003 you had to use AutoCorrect if you wanted an acronym to change to the formatted text. In Word 2007 and 2010, AutoText can have acronyms and you also get prompted as above.
    • My recommendation is:
      • In Word 2007 and 2010 use AutoText (part of Building Blocks)
      • In Word 2002 or 2003 use AutoText unless you absolutely need the acronyms.
      • An important consideration here is that formatted AutoCorrect is always stored in Normal.dot while AutoText can be stored in other templates. This is important because when Word has a problem support people often delete normal.dot and you lose all your AutoCorrects. So if you put formatted text in AutoText and save it to a different template you are generally better off. However, with the AutoCorrect Manager you can easily restore your formatted AutoCorrect to normal.dot, so it isn’t a big deal.