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10 annoying Word features (and how to turn them off)

Word can be a little unruly sometimes, making inexplicable changes, inserting text you didn't ask for, and hijacking your formatting. Here are some common stunts that Word tries to pull on unwary users, along with a cure for each one.

One of the most common complaints about Microsoft Word is its insistence on taking control of the wheel. Many users get completely blindsided by some of Word's automatic changes, and even the more experienced among them often just live with Word's shenanigans because because they don't know how to disable them.

If you've gotten more than your share of support calls from users trying to wrestle Word into submission (or pulled out your own hair on a few occasions), the list below will help you quickly cut Word down to size.

A few things to keep in mind: First, many of the options you need are located in the AutoFormat As You Type tab. A similar set of options exists in the AutoFormat tab -- but disabling those won't do you any good with Word's on-the-fly changes. Users sometimes don't make that distinction and can't understand why the changes are still happening after they thought they'd turned off the necessary settings.

Second, some of these options may actually sound appealing to your users but might currently be disabled. You can use this list to help them selectively activate the features they want, not just to turn things off. It's not always the features themselves that are annoying -- it's just not knowing how to control them.

And finally, Word 2007 offers the same feature set described here, but accessing the options is a little different. The section at the bottom explains how to find them in that version.

This information is also available as a PDF download.


Cheap solution: Undo

If you haven't had a chance to disable an automatic feature (or you want to leave it enabled and override it only occasionally), remember that pressing Ctrl+Z or clicking the Undo button right after Word makes a change will undo that action. So, for instance, if Word inserts a smart apostrophe where you want to retain the straight character to denote measurement, just hit Undo to straighten it back out.


The annoyances

Behavior How to turn it off
#1: Word creates a hyperlink when you type a Web page address. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Under Replace As You Type, deselect the Internet And Network Paths With Hyperlinks check box and click OK.
#2: Word changes capitalization of text as you type it. A host of settings can trigger this behavior. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoCorrect tab. Here, you can deselect whichever check boxes govern the unwanted actions:

  • Correct Two Initial Capitals
  • Capitalize First Letter Of Sentences
  • Capitalize First Letter Of Table Cells
  • Capitalize Names Of Days
  • Correct Accidental Use Of Caps Lock Key

#3: Word inserts symbols unexpectedly, such as trademark or copyright characters or even inserts an entire passage of text. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoCorrect tab. This time, find the Replace Text As You Type check box. Either deselect it to suppress all replacements or select and delete individual items in the list below it.It might make sense to keep the feature enabled and selectively remove items, since the list includes scores of common misspellings that are actually nice to have corrected for you.
#4: Word superscripts your ordinal numbers, such as 1st and 2nd. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Ordinals (1st) With Superscript check box and click OK.
#5: Word converts fractions into formatted versions. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Fractions (1/2) With Fraction Character option.
#6: Word turns straight apostrophes and quote marks into curly characters. Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Straight Quotes With Smart Quotes check box and click OK.
#7: When you try to select a few characters within a word, the highlight jumps to select the entire word. Go to Tools | Options and click the Edit tab. In the right column under Editing Options, deselect the When Selecting, Automatically Select Entire Word check box and click OK.
#8: When you type three or more hyphens and press Enter, Word inserts a border line. Go to Tools | AutoFormat and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Border Lines check box and click OK.A similar option exists for inserting a table, but it's generally not going to sneak up on you: When the Tables check box is selected, typing a series of hyphens and plus marks before pressing Enter will insert a table (with the hyphens representing cells). You can turn off that option if you think you might stumble into an unwanted table insertion.
#9: Word automatically adds numbers or bullets at the beginning of lines as you type them. There are two flavors of this potential annoyance. First, if you start to type something Word thinks is a bulleted list (using asterisks, say) or type 1, a period, and some text, it may convert what you type to bulleted or numbered list format when you press Enter.To prevent this, go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Then, deselect the Automatic Bulleted List and/or Automatic Numbered list check boxes and click OK.A related aspect of this behavior is that once you're entering automatic list items, pressing Enter will perpetuate it -- Word will keep inserting bullets or numbers on each new line. To free yourself from this formatting frenzy, just press Enter a second time, and Word will knock it off.
#10: When you type hyphens, Word inserts an em dash or an en dash. If you type a word, two hyphens, and another word (no spaces), Word will convert the hyphens to an em dash. If you type a space before and after the hyphens, it will convert them to an en dash.To disable this feature, Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and select the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Hyphens (--) With Dash (-) check box and click OK.

