Microsoft Word's three autos

Boon to Lawyers or Nuisance?

By Ernest Schaal

There are three “Auto” functions in Microsoft Word that are useful in creating legal documents.. They are AutoCorrect, AutoFormat, and AutoText. These three functions can help lawyers or they can be nuisances. There is a fourth ‘;Auto” command (Auto summarize)but I have never found it particularly useful in a legal setting. AutoCorrect does what its name implies. It automatically corrects common typos as you type command (AutoSummarize), but I have never found it particularly useful in a legal setting. Auto correct does what its name implies. It automatically corrects common typos as you type.. It works by checking each word you type by looking up that word in a database of misspelled words. If it finds that word in the database, it automatically replaces it with an associated “correct” word. For instance, both “abbout” and “abotu” would be replaced with “about,” and both “wouldnt” and “wouldn;t” would be replaced with “wouldn’t.” The database also contains shortcuts: if you type “(c)” you will get the copyright sign if you type “(r)” you will get the trademark registration sign “”; and if you type the word “i” you will get “I.” In addition to handling misspelled words, AutoCorrect also corrects two initial capitals (e.g., CApital), capitalizes the first word of d sentence, capitalizes the days of the week, and handles accidental use of the Caps Lock key All this is done automatically.

The advantage of AutoCorrect is that it corrects typos as they occur. The disadvantage is that what Microsoft considers a typo might not be what you consider a typo. For instance, if you refer to 35 U.S.C. *102c) you don’t want 35 U.S.C. *102 (E). When Microsoft converts “(c)” to ” ” You Can convert it back to “(c)” by hitting the Backspace key. Another problem is that, if you want to refer to subsection (i), you don’t want (I). (The backspace key does not work for i to 1. Instead, type, ix, or i with another character, then delete the extra character.) If you never want Microsoft to make those conversions, select Autocorrect from the Tools menu and delete the entries “(c)” and “i” from the dialog box. That dialog box can also be used to add misspellings that you normally make. For instance, you can add “usc” as the misspelling and “U.S.C.” as the correction.

The second “Auto” feature is “AutoFormat,” which automatically formats text according to set rules. Depending upon the settings selected, it will apply formatting to headings, tables, borders, automatic bullet lists, automatic numbering lists. Other options include replacing “straight quotes” with “smart quotes,” ordinals first with superscripts (1st), etc. AutoFormat works when you type and/or when the menu option Format/AutoFormat is selected.

I find Autoformat to be more of a nuisance than a help, since Microsoft’s ideas of preferred formatting differ radically from mine. The conversion of straight quotes to smart quotes is sometimes useful because smart quotes look like quotes in printed materials rather than typewritten quotes, but that option must be used with caution. Sometimes, converting the straight quotes to smart quotes is undesirable, like when you are describing height (5’2″) or when you are typing something that will be pasted into an email message. To change that option, use the menu option Tools /Autocorrect, select the Autoformat as you type tab, and deselect the option for smart quotes.

The third “Auto” feature is “AutoText,” This feature allows you to enter text by typing a keyword, then AutoText types the whole word or phrase. Like AutoCorrect, this feature uses a database of words and phrases, For instance, in a patent practice, the word “select” could result in “selected from the group consisting of” and the word “incorp” could result in “incorporated by references for all purposes.” Autotext operates differently from Autocorrect. When you type the first four characters of the key phrase, it suggests the full word or phrases. If you press the Return key, the phrase is entered. If you press anything else, the phrase is not entered.

The fact that AutoText suggests a phrase instead of automatically inserting that phrase is its most enduring feature, because sometimes you might want to type the keyword “select” instead of typing in “selected from the group consisting of.” To enter a phrase into the AutoText database, select the text you want entered, then use the Tools>AutoCorrect, select the Auto text tab, and enter the keyword for that phrase. Another way to use AutoText is to select words or phrases from the AutoText toolbar and to make entries by clicking on the New, button on that toolbar.

Either way You use AutoText, you will probably find it handy and, with time, you will probably develop a full database of AutoText entries in the same way you used to develop a large set of macros when using WordPerfect 5.1. Although Microsoft Word also supports macros, AutoText is an easier way of entering boilerplate language. Of the three “Auto” features, AutoText is definitely the best.

Ernest Schaal is a sole practitioner in Mill Valley, California, with a practice focusing on intellectual property law.

American Bar Association

Law Practice Quarterly

June 2000