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Share a Single Custom Dictionary


Wouldn’t it make your publication production faster and more accurate if everyone shared the same custom spelling dictionary, one that contained the correct (but unusual) spellings of words used in your field? Creating such a custom dictionary is step one, adding words to it is step two, and then sharing it with everyone is step three. Each step involves a few ins-and-outs that could be tricky, so I’ll spell it out. (heh.)

(By the way, the technique I outline should work with CS3 or CS4 of InDesign or InCopy. It might also work with earlier versions … I don’t have any installed at the moment to check, though.)

Create a Custom Dictionary

While InDesign allows multiple users to read (check against) the same dictionary, only one user can write to it, that is, add words to it or edit existing ones. To everyone else, that dictionary will be locked. So choose someone on your team to be the Keeper of the Dictionary – the KoD – and give that person a commensurate boost in pay and perhaps a royal robe and scepter.

The KoD should create the dictionary in their copy of InDesign and save it to the server. Here’s how:

1. In InDesign, open the Preferences dialog box and go to the Dictionary panel.

The top of the panel, shown below, contains a list of the dictionaries that this copy of InDesign is currently using, in the order that InDesign should check words against. Most likely you have just a single dictionary showing here, the default one for your operating system language.

2. Click the icon for New Dictionary (the usual dog-eared paper icon) right below the list of dictionaries, as shown above.

3. In the New Dictionary dialog box, name and save the custom dictionary. You should save it to a folder on your local network fileserver (where other members of your team can access it), with a name like AcmeDictionary.udc. The “.udc” means it’s an InDesign/InCopy dictionary.

4. Click OK to close the dialog box. You now see two dictionaries listed in the panel, the default one and the new one.

Now, when you run a spell check in InDesign, the program will check the default dictionary first to see if there is a word match. If not, it will check the custom dictionary for a matching word. Only if neither one contains the word will it flag it as unknown (i.e., a possible misspelling).

So far, though, the second dictionary is empty, it has no words. We’ll fill it up in the next step.

Add Words to the Custom Dictionary

As the dictionary’s creator, only the KoD can add words to or edit the dictionary on the server. Everyone else will be able to use it, but they’ll see a lock icon indicating it’s read-only.

Here’s how the KoD can populate the custom dictionary with your company’s special words.

1. In InDesign, select Edit > Spelling > Dictionary to open the Dictionary editing dialog box.

2. Choose the name of your custom dictionary from the Target dropdown menu.


3. If you have a custom word list already saved in a text file, you can click the Import button (in the same dialog box) and point to the text file. Otherwise, enter words one by one in the Word field, clicking the Add button after each one.

Typically, the KoD imports a custom word list into the company dictionary to start with; and as time goes by, he or she periodically adds new words to it as necessary. When a colleague comes across a word that should be added to the custom dictionary, they won’t be able to add it to the customary dictionary; so they send it to the KoD for the next update. (Creating a single Buzzword “add these words to our dictionary” document on that all team members can add to would be a great way to manage this.)

Share the Custom Dictionary with Your Team

To complete the process, it’s a simple matter of having each member of your publication team connect to the new dictionary. As soon as they do so, their copy of InDesign or InCopy will automatically check both the default and the custom dictionary just as it does on the KoD’s computer. This will occur with every layout they open or create from then on, until they change the dictionary preferences again.

The KoD is already set up. Everyone else needs to do the following:

1. In (each person’s copy of InCopy or) InDesign, open the Preferences dialog box and choose the Dictionary panel.

2. Click the icon of a plus symbol (which is to the right of the New Dictionary icon) to add a dictionary to the list.

3. In the Add User Dictionary dialog box, navigate to the server, select the custom dictionary file, and click OK.

Their preference panel should look the same as the KoD’s:

That’s the basic process – not too complicated, just a little confusing because of the two different “Dictionary” areas. If you can remember that Preferences > Dictionary is to add, remove, or create the dictionary files themselves, while the Edit > Spelling > Dictionary area is for editing the contents of dictionaries, you’ll be far ahead of the game.

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @amarie
  • James Fritz says:

    Great summary!

    I have always referred to the KoD as DN or Dictionary Ninja.

  • John McKercher says:

    I tried playing with a custom dictionary but I ran into a whole mess of trouble when I passed off the file to someone else.

    I created the new dictionary but when I passed off the file and it was opened by someone else who did not have the new dictionary loaded all the text reflowed because now the word breaks were different. Is there no way to embed this new dictionary into the file without having to have the other person manually load the new dictionary?


  • John, you bring up an excellent point.