Bonus fixes

Word may cause your users some additional grief in various other ways besides automatic behaviors. It goes a little something like this:

User: My document if full of weird code stuff and my pictures are gone. Culprit: Field code display has been toggled on. Solution: Suggest that the user press Alt+F9 to restore the display of field code results. User: I'm seeing gray brackets around a bunch of my text. Culprit: Bookmark display has been enabled. Solution: Go to Tools | Options and select the View tab. Then, under the Show options, deselect the Bookmarks check box and click OK. User: I'm typing and everything in front of the cursor is disappearing. Culprit: The evil Overtype mode has been activated. Solution: Go to Tools | Options and select the Edit tab. Then, under Editing Options, deselect the Overtype Mode check box and click OK. (It might be quicker to double-click OVR on the status bar, if you can point the user to it.) User: Everything's gone, all my toolbars and menus and everything -- there's nothing here but text. Culprit: The user has landed in Full Screen view. Solution: Direct the user's attention to the Close Full Screen View button at the bottom of the window (depending on the version) or tell them to press Alt+V to display the View menu. They can then select Full Screen to turn off that view mode and return to familiar territory.

Accessing the options in Word 2007

All the settings we've discussed here are accessible via the Office button in Word 2007:

  • To get to the AutoCorrect dialog box, click the Office button, select Word Options at the bottom of the menu, and choose Proofing from the pane on the left. In the pane on the right, click the AutoCorrect Options button, and Word will display the AutoCorrect dialog box containing the AutoCorrect and AutoFormat As You Type tabs.
  • To get to editing options, click the Office button, select Word Options at the bottom of the menu, and choose Advanced from the pane on the left. Word will display Editing Options at the top of the pane on the right. In that section, you'll find the When Selecting, Automatically Select Entire Word check box and the Use Overtype Mode option. If you scroll down to the Show Document Content section, you'll find the Show Bookmarks check box.
  • The successor to Full Screen view in Word 2007 is Full Screen Reading view. Users shouldn't get stuck there, but if they do, the Close button in the upper-right corner of the window will take them back to Print Layout view.


What inscrutable Word behaviors top your list of annoyances? Do you have to address the same points of confusion over and over with your users?

About

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.

123 comments
JRTremblay
JRTremblay

There is an unwanted  character( the # 1) in the upper left border of my document. I cannot highlight it to delete it. It is persistently there, event in my printed documents. Any clues of how to get rid of this character? 

JRTremblay
JRTremblay

There is an unwanted  character( the # 1) in the upper left border of my document. I cannot highlight it to delete it. It is persistently there, event in my printed documents. Any clues of how to get rid of this character? 

cneimeis
cneimeis

When I try to make a change to the format of any part of a document, Word applies that format to the whole document! EXAMPLE: I have a document about done. I decide to reformat the heading title to Arial Black 16, so, I hilight the title, select the Arial Black font and then select the size 16 fontsize. When I click OK, THE ENTIRE DOCUMENT BECOMES ARIAL BLACK 16!!! Ctrl-Z will undo everything but the title...BUT>>>I have to notice that the rest has changed!!! Same thing with numbering, bullets, etc. How do I "turn this off"???

