Keep it clean: A simple macro for format-free copying

Your Word students have learned to cut and copy text. Now teach them how to avoid pasting unwanted formatting in their documents—and show them how to record a macro to handle the task. Here are two lessons for the price of one.

You've taught your students how to save time using the Clipboard, and they're copying and moving text between documents with confidence. But sooner or later, they're going to run into an unfortunate side effect: Formatting travels with the text they bring in from other sources, cluttering their documents with unwanted styles and unexpected attributes. And if users paste Web page content into a document, they may wind up with a confusing mess of table cells, links, and fields.

So, along with that lesson in pasting, you might throw in a quick demo on using the Unformatted Text option in the Paste Special dialog box. This relatively obscure option will save your students untold headaches when they're building documents from copied text. In fact, this little gem is SO useful, it deserves its own toolbar button. Even if your classroom is filled with novice users, you can lead them through the simple macro recording process to create a custom Paste Unformatted button, doubling their proficiency with one quick exercise.

Let's start with a look at the benefits of the Unformatted Text option. Then, we'll walk through the steps for creating the button.

Leave those formats behind
Web pages offer one of the most compelling (and real-world) ways to demonstrate why it's sometimes better to paste unformatted text into a document. Start by displaying a nice frame-heavy Web page in your browser and copy some or all of its content. Then, switch back to Word and click the Paste button on the Standard toolbar. You should wind up with suitably ugly results, such as those shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Pasting Web content often results in a lot of extraneous text.

After everyone's had a good look, click Undo to remove the pasted content. Then, choose Paste Special from the Edit menu and select Unformatted Text, as shown in Figure B. Click OK, and Word will insert the text without table cells, links, and fields, as shown in Figure C.

Figure B
To paste a cleaner copy of the Clipboard contents, select Unformatted Text.

Figure C
Using the Unformatted Text option, we were able to paste the content without the unwanted formatting and extra elements.

Recording session
When you've demonstrated how the Unformatted Text option works, you can repeat the process—only this time, with the macro recorder running. Make sure there's something on your Clipboard (from a previous copy operation). Then, just follow these steps:
  1. Choose Macro from the Tools menu and select Record New Macro.
  2. When the Record Macro dialog box opens, type PasteUnformat in the Macro Name text box and make sure the Store Macro In option is set to All Documents (
  3. Click Toolbars to open the Customize dialog box, shown in Figure D.

Figure D
When you click the Toolbars button, Word will open this dialog box.

  1. Click on the procedure name in the Command list and drag it to the toolbar location of your choice.
  2. Word will create a button and label it with the procedure name. To replace that too-long label with an image, right-click on the button and choose Default Style from the shortcut menu. Then, right-click on the button again and choose Change Button Image. Pick the image you want to use from the palette of icons.
  3. Click Close to exit the Customize dialog box. A special toolbar will appear, and the pointer will change to let you know your actions will be recorded.
  4. To record the macro, choose Paste Special from the Edit menu, select the Unformatted Text option, and click OK.
  5. Finally, click the Stop button on the Stop Recording toolbar.

That’s it! Now, you can set up a few copy-and-paste situations and demonstrate the macro. Simply position the insertion point where you want the copied text to appear and then click the new button to instantly insert it—without any unwanted formatting.
Does the mere mention of the word "macro" send your students into a panic? What techniques have you used to help them overcome their fears? Share your strategies by posting a comment below or sending us a note .


Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox