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Office Q&A: How to replace direct formats with styles in a Word document

Skip the manual mess. Use this quick method for replacing direct formatting with styles in your Word docs.

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Janet inherited a legacy document that needs some updating. If the original author had used styles, the task would be simple, but that's not the case. Most of the document has been formatted using direct formats. Fortunately, the task isn't as daunting as you might first think; Janet doesn't have to manually update each instance—phew!

I'm using Word 2016 desktop on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but the techniques used apply in older versions. This technique won't work in Word 365's browser edition. You can work with any document or download the demonstration .doc or .docx file.

With styles

Let's pretend, for a moment, that the author had used styles so you can see why I'm such a strong proponent. Figure A shows a simple document with some body text in Normal and subheadings in Heading 2.

Figure A

2016121a.jpg
Let's change the appearance of the subheadings.

First, you can modify the style itself by right-clicking Heading 2 in the gallery, choosing Modify, and then resetting options. If the style isn't visible in the gallery, it takes a bit more work. Reformatting one instance and then updating the style accordingly might be a bit quicker. To illustrate this route, let's change Heading 2's font size and color as follows:

  1. Select a single instance of the appropriately styled text.
  2. Use the Font Size control to change the font size to 18.
  3. Use the Font Color control to change the color to red.
  4. After changing the appropriate formats, right-click the style in the gallery.
  5. Choose Update Heading 2 to Match Selection (Figure B).

Figure B

2016121b.jpg
Update the style.

As you can see in Figure C, the change updates all instances of Heading 2 text. In such a simple document you could manually change two subheadings with little effort, but in a long document with many instances, manually updating each one would be tedious and subject to errors. For example, you might accidentally choose the wrong size or color or even miss some instances altogether.

Figure C

2016121c.jpg
Modifying the style updates all instances of that style in the document.

Keep in mind that direct formatting still takes precedence. If someone had applied direct formatting to any of the styled subheadings, Word would retain the direct formatting if the modification to the style was in conflict. For instance, if you had changed the font size of one of your subheadings to 8, Word wouldn't change the font size for that text when you modified the style's font size.

SEE: 10 Things: How to use Word templates effectively

Without styles

Now, let's move on to a solution that Janet can use and perhaps convert a few non-style believers. But first, the subheading Without styles is a bit misleading. Whether you realize it or not, you are always using a style; Normal is Word's default style. The mistake some people make is using direct formatting, instead of styles, to change Normal's appearance. To illustrate, Figure D shows the headings as Normal (check the gallery) with direct formats. As a result, changing all of the subheadings at once is a two-step process:

    • First, we'll use Word's Replace feature to find all instances of the direct formats and apply a style.
    • Then, we'll use the Select option to select all headings with similar formatting and remove the direct formatting, leaving the newly applied style in place.

    Figure D

    2016121d.jpg
    Direct formatting was used to distinguish the Normal-styled headings.

    We'll begin by applying the Heading 2 format to all text with the font Ar Blanca 20 in dark blue. The feature won't actually replace the formats, but rather, it will apply the specified style to all text matching the formats specified as find criteria. To get started, do the following:

    1. Press [Ctrl]+H to open the Find And Replace dialog.
    2. Click inside the Find What control.
    3. Click More if necessary to display additional options.
    4. Click the Format dropdown at the bottom-left and choose Font (Figure E).
    5. In the resulting dialog, select the appropriate formats (Figure F) and click OK when you're done. In this case, noting only the font, Ar Blanca, is adequate because we haven't used that font elsewhere. You might have to include additional formats to narrow the find criteria.
    6. Click inside the Replace With control. Do not skip this step!
    7. From the Format dropdown, choose Style.
    8. In the resulting dialog, choose Heading 2 and then click OK. If a style exists that you want to use, great! Don't worry if the style is in use elsewhere. You can also create the new style beforehand and specify it.
    9. Back in the Find And Replace dialog (Figure G) click Replace All. You could also choose Find Next if you need to pick and choose certain instances. Click Yes to confirm the task. If your cursor was in the middle of your document, you might have to click Yes a second time.
    10. Close the Find And Replace dialog to return to your document.

    Figure E

    2016121e.jpg
    Access fonts.

    Figure F

    2016121f.jpg
    Specify the fonts you're searching for.

    Figure G

    2016121g.jpg
    When the font Ar Blanca is found, Word will apply Heading 2.

    This step applied Heading 2—but remember, the direct formatting takes precedence. So at this point, the directly formatted headings still look the same. However, if you click them, you'll see that the applied style (in the gallery) is now Heading 2 and no longer Normal.

    That brings us to step 2:

    1. Select any instance of the directly formatted text.
    2. In the Editing group (on the Home tab), click the Select option.
    3. From the dropdown list, choose the Select All Text With Similar Formatting (No Data) option (Figure H).
    4. With all of the directly formatted instances selected, press [Ctrl]+[Spacebar] or click Heading 2 in the gallery. Either method will remove the direct formats, leaving the Heading 2 attributes, as shown in Figure I.

    Figure H

    2016121h.jpg
    Select all instances where the applied style is Heading 2.

    Figure I

    2016121i.jpg
    Remove the direct formatting.

    Granted, in this simple document, manual efforts would be quicker than this solution. Janet's document has dozens of instances, so this solution is much faster for her than manual changes. In addition, changes might not be as easily managed. You might work with a document that requires more effort and steps, but in the end you'll end up with a stable document you can easily update.

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    About Susan Harkins

    Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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