After Hours

10+ advanced formatting tips for Word users

You can waste a lot of time trying to get a document to look right. These power user tricks will help speed your formatting chores.

Formatting improves the readability of your documents and often provides visual clues to the document's purpose. It's an important part of most every document and users often spend a great deal of time applying formats. These tips will help you work more efficiently and judicially when applying formats.

1: Copy defaults

When copying content from another source, even another Word document, Word retains the source formatting by default. You can eliminate subsequent formatting by applying the destination document's default style during the copy process as follows:

  1. Copy the content from the source to the Clipboard using [Ctrl]+C (or some other route).
  2. In the destination document, position the cursor and then click the Home tab (in Ribbon versions).
  3. In the Clipboard group, choose the Keep Text Only option shown in Figure A from the Paste drop-down. In Word 2003, choose the Keep Text Only option from the Paste Options (smart tag) drop-down after pasting the content.

Figure A

The Keep Text Only option applies the destination document's default style to copied content.

Changing the default, as follows might be more efficient:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options (under Help). In Word 2007, click the Office button and then click Word Options. Choose Advanced in the left pane.
  2. In the Cut, Copy, and Paste section, choose the appropriate option. For example, you might want to retain source formatting when copying from other Word documents, but not Web sites.
  3. Click OK.

In Word 2003, choose Options from the Tools menu and click the Edit tab. You can uncheck the Smart Cut And Paste option or click the Settings button to customize the feature.

2: Insert section breaks

Dividing a document into sections lets you customize formats for a section's content and purpose. For instance, you might want a single page to be in landscape in the middle of a portrait document. Or you might want the header text or page numbering scheme to change for several pages. Using sections, you can apply different formatting as needed.

To insert a section break, click the Page Layout tab and choose a Breaks option in the Page Setup group:

  • Next Page: Starts the new section on the next page.
  • Continuous: Starts the new section on the same page.
  • Even Page: Starts the new section on the next even-numbered page.
  • Odd Page: Starts the new section on the next odd-numbered page.

In Word 2003, choose Break from the Insert menu.

Choosing Next Page creates a problem because Word also inserts a page break. If you don't want a page break, choose Continuous.

For quicker formatting, copy section breaks when formats are identical or similar. Then, tweak as necessary rather than starting from scratch each time. Figure B shows a selected section marker after enabling Show/Hide in the Paragraph group (on the Home tab; in Word 2003, it's on the Standard toolbar). To delete a section, select its code and press [Delete].

Figure B

Display formatting codes to select a section break.

3: Keep it together

To keep two or more words together on the same line, insert a nonbreaking space character between them by pressing [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[Spacebar] instead of inserting a regular space character. The space will look the same, but Word will keep the two words on the same line.

A nonbreaking hyphen works the same as a nonbreaking space but with hyphenated words. If you don't want Word to wrap at a hyphen character, enter a nonbreaking hyphen by pressing [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[-]. When the hyphenated word reaches the right margin, Word will wrap the entire word to the next line if necessary rather than breaking at the hyphen.

4: Format a list

Formatting just the number component in a numbered list is a bit tricky. You usually end up formatting the entire item or list, unless you know this simple trick:

  1. On the Home tab, click Show/Hide in the Paragraph group. In Word 2003, click Show/Hide on the Formatting toolbar.
  2. Select only the Paragraph mark at the end of the line.
  3. With the paragraph mark selected, apply formats. As you can see in Figure C, only the 2 changed color because we selected only the paragraph mark for that item.

Figure C

Selecting the paragraph mark is the key to formatting only the item's number.

To format more than one number, but not all of them, hold down the [Ctrl] key while selecting markers. To format all of the numbers in the list, without changing the format of the actual text, click any number in the list to highlight all of the numbers. Word will extend the format to new items. Formats applied to the entire list will take precedence over formats applied via the paragraph marker.

5: Remove formats

Removing formats isn't hard, but there's more than one way to get the job done. When you want to remove a single format, you probably select the text and click the appropriate option; most of them work as toggles. You might display the Format dialog and uncheck options when you need to delete more than one format.

If you want to strip all of the formatting, there's a quicker method: Select the text and press [Ctrl]+[Spacebar]. This shortcut removes all the character formatting except what's defined by the underlying style. To remove just the paragraph formats, press [Ctrl]+Q.

6: Keep styles from updating

Word lets you update a style when you add formatting to text. This behavior can be troublesome if users don't understand it, so you might want to disable it as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab.
  2. Launch the Styles dialog. In Word 2003, click the Styles And Formatting tool on the Formatting toolbar.
  3. Find the style.
  4. Choose Modify from the style's drop-down or right-click the style.
  5. Uncheck the Automatically Update option shown in Figure D. (This option isn't available with Word's default style, Normal.)

