How do I... Turn off overtype with the Insert key in Word permanently?

This blog post is also available in PDF form in a TechRepublic download.

Life is full of little annoyances, many of which we can do little about but grin and bear it. But that doesn't mean we have to put up with these little annoyances from our computer applications. For example, Microsoft Word 2003 has this annoying little habit of flipping to the overtype mode while we are not looking. This is caused by an inadvertent touch of the Insert key on our keyboards. The functionality is a hold-over from the mainframe/terminal era of computing and is not really necessary for personal computers. This TechRepublic How do I... shows you two ways to turn off the Insert key overtype functionality in Word and goes on to suggest a compromise that will make the situation less annoying but allow you to toggle the overtype mode on and off if you wish.

Do you have an annoyance you would like to see a TechRepublic How do I... blog post remove from your already tense life? We'd be happy to do it; just let us know what it is in the discussion thread to this post. Be sure to let us know what you wish the application in question did instead of the annoying thing it does now and if it is possible, we will write up a solution for you. Better yet, if you have solved an annoyance, please share it with us and, assuming it solves a common annoyance, I'll make it worth your time and effort.

Turn it off

The first method for turning off the Insert key overtype function comes from the Web site annoyances.org. The method uses the Word macro language to circumvent the normal operation of the Insert key, which is a little heavy-handed, but it definitely works. Navigate the Word menus to start a macro recording by clicking Tools | Macros | Record New Macro. You should see the screen shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Record new macro
Change the name of the new macro to something like "DoesNothing" and then click the Keyboard button. Click the cursor in the Press New Shortcut Key box and press the Insert key (Figure B). Click the Assign button and then click the Stop Recording button to stop and save the macro.

Figure B


Now when you press the Insert key, it does nothing.

Another way

You don't have to record a new macro to turn off the Insert key overtype functionality in Word; you can merely change the keyboard shortcut associated with the Insert key. Right-click on an empty part of a Word toolbar and then click the Customize menu item to reach the screen shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Click on the Commands tab and then click the Keyboard button to reach the screen shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Keyboard shortcuts

In the Categories list box, choose All Commands. Then, in the Commands list box, choose Overtype. Note that the current keyboard shortcut is the Insert key. Click Insert in the Current Keys box and then click the Remove button. There you go — no more inadvertent toggle of the overtype mode is possible because there is no keyboard shortcut anymore.

A compromise

There is, of course, another option to consider. There may come a time when you want to toggle on overtype mode in Word. With the previous two methods, you will have to reverse the process to retrieve the functionality. A better idea might be to change the associated keyboard shortcut to something that is much less likely for you to inadvertently type. So instead of removing the keyboard shortcut, you change it to something like Ctrl+Shift+Insert, as shown in Figure E. Just click the Assign button and now you can avoid the inadvertent overtype but still have access to that feature when you want it. Thus, you are removing one annoyance without creating a new annoyance later.

Figure E

A new keyboard shortcut

You may be wondering about Word 2007. Apparently, Microsoft got the message that the Insert key toggle for overtype was annoying and changed the default in 2007. The Insert mode is off.


Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.

Editor's Picks