    You can embed the list of words from your custom dictionary into the document. Turn on the Merge User Dictionary Into Document checkbox in Preferences > Dictionary. As soon as you click OK, the magic happens. ;-)

    When another user (who doesn’t have access to your custom dictionary) opens the layout, they’ll see all your custom words in their Edit > Spelling > Dictionary dialog box (with the name of the document selected as the Target dictionary). These words only appear within your document, not any others on their system or that they create.

    A side effect is that the command embeds ALL the words from your custom dictionary and user dictionary into the file, not just the ones used by the document. Keep that in mind if your custom dictionary is huge.

  • Bob Levine says:

    I’ve always referred to the KoD as the PtB…the Person to Blame. :)

  • Dwayne says:

    I’ve been toying with the idea of doing it from the server for a while now. It has gotten tiresome updating my list, exporting it, and then importing it on a dozen machines.

    I am going to make sure, though, that all the computers connect to the server at start-up, as sometimes folks don’t access the server for a new job until they back-it up. I want ID to grab that dictionary right away just in case.

    And for a question, what does the checkbox “recompose all stories when modified” do? I’m guessing that checking that means that the story will reflow and rebreak depending upon the dictionary that one user and that one doesn’t. Or does it mean the story will recompose when words are added automatically? When should that be checked?

    I ask because there are times when I add a few words to a specific document (i.e., hyphenation breaks for certain names or places), and I don’t see a need to add it to the main dictionary. But I want that to go with the document. I understand the “merge” checkbox feature, but it’s the other that has me wondering. We had an instance where I think both were checked on a different machine and things went wacky.

  • “Recompose all stories when modified” is kind of like the Paragraph Composer. It means whenever you add/remove/edit words from any dictionary, InDesign won’t just re-check and update the current story’s spelling and hyphenation, but all stories in the document. If you have many many stories then you may see a slowdown when you edit the dictionary. This option is ON by default in CS4, I’m pretty sure.

    If it’s off, stories don’t get recomposed until you actually click in them (activate them). I’m 90% sure. ;-)

    You can *force* a recomposition of the entire layout at any time with the default keyboard shortcut Control-Alt-/ or on a Mac, Command-Option-/.

  • Dave2theC says:

    I love this idea, as my company has many unique names for products and botanicals that do not spell check well. I have created a Custom Dictionary and placed it on the a server. Another user has loaded it without any problems, but when I ad words to it, it is not updating on their end. Do they have to delete it and readd it for an update?

  • Dave, have them use the Recompose All Text keyboard shortcut (Control-Alt-/ or Command-Option-/). According to online help, that should do that trick. If that doesn’t work, then they’ll need to restart InDesign.

    Let me know if the Recompose command worked for you!

  • Remember that the first person to open the shared dictionary becomes the KoD. To prevent that, the “true” KoD should put it in a shared folder that they have read/write access to, but everyone else only has read-only access.

  • David, great idea.

    In case others reading this are getting confused … As David says, the first person to open the shared dictionary gets “dibs” on it, meaning they’re the only ones who can edit it … add words and such. Everyone else can only read it, that is, have their copy of ID/IC include its words in their spell checks.

    But what does it mean to “open” a shared dictionary? It means you’ve added it to your Preferences > Dictionary and InDesign is running.

    If the “true” KoD (the person who has the scepter) isn’t running InDesign, then the first person in the network to start up their own copy of ID becomes the new KoD. Unless the dictionary file is stored in a protected directory, that other person could edit the dictionary as much as they wanted to.

  • Dwayne says:

    Thanks for the advice and clarification, Ann-Marie. At my work, it wouldn’t be an issue as to who opened it first (thankfully).

    I’m gonna keep “recompose all stories when modified” unchecked on all the machines. I’m in book publishing, and it would be a disaster if it was checked and words were added, and then suddenly there was reflow in the final stage.

    I think for my work flow, just having the dictionary travel with the document is the way to go.

    Thanks again.

  • I am testing Incopy on two Macs. On the “Indesign” Mac all normal dictionaries show up under the preferences. In the “Other” Mac only one dictionary, an English one shows in grey. The missing hyphenation is causing us misery at the moment.

    I am not referring to the user dictionaries, but to the dictionaries that I assume are included in the software.


  • Terri says:

    I am testing a custom dictionary to be used by a work group. Much of our work is editing existing documents. I found that even after selecting the dictionary in preferences, it is not recognized by the document unless I add a word to it.

    How can I get existing documents to use the custom dictionary without modifying it?

  • Hi Terri … which version of ID are you on?