Figure D

Disable a style's automatic updating behavior to protect styles.

By default, Word doesn't set this option for built-in styles, but users often accidentally enable the feature. Don't enable this behavior when basing a new style on an existing style or creating a new one unless you have a specific reason to do so.

7: Adjust the default line spacing

Word 2007 and 2010 use a 1.15 line spacing setting. That's great if you publish a lot of content to the Web. If not, you can change the default to 1 as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab.
  2. Right-click Normal in the Styles Quick gallery and choose Modify.
  3. Choose Paragraph from the Format list.
  4. In the Spacing section, change the At setting from 1.15 to 1, as shown in Figure E.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Check the New Documents Based On This Template option. If you don't want to change the template, skip this step.
  7. Click OK.

Figure E

Reset the default Line Spacing option to 1.

8: Eliminate extra paragraph spacing

Another change to the latest versions is the increased spacing between paragraphs. It's not a blank line that you could easily delete. If you don't like that much space, you can modify it as follows:

  1. Click the Home tab.
  2. Click the Paragraph group's dialog launcher (the small arrow in the lower-right corner).
  3. Check the Don't Add Space Between Paragraphs Of The Same Style option.
  4. Click Set As Default, as shown in Figure F.
  5. Click OK.

Figure F

Use this setting to reduce extra white space between paragraphs.

9: Save formatted text as AutoCorrect entries

AutoCorrect reduces data entry and corrects typos, but it can also apply formatting. Simply save the appropriately formatted text as an AutoCorrect entry, as follows:

  1. Enter and format the text. For instance, enter Backyard Wilderness and italicize it as a title.
  2. Select the formatted text.
  3. Click the File menu, choose Options, and then click Proofing in the left pane. In Word 2007, click the Office button, click Word Options, and then choose Proofing in the left pane. In Word 2003, choose AutoCorrect Options from the Tools menu.
  4. Click the AutoCorrect Options button in the AutoCorrect Options section. (Skip this step in Word 2003.)
  5. Word will fill the With control with the selected (and formatted) title.
  6. Click the Formatted Text option.
  7. Enter bw in the Replace control, as shown in Figure G.
  8. Click Add.
  9. Click OK twice (just once in Word 2003).

Figure G

To insert the formatted title, type bw.

10: Use Find And Replace to change formatting

You probably use Word's Find And Replace feature to replace characters, but you can use it to change formatting. For example, you might want to change all instances of bold to italics, as follows:

  1. Press [Ctrl]+H.
  2. Click the Find What control and click More.
  3. From the Format drop-down, choose Font.
  4. Select Bold in the Font Style list and click OK.
  5. Click the Replace With control and click More.
  6. From the Format drop-down, choose Font.
  7. Select Italics in the Font Style list and click OK. As you can see in Figure H, Word displays the specified formats under both controls.
  8. Click Replace All.

Figure H

Replace one format with another using the Replace option.

You can use Replace to remove an unwanted format by leaving the Replace With control empty. Or you can quickly format all occurrences of the same text by entering that text in the Find control. For more ways to use these options, see 10 cool ways to get more from Word's Find and Replace feature.

11: Eliminate sticky borders

If you type three hyphens and press [Enter], Word will replace them with a solid line that extends from the left to the right margin. Sometimes this line sticks to the text or the bottom of the page no matter what you do to try to delete it. This happens when you enter the three hyphens directly under text; Word attaches the border as a paragraph format.

To quickly remove this sticky border, click inside the paragraph and choose No Border, as shown in Figure I, from the Border drop-down in the Paragraph group. In Word 2003, this option's on the Formatting toolbar.

Figure I

You can quickly remove a sticky border.

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About

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.

37 comments
ssharkins
ssharkins

Thank you all for the positive comments. I'm so glad so many of you found these tips useful!