tech trog
tech trog

It seems that the default in Word 2010 is to continue numbering in non-contiguous lists. Is there a way to change this? Every time I link or merge docs into a book, I have dozens of lists to reset to start numbering at 1. There must be a default, but I can't find it.

nrepoz
nrepoz

After a client changes printers, one of the most frequent calls I get is: "I'm trying to print a document and the job keeps going to the bypass. I didn't tell the printer to print it there. Why does it do this? Something is wrong with the printer! It won't print right." If you specify this in the Word Page Setup and then save the document with those settings, it will override any printer settings you are trying to use. You have to go in to the document and change the settings in Page Setup. It's a Word thing, NOT a printer thing.

janitorman
janitorman

Ever since the "ribbon" came out I certainly won't use word. I use OpenOffice or Abiword, they are MUCH simpler and do a much better job much more quickly for most tasks. Save the occasional ms Office use for when something won't format in one of those, and have someone ELSE that uses it every day for you, as the current versions certainly aren't intuitive and require months if not years of training to use!

leej79
leej79

There are some auto numbering features that are useful to have, and I appreciate how to turn these features off. But there is one gripe I have which actually has NO workaround. I use a numbering format of 01, 02, 03... etc because then it is easy to reference the elements. So I set a numbering format as such. The problem arises when I get to 10, 11, 12. Word, in its infinite wisdom, decides it is appropriate to use 010, 011, 012.... Why on earth would anybody put a '0' in front of every number? The only reason one would do this for single digits, is to keep the number of digits consistent for consistent indentation and reference numbers. While I appreciate that Microsoft may not have considered this when coding the software, what really winds me up is that there is no workaround. I cannot restart a new list from 10 onward in a new format of 10, 11, 12. Since 10 follows 9, no matter what I do, if I try to put 10 after the ninth point in my list, Word autoformats it so that I get the annoying 010. If I try to change this, the whole list changes so I get 1, 2, 3.... etc. There is literally no way around this, I have tried all of the Auto correct options, etc. So this is definitely an annoyance, and in my books a BUG. The interesting thing is that in earlier versions of Word (pre-2007) I was able to use workarounds for this (i.e. I would start a new list from 10, and Word wouldn't force it to be the same style as the list from 1-9). If anyone can tell me a workaround (though I highly doubt there is one), that would be great. If Microsoft fixed this, that would be even better (but I doubt this even more).

mark.holman
mark.holman

It just depends on what you need for the document, I simply ignore it, and go on every person may respond differently, so you need to use this guide if someone wants to tweek the settings for their own daily computing needs. But for school we have an add on for report writing, and responses on line, installed a APA writing add on for reports, etc.

NexS
NexS

Though there are only a few of these 'annoyances' that I'd action. Needless to say, that's 'only a few' more than before I knew how. Cheers!

nweinfeld
nweinfeld

Wonderful article. I wonder if it's been updated for Word 2010? I'm going from Word 2002 to Word 2010 which is proving to be a near-quantum leap (as is going from XP to Windows 7).

Bernie Ethier
Bernie Ethier

Very good information; however I don't see the one annoyance which is bugging the #@&$ out of me right now. I am editting a document and Word keeps inserting a double line (whatever the correct term is for it). I don't know what it is or how to get rid of it. -- Bernie Ethier 11/09/10

michelle bolger
michelle bolger

I have just moved to word 2007 and am being driven mad because the format painter - which I use all the time - has started to misbehave. It no longer works properly when format painting user-defined outlined numbering styles that I have been using for years . Worse than just not working properly, it spontaneously changes the indenting for the style and appies it throughout the document and then it won't undo. The only soluiton I have found when it has happened is to correct a paragraph using the paragaph dialogue box and then updating the style to match the corrected selection. Having done all this you are back to how the style was in the first place. Not only do I not want to lose the format painter option but I use it so automatically that I forget the problem until everying jumps and then it's too late. I've tried turning off every autoformat or autocorrect option that coudl be related but no joy. Has anyone got any ideas?

