You can beef up Microsoft Word with the right Microsoft Word add-ins.
Microsoft Word packs a lot of features and functionality into one single application. But there’s always room for more. Perhaps you wish Word included a built-in dictation feature that converted your speech into text. Or maybe you’d like a Word feature that reads your documents aloud to you. Or perhaps you’d like a built-in translator that can translate your text from one language to another. Well, Word may not include these items, but you can tap into them by installing an add-in. Add-ins provide greater functionality and flexibility to an Office application so you can do so much more with the program.
You’ll find an array of Word add-ins through Microsoft’s online Office Store, but I’m going to highlight what I think are some of the top and most interesting add-ins to give you a head start. We’ll look at Dictate, an add-in that lets you dictate your documents directly into Word; TextAloud, an add-in that reads your text aloud to you; Read My Document; another add-in that reads your text to you; Translator, an add-in that can translate text in your document between different languages; Collins Dictionary; an add-in that offers a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a translator with audio pronunciation; and Wikipedia, an add-in that lets you access the online encyclopedia site without leaving Word.
Windows 10, 8.1, and 7 already come with built-in speech recognition and dictation. But now there’s a new kid on the block. A Microsoft Garage project, Dictate is a free add-in designed for Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Tapping into the technology behind Cortana, Dictate uses speech recognition to convert your words into text. After installing this add-in, launch Word and you’ll see a new menu called Dictation. Click on that menu to display the Dictation toolbar.
Click on the Start button in the Dictate toolbar and begin speaking. As you dictate, you can see the text as interpreted by the Dictate add-in appear in the Response field next to the Start button. You can speak punctuation marks and other non-alphanumeric items, such as periods, commas, and quotes. You can say “new line” or “new paragraph” to move to a new line or paragraph.
The add-in supports 29 spoken languages and can handle real-time translation to 30 languages, so you can speak your text in one language and have it converted into the text of a different language. So, how did Dictate fare? Not as well I had hoped, at least initially. In my testing, Dictation got a fair number of words wrong and was no more accurate than Windows own Speech Recognition feature (which you can access from Control Panel). But the more I used Dictate, the more its accuracy improved. So, if you’re willing to put some time into training it, Dictate is definitely worth trying.
Here’s an add-in I’ve used for years to help me proofread and edit my documents. TextAloud reads your text aloud to you, so you can listen for any mistakes and hear how your documents sound. After you install TextAloud, open Word and click on the new TextAloud menu. From the TextAloud toolbar, you can opt to hear your entire document, the part starting from the cursor, or only selected text. You can pause, stop, and resume the speaking of your document. You can also alter the speed at which the voice speaks.
TextAloud isn’t free. The software by itself costs £29.95. If you want more natural sounding voices, you can add two AT&T Natural Voices for an additional £25. But if you need a reliable tool to help you listen to and verbally proofread your documents, TextAloud is worth the price.
Want a no-frills but free add-in that can read your documents to you? Read My Document fills that bill. Add Read My Document to Word. You have to trust the add-in and follow a few more steps. You then control it from the right pane and can access it by clicking on the Insert menu and selecting My Apps from the Add-ins button. Select the text you wish to hear or select the entire document and then click on the Read selected text button. You can pause or play the reading. The voice used by Read My Documents doesn’t quite have the smoothness of the AT&T Natural Voices but it’s not bad. It has a certain accent to it that makes it pleasing to the ear. You can’t switch voices or control the speech as you can with TextAloud. But for a free program, Read My Document is quite effective.
Using the power behind Microsoft’s own Translator app, the free Translator add-in can translate text in a document into a different language. After adding Translator, you’re prompted to open Word and trust the program. You can then access it by clicking on the Insert menu and selecting My Apps from the Add-ins button. The program pops up in the right pane. Choose the source and target languages. Select text in your document or select the entire document, and Translator displays the translation in the right pane. You can change the target language, and the displayed text automatically switches to your new language. Translator is a cool and convenient tool if you need to translate text on the fly.
This helpful and free add-in provides a dictionary, thesaurus, and translator in one package, and can even pronounce words for you. Add Collins Dictionary from its page at the Office Store and then open it in Word. After you trust it, the add-in appears in the right pane. Select a word in your document, and the dictionary serves up a definition. In some cases, you can click on a speaker icon to hear the word spoken aloud.
Click on the link for the Thesaurus, and Collins offers synonyms for the word you selected. Then click on the Translator link, select a source language, and Collins translates the text into your chosen language, courtesy of Microsoft Translator.
Yes, you can always access Wikipedia directly from the Web. But this free add-in provides access to the online encyclopedia within Word. After you add Wikipedia, the usual right pane pops up. Writing about a specific topic, and want to learn more about it? Just type a word or phrase in the search field and click on the search icon, or just select text in your document. The program displays the Wikipedia entry about your subject. Scroll down the pane and you’ll find more information and a link to expand the article to get even more details. Clicking on a link within the article brings you to a new article corresponding to the link, and all within the same pane. If you use Wikipedia as a source of information, you’ll find this a helpful and handy add-in.