The series Microsoft Word and MLA Style shows writers how to use Word to make their essays conform to MLA style guidelines. This post explains how to work with AutoCorrect, spell-check, and the style-settings feature in Microsoft Word.

AutoCorrect, spell-check, and the style-settings feature in Microsoft Word can help writers using MLA style. They can also introduce errors or just get in the way. An earlier post explained how to adjust AutoCorrect settings for ellipses. In this post I explain how to use the helpful features of AutoCorrect, spell-check, and style settings and disable the unhelpful ones. To access AutoCorrect and style settings on a PC, go to File > Options > Proofing. For AutoCorrect, click the AutoCorrect Options box in the Proofing window. For style settings, click the box labeled “Settings” in the section “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word.” To access these settings on a Mac, click Word > Preferences. You will see an icon labeled “AutoCorrect” and one labeled “Spelling and Grammar” (The style settings are in “Spelling and Grammar.”) If those instructions or the ones that follow do not work, consult Microsoft’s website.

Ordinal Numbers

MLA style does not use superscript text in ordinal numbers, so we would write, for example, 1st not 1st. But Word automatically formats the superscript text if you type “1st” and press the space bar. To change this, click the AutoFormat As You Type tab in the AutoCorrect window. Then deselect the box labeled “Ordinals (1st) with superscript.”

Vertical Lists

AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word can help create vertical lists in MLA style. In most versions of Word, the default settings automatically create numbered and bulleted lists after certain keystrokes. If you type “1.” at the beginning of a paragraph and press the space bar, Word creates a numbered list. It creates a bulleted list if you type an asterisk (*) and press the space bar. You can adjust the appearance of the list by right-clicking anywhere in the list. You will see a few options that allow you to change the numbering, indention, and spacing of the list.

If you want to create lists with irregular spacing or appearance, you should turn off the feature that automatically creates lists. In the AutoFormat As You Type tab in the AutoCorrect window, deselect the boxes labeled “Automatic bulleted lists” and “Automatic numbered lists.”

Replace Text As You Type

In the AutoCorrect tab of the AutoCorrect box, there is a list of misspelled words that AutoCorrect automatically replaces if you type them. For instance, it will change “abotu” to “about.” You can add words to this section if you’d like. I would always write “long-standing” instead of “longstanding,” but Word does not consider “longstanding” a misspelling. If I add this pair to the list of things to replace, Word will automatically make the change if I accidentally type “longstanding.” 

Adjusting the Spellchecker

Word uses its own dictionary to check the spelling. And while those wavy red lines under words can be helpful, sometimes they’re a nuisance. If you are writing an essay that uses specialized terms that aren’t in Word’s dictionary, you might want to add those terms to the dictionary. If you right-click on the term and then click “Add to Dictionary,” Word won’t mark the term with a wavy red line.

Adjusting the Style Settings

After you navigate to the style settings, Word will show you options for changing what it flags in your text. You can ask Word to check your writing style as well as your grammar and spelling. In the drop-down menu below “Writing style,” change the setting to “Grammar & Style.” This feature can be useful when writing papers in MLA style. 

For instance, MLA style recommends using a comma before the last item in a series (e.g., “lions, tigers, and bears”). You can tell Word to alert you when you leave out the comma. In the drop-down menu after “Comma required before last list item,” change the setting to “always.” 

You can also tell Word to check for gendered terms. Scroll down to the section labeled “Style.” Check the box after “Gender-specific words.” If you type a word like “businessman,” Word will flag it and suggest “businessperson” or “executive.” The word “businessman” is appropriate if you know the gender of the person you’re discussing. But the word isn’t appropriate when used generically to describe anyone conducting business. This feature is useful because the MLA encourages writers to “avoid making or enabling assumptions about gender” (“How”).

Many other features in that section are also useful. For example, if you check the box next to “Wordiness,” Word will help make your writing more concise. If you type “It was bears that he feared,” Word makes the sensible suggestion, “He feared bears.” However, you should not rely solely on Word‘s suggestions. Always use your own judgment when making stylistic decisions about your writing.

Work Cited

“How Do I Use Singular They?” The MLA Style Center, 4 Mar. 2020,

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Joseph Wallace

Joseph Wallace copyedits articles for PMLA and writes posts for the Style Center. He received a PhD in English literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before coming to the Modern Language Association, he edited articles for Studies in Philology and taught courses on writing and early modern literature.