    And what do you mean by “they don’t recognize the dictionary”? It’s a little vague to me, sorry. What exactly are you expecting to happen that’s not?

  • Terri says:

    I am using CS4.

    By not recognizing the dictionary, I mean words that are in my custom dictionary still show as being spelled incorrectly. If I add a word to the custom dictionary, then all words already in my custom dictionary not be underlined in red (that is, not show as being spelled incorrectly.)

  • Steph says:

    OK, I am the KoD. I created a customer dictionary for my team at work, rolled it out yesterday so everyone could add it. I added a few new words after my co-workers tried it out, and now today I am locked out and can’t add any new words. There’s a little lock next to it in the Preferences, and when I go to Edit > Spelling to add words, it won’t let me add them that way, either. Where did my KoD power go? How do I get it back?

  • Mike H says:

    We are using CS5, and running the 7.03 version. I am the KoD, DW (Dictionary Weeny). We had a custom dictionary from our CS3, and tried to just repoint that in CS5, but didn’t work, so exported the word list, and after many crashs, deleted any odd characters from the word list, and “purified” it so it was in several sections. Is there some limit to the number of entries a custom dictionary can have? We really don’t have THAT many, and we are still getting consistent crashing whenever we copy this custom dictionary to the local mac, as IDCS5 just freezes, and the ball spins and spins, and then we force quit, and uninstall the custom dictionary, and it’s fine. The regular language dictionary works w/o a problem, but we have a LOT of specific words and product names in our custom dictionary, so it’s now back to long delays in spell checking during our pre-flight process. Any ideas?

  • Wow. I have not heard of any problems with CS5 and custom dictionaries specifically, and don’t know of any (new) limitations.

    You’re creating a new custom dictionary from scratch in ID CS5’s Preferences panel, right? And then importing your word list into it?

    What happens if you import a word list of just ONE word. Does that work?

    btw I’m assuming for testing purposes you’ve also disabled any 3rd party plugins, rebuilt prefs and are fully patched to the latest CS5 bug fix.

  • Mike H says:

    As far as 7.03 goes, we are updated. Just saw that 7.04 was out there, so not in that yet. Have to get permissions, etc. from the IT folks…

    When the CS3 dictionary didn’t work by just repointing it with CS5, I exported the old word list, and started fresh in CS5, and importing our old list. Had to do this in chunks, which I thought was odd, as our old CS3 dictionary was OK, and could add, etc. w/o issues.

    Will try the one-word import, too. CS5 Prefs were rebuilt, and we use AutoPrice, and Sonar plugs, but those are the only ones, and are both updated to current CS5-compat. versions.

    IDCS5 immediately stops the freezing and crashing as soon as I delete the custom dictionary and relaunch (don’t even restart), so I have been thinking it’s the cause. I will check the fonts, but they have so far, been OK. We use Font Agent Pro.

    Will export the word list, and start over. I mostly wanted to know it was worth the time investment, and not some buried bug. If no one at IDS has heard about any bugs, then that makes me feel better with spending the time.

    Thanks for the feedback. IDS ROCKS!

  • Sandi says:

    Does anyone have information on a custom dictionary including phrases? We produce catalogs and are looking for it to accommodate our nomenclature. Therefore not just single words, but common phrases too.

  • Dave says:

    I want to import about 50,000 names into a user dictionary. The idea is that when we spell check, it will stop at a name and provide names under the suggested spelling dialog box. How can I “fool” spell checker to stop at most names and give me the first and last name as well as the title of close matches?

  • Jen Seguin says:

    I’m trying to create a custom dictionary for hyphenation that my team can share. I’ve created the UDC, but when I try to add words to it, it doesn’t appear in the drop down menu. In the instructions, it indicates to select the newly created dictionary from the target drop down but I only have “User Dictionary” in there. Help!

  • @Jen: In Preferences > Dictionary, do you see your new dictionary in the list?

    • Mike Ballinger says:

      I know Anne-Marie that this is an old article but I have to say the dictionary thing has plagued me for years. So many times I’ve added words to a custom dictionary that seems to be completely ignored while using the spell check dialogue box. It never occurred to me that I had to set it up in preferences first. This has been revolutionary for me, now I can run a spell check and skip past all the client specific words and Irish place names, happy days :)

  • Jen Seguin says:

    Hi Anne-Marie,
    The issue is fixed now. Not sure if this is why, but I couldn’t add words to it while it lived on my desktop. Once I moved it to a network folder, it appeared in my drop down and I can now add words to it.

  • Raja, Gejaraj says:

    I tried to share the UDC file into another user, but not working, could anyone advise on this? I’m using InDesign CS6.

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