AllTheGoodNamesAreTaken
AllTheGoodNamesAreTaken

Would it a killed ya' to throw a bone to us Mac Word "power users" who yearn for a few advanced formatting tips of techniques? Nice article, overall, but a few "Mac equivalents" would have been a bonus.

jstubing
jstubing

MarkM in Atlanta, I have a suggestion for you which will make all those ribbons a non-issue - CUSTOMIZE YOUR TOOLBAR! Like you, I was very comfortable with the menus in 2003, which were MUCH easier than the damn ribbons on 2007 and beyond. When I finally figured out how to customize my 2007 toolbar, 2007 became much more "2003esque". Here's how: ---Click on the MS OFFICE LOGO in the upper left corner of Word. ---Select WORD OPTIONS ---Select CUSTOMIZE ---ADD the buttons you want ---REMEMBER TO CHECK THE SHOW QUICK ACCESS TOOLBAR BELOW THE RIBBON BUTTON There's alot of other good stuff in Word Options too.

rjdbnet
rjdbnet

In Word 2003 (That's right, 2003. So there.), getting the text in the last page's footer different from in other pages drives me bananas. I fumble with linking and stuff, and stumble on getting it right when I really have to. And no, I am not going to take a Word course; that would take more time than fumbling.

jean.gerrekens
jean.gerrekens

Well, tip 4 is quite a revelation. I usually struggled through the auto-n umbering menus and ended creating a new format (with adequate font, stroke, and colour), but this is so simple and straightforward - a real time saver. Thanks a lot!

kevfor
kevfor

You left out my favorite & most often used time saver. Ctrl + Shift + C = Copy Format; Ctrl + Shift + V = Paste Format. Much quicker than using the paint brush icon, and unlike the icon, the paste feature remembers the last format copied so it can be used over and over again within the same document. Great list!

codemonkey1
codemonkey1

Regarding forcing consistent use -- most managers are clueless

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

...are common knowledge to anyone who's put out the effort to learn Word. This isn't to say Word doesn't have problems, some of which stem from excessive automation, and Microsoft's laxness in allowing the coders to modify how the program works. I don't see any word-processing program can be "intuitive" -- especially when formatting text. There are -- such as selecting a column of text -- that are not and cannot be "intuitive" -- you simply have to learn them.

arsh1121
arsh1121

Very Nice, Some features are really new for me Thanks

ProfessorLarry
ProfessorLarry

The introduction of Tool Ribbons was a giant step backward in interaction design that robbed power users of many productivity tools (like dockable, customizable tool palettes). In some cases there are still alternative shortcuts. To paste without formatting, a much easier way than futzing with the Tool Ribbon: just Ctrl+V (Paste), then Ctrl (opens contextual dropdown), then T. Ever so much easier and faster, hands on the keyboard all the time.

DAS01
DAS01

The best solution would be for WordPerfect to be bought out by MS and MS developers to swallow their pride and fold Word into WordPerfect, or at least offer WP-style working in the new Superword.

briesmith
briesmith

Microsoft WORD is extremely powerful; so much so that some commentators say 5% of users or fewer use more than 10% of its capabilities. It's possible to blame Microsoft for what could be described as over-engineering but that seems to miss the point to me. WORD is ubiquitous; most of us use it but very, very few of us have ever had any formal training and have just picked it up as we have gone along. This has led inevitably to wide variations in practice and widespread ignorance of the product's capabilities. In office life today we have an egalitarian approach - except where statutory obligations apply like in catering, hairdressing and similar occupations - to getting on with things such that nobody tells anybody what to do and how to do it. Users are just left to get on and, in this case, use WORD however they prefer. The answer to improving WORD's behaviour is, therefore, twofold; formal training and enterprise wide standards with best practice monitoring. Employers don't let staff set-up their own ledger systems or other business processes and neither should they let them adopt a DiY approach to text creation..

sparent
sparent

Having installed Office 365 on my Surface Pro and home desktop, I'm looking forward to Susan's upcoming Word 2013 tips.

Netteligent
Netteligent

I would suggest the following: Use popular Microsoft Word 2010 as example Additional references so we can use. Word wraps around picture.

WinHaven
WinHaven

Thank you for these tips. Spot on. #4 is one that I have missed and could have many times over the last few years!

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

My problem is saving defaults in Word 2010. First, I have to open the actual template to save any default settings, autocorrects, etc. That's fine for original documents -- but when I paste even plain text from another document or app, or open someone else's doc, my autocorrects, macros and defaults are gone. I've tried un-and-reinstalling, and recreating normal template. Is there anything I can do? I used Office XP for many years and never had any of these problems. I miss my macros!

hazclan13
hazclan13

Howdy, Any reason you mention Word 2003 a lot in this article?

Avishandor
Avishandor

Susan, Thank you for the useful tips in this and other posts. It's been very helpful so far. Keep up the good work as they say, and thanks again.

