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A common goal of many team members is to be able to produce a polished and professional report in a single draft. Unfortunately, there is no writing equivalent of the ‘one take wonder’. Even professional writers with years of experience need to review their draft several times and polish their work to achieve a highly professional result.

The good news is, Microsoft Word does offer several wonderful inbuilt tools that many team members overlook. Here are our top 3 recommendations.

1. Right click to your heart’s content. We all have days when we struggle to find the right word. If you’re not happy with the word you first come up with, right click on the word and hover over the arrow next to Synonyms until a list of alternatives appears. Not every word has synonyms listed in Word, but many do. For example, for ‘get’ we have ‘make’, ‘find’ or ‘get hold of’.

If you’re not happy with any words on the first list you’re offered, choose one of the words listed and then search for synonyms for that word. For example for ‘find’ there is ‘obtain’, ‘discover’, ‘get’, ‘uncover’, ‘understand’ and ‘locate’.

Another way to explore words is to use the thesaurus which you’ll find in the Review tab.

2Use the grammar checker. Running a spell check is essential on any document. We recommend you also set the grammar checker to Grammar & Refinements rather than grammar alone. To make it easier to spot errors, and avoid excessive eye strain, we also recommend you use the zoom function to increase the font size. 

The refinements feature checks for clarity, conciseness, formality, punctuation conventions as well as vocabulary. If you’re confident with most of these aspects, you can customise your search (e.g. check for conciseness only).

3. Check your document’s readability. Long sentences are one of the biggest killers of readability. A quick way to check your average sentence length is to enable the readability feature in Microsoft Word.

Step 1. Go to File > Options.

Step 2. Select Proofing.

Step 3. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, select the Check grammar and refinements and Check spelling boxes.

Step 4. Select Show readability statistics.

Once you have enabled this feature, you can check the spelling by pressing F7 or going to Review > Spelling & Grammar. When Word finishes checking the spelling and grammar, a statistical summary about the reading level of the document will be displayed on your screen. The summary includes Counts (e.g. total word count), Averages, and Readability.

Under the Averages heading, check your average sentence length is between 15 and 20 words. If it’s over 20 words, go back to your draft and look for any sentences over 30 words (sentences that run over 2 lines or more).

Although these are wonderful inbuilt tools in Microsoft Word that help you save time, there is no substitute for manually reviewing and editing your report several times. This will help ensure the report comes across as polished and professional.

Does your team need writing skills training? Find out about our blended learning programs. Email patricia.hoyle@concisewriting.com.au or phone 02 9238 6638.