How to Use MS Word for Proofreading (with examples and guidelines)

If you plan to write business or technical documents, it helps to know how to proofread the document before you send it out. We’ve all seen that one typo that undermines the quality of the writer. It suggests they may have rushed the material or didn’t pay enough attention when revising the text.

So, let’s look at how to proofread a document.

General Proofreading tasks

When you edit a document, pay attention to errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and usage. Also check for consistency in style, formatting, and technical accuracy.

Here are some other examples of what you need to check:

  • Capitalization errors: Not capitalizing proper nouns, such as product names. Capitalizing words that should not be capitalized. Also, pay attention to words spelt in CamelCase.
  • Consistency in style and formatting: Make sure that all headings are the same style, all paragraphs are indented the same amount, etc.
  • Grammatical errors: “I done it” instead of “I did it”, “they was” instead of “they were”
  • Misspelled words: “Their” instead of “there”, “to” instead of “too”, “its” instead of “it’s”
  • Punctuation errors: Missing or incorrectly placed commas, periods (full-stops), semicolons, colons, apostrophes, dashes (en v em)
  • Technical accuracy – ensure the material is technically sound and has been verified by subject matter experts.
  • Usage errors: Using the wrong word, such as “affect” instead of “effect”

How can you improve the structure or organization of the document?

  • Proofread for only one type of error at a time. For example, check for typos first. Next, check that the material flows correctly.
  • Read aloud. When you hear the text, you’ll notice awkward phrasing, poor construction, repetitions, which you’d probably miss if read silently. Read aloud to force yourself to pay attention and stop your mind from wandering – which can happen when reading to yourself…
  • Read backwards. Start at the end and work towards the first line. This help you focus on individual words and punctuation marks.
  • Create a proofreading checklist. Print it out and check off each item as your review the document.
  • Take breaks. Don’t try to proofread the ENTIRE document in one go. Instead, work on it for 15 minutes or so, take a break, then start again. If you try to read it in one go, you’ll just scan the text rather than critically reading it. That’s why we often see mistakes the next day.

Proofreading Tools

So, what tools can you use to proofread your document?

You can use different tools, including:

  • Spell checkers: These will catch some (but not all) misspellings. If your text contains multiple languages, it may skip past certain typos. Make sure to watch out for this if you’ve copy/pasted text in from another languages. If you want you document to be the same language, CTRL + A, then click Languages on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Mark the selected text in your preferred language. Spell checkers sometimes flag correctly spelled words as errors, and miss errors in homophones (i.e. “their” and “there”).
  • Grammar checkers: While these catch some grammatical errors, such as subject-verb agreement, they are not always accurate, and can sometimes flag correct sentences as errors.
  • Plagiarism checkers: These help identify instances of plagiarism but are also inconsistent, and sometimes flag legitimate use of sources as plagiarism.
  • Style guides: These provide guidelines on grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and usage. For technical documents, I’d recommend Microsoft’s Style Guide for Technical Publications.

Here are other proofreading tools:

  • Grammarly: Checks for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style errors. It also offers suggestions for improving the clarity and conciseness of writing. Can cause issues with MS Word in terms of performance.
  • ProWritingAid: Offers suggestions for improving the clarity and conciseness of writing.
  • Hemingway Editor: Web-based writing editor highlights text that is hard to read and suggests ways to improve it.
  • QuillBot: Paraphrasing tool that can help you improve the clarity and conciseness of your writing. It rewrites your text while preserving its original meaning.

How to Use MS Word for Proofreading

Microsoft Word has several features that can be helpful to proofread documents.

  • Spell checker: Go to the Review tab and click on the Spelling & Grammar button. Word highlights any words that it thinks are misspelled. Click on the suggested correction or type in the correct spelling.
  • Grammar checker: Go to the Review tab and click on the Grammar Check button. Word highlights any sentences that it thinks have grammatical errors.
  • Track Changes: Track the changes you make to a document. This can be helpful if you are proofreading a document with someone else or if you want to be able to see the changes you have made over time. To use Track Changes, go to the Review tab and click on the Track Changes button.
  • Comments: Leave notes about the text. This can be helpful if you want to point out errors or ask questions about the document. To add a comment, go to the Review tab and click New Comment. Word will insert a comment balloon in the document. You can then type your comment in the balloon.
  • Reading pane: This can be helpful if you are proofreading a long document or if you want to focus on the overall flow of your document. To open the Reading pane, go to the View tab and click Reading Pane.

Advanced proofreading tactics

Here are some advanced proofreading tactics that you can use to improve your skills:

  • Change environments. This helps you catch errors that you might miss if you were proofreading in the same place all the time. For example, you could proofread in a quiet room, in a noisy room, or even in a different location, such as a coffee shop.
  • Different times of day. Proofreading at different times can help catch errors that you might miss if you were proofreading at the same time of day all the time. For example, you could proofread in the morning, in the afternoon, or even at night. I’d suggest to avoid proofing at night and never after you’ve had a drink. You really need to focus when proofing.
  • Try different tools. Mix it up. This might help catch errors you might miss if you were using the same tool all the time.
  • Pair Reviews. Proofreading with a partner can help catch errors you might miss if you proofreading alone. You can do this either in person or online, for example, using Teams.

Here are some additional tips that you can follow:


Don’t try to review all in one go. Know your limitations. Pay attention to the types of errors that you tend to make, such as misspellings, grammatical errors, or punctuation errors. Then, focus on proofreading for those specific errors.

A proofreading checklist make sure you don’t miss anything. In addition to proofreading for errors, also proofread for technical accuracy.

Finally, proofread your document to make sure it achieves its purpose. Does it communicate its message clearly? Follow these tips and you’ll become a more effective proofreader.