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

Those are excellent ideas for power Word users, who have managed to handle the non-intuitive thinking and mechanism within Word. Most regrettably, for casual users any kind of Word formatting is fraught with unpredictable results. It gets even scarier when a document gets shared amongst several authors. So, the safe approach is to not use formatting, period. Or...use WordPerfect, at least they got it right the very first time.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I don't support Mac at all. Sorry I can't be more helpful for you Mac users! Maybe some nice reader will supply your bonus! :)

SirWizard
SirWizard

My Word 2003 menuing configuration contains a great many custom toolbar buttons that did not include their own native associated graphics. I created my own button graphics, and they serve me excellently. Any attempt to build the same functionality with the Word 2007 (and later) QAT (Less-Slow Access Toolbar) places a colored dot as the button graphic. There is no way to edit the graphic to distinguish the functionality of, say, 8 green-dot buttons. (Or 40.) That is one of many reasons that I continue to use Office 2003. If I could have a fully customizable menu and toolbar interface (per 2003) as an option with later Office versions, I and MANY other users would be happy to update (purchase) a later version for some of the additional features. But with a crippled interface, it's not worth the grief. [This is not a criticism of jstubing, who is trying to provide the best help available in a tough situation.]

SirWizard
SirWizard

A good tip from kevfor, but here's a slight addition. If you're copying the same format to several different locations, and your left hand gets uncomfortable with Ctrl + Shift + V: 1. Select the source format text. 2. Double-click the Format Painter toolbar button. (Not the ordinary single-click.) 3. Paint the format to each of your target items. 4. When you're done, press Esc (or single-click the toolbar button.)

ssharkins
ssharkins

Unfortunately, training isn't always supplied -- management thinks these tools are so simple anyone can learn them and use them. The truth is, with just a bit of training, their users would be working much more efficiently. You can't imagine how often I hear, "I didn't know you could do that!" :)

SirWizard
SirWizard

In Word 2003, we have fully customizable toolbars. Assign this tiny macro to a toolbar button. (I placed the button just to the right of the standard Paste button.) Sub PasteUnformatted() On Error Resume Next Selection.PasteSpecial DataType:=wdPasteText, Placement:=wdInLine End Sub Copy the graphic from the standard paste button and recolor it a bit so it's easy to see which is which. Instead of shaded yellow, mine is shaded green--for Go!

adj1
adj1

Easiest of all, and the only good thing I have to say for Word 2010 (can't even remember earlier ones now) is copy to clipboard position mouse cursor right click - and you get four options, which you can just try out, using CTRL-W to remove ones that do not work

ssharkins
ssharkins

I love Word, but I use it daily and often use its advanced features. There's nothing like doing it "wrong" to impress upon you how to do it correctly! :) We've all done it! However, I do think that most people with even a small amount of computer experience can open Word and create a quick document with little to no trouble. There are features that are problematic, but not because they don't work but because the average user has a hard time applying them correctly -- that's where Word could use some real improvement. For example, styles are great, but if you don't learn the details and use them correctly, you're going to be pulling your hair out! It shouldn't be that difficult. It's the number one complaint I hear from users, so there's something there... there's definitely room for improvement.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'll be writing about 2013 soon -- anything in particular you'd like to see?

ssharkins
ssharkins

All figures and first-mentioned instructions are for 2010.

SirWizard
SirWizard

The AutoCorrect entries reside in a separate file that covers all of Office. They are not within the templates. But AutoText entries (called building blocks or some such thing in recent Office editions) do reside in templates (such as Normal.dotx).

ssharkins
ssharkins

We took a poll last month (over on the Windows/Office blog) and a lot of people are still using 2003. Trying to support 4 versions now is a bit... it can be a bit awkward. We're doing our best! I'm not quite ready to leave the menu folks behind.

rjdbnet
rjdbnet

I, too, appreciate pointers for 2003. If later versions ever do something I need, I'll move. Until then, Windows 8, which is not compatible with 2003, languishes behind the multi-boot, with Windows 7 my default OS.

MarkM_in_Atlanta
MarkM_in_Atlanta

I am glad Susan did include Word 2003. (1) I use it a lot and know how to use it much more fluently than Word 2010. (2) I cannot justify buying a newer version just because it is newer. (3) I despise the ribbon interface, and it sometimes takes me two to three times as long to do some things because I can't find where the functions were moved or what their new name/term is now called. Change can be good. Too much change can be counter-productive.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm glad you found the tips useful!

sparent
sparent

Given I'm a fairly savvy Word user, I prefer to learn about the new things or new ways to do things. Certainly integration tips with Windows 8 and SkyDrive would be good.

SirWizard
SirWizard

The reason you can't find things in Word-after-2003 is because commands have been moved to illogical places, or simply have been removed and aren't anywhere to be found. Beyond that, the ribbon makes fully functional customization (with understandable graphics) impossible. Of course, that's after you recover from repetitive stress injury to the carpal tunnel from clicking your pointing device to death.