Les.Abnett
Les.Abnett

Headings - Word in 2003 and also 2007 annoyingly has corrupted Heading 4. There are numerous refernces to this on the internet. A fresh install of 2007 resolved the issue, bbut opening a prviously corrupted document resurfaced the issue, which is extremely difficult to overcome.e.g 1 then 2 then 2.1 then 2.1.1, then 2.1.1.1. Word chnages 2.1.1.1 to 12.1.1.1. Grrrr!!!!

Trae76
Trae76

Hi, I hate the angry electronic violin sound that I'm subjugated to when I use the 'replace all' feature in MS Word (2003). Going to tools-->options-->general & unchecking the 'Provide feedback with sound' box didn't work, nor did selecting 'none' as the sound scheme for various potential system-based candidate sound effects. Help! I want to kill...KILL!!!!

Birdlady(r)
Birdlady(r)

Solution #5 for "Word converts fractions into formatted versions -- Go to Tools | AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab. Deselect the Fractions (1/2) With Fraction Character option." Unfortunately in MS Word for Mac 2004, there is no such option. I can find no option anywhere for stopping this conversion. Can anyone help? I'm using Mac OS 10.5.8 ...

ElijahKam
ElijahKam

The most annoying thing about Word 2007 is that very frequently it says that it is not working and that it will send a request to Microsoft for a solution. Of course it never does. Also when I click on a doc or docx file, Word 2007 says it cannot find it. Actually I found that the first annoyance can be eliminated by turning off AutoRecovery. As for the second, call up the document with WordView or Quickview, which never have trouble finding the document, and then click on send to the editor. What a bunch of kludges!

rconway
rconway

Press the Insert key. Yup, that's it. Insert toggles Overtype on and off.

martin
martin

I type July 15, 2009 followed by Enter Word gives me July 15, 2009-07-15 This only seems to happen with the current date, and boy, is it annoying. Until you know ALWAYS to check, the dates at the top of your letters look plain stupid: and your correspondents blame you, not Word.

Jordon
Jordon

A majority of the comments here were made in 2007. I didn't realize it until I went to comment on B.Balvocius 100% acceptance of MS's way of doing things. Then I saw that he posted it on 7/10/2007.

scottknitter
scottknitter

"Straight apostrophes and quote marks" are neither apostrophes nor quote marks: they're foot and inch marks. Unless you're using a typewriter typeface, they need to be curly or slanted...whatever the typeface calls for. In other words, they need to be quotation marks.

skelly@baltimorecountymd.gov
skelly@baltimorecountymd.gov

Great, thank you for the feature fixes. Has anyone experienced the Word 2000 dictionary arbitrarily changing to French?

hiretireddds
hiretireddds

Since recently setting up a new computer, including MS Word 97-2003 Document, I find that word automatically does the following strange things. 1) When alt+tab back to a Word.doc, Word adds a dozen or more spaces from the place where the cursor is located within the document. 2) When deleting a character, or adding a space, Word will automatically delete a varying number or characters ahead of the cursor. What's up?! C

ssylvanowicz
ssylvanowicz

One more in all of the dictionaries for spell checking... I cannot remove the auto conversion of HSI to HIS. Every time I type HSI it automatically converts to HIS as in a biblical reference. And I am typing HSI for High Speed Internet, since this is my industry it is extremely annoying and unavoidable unless I turn auto spell check off!

petegraham
petegraham

This article needs to be rewriten for Word 2007. Most of this is old hat and really only applies to Word 2003.

rhmercer
rhmercer

When I start Word I get a dialogue box labelled:- File Conversion - ~$neReader8.2003.dot When I make any selection then click OK I get a message stating:- "The add-in template is not valid (C:\...\STARTUP\~$nereader8.2003.dot)" I have no idea what this template is for, where this originated nor do I know how to stop it. This is more than annoying! Perhaps I should go back to the old version!

slugnutty
slugnutty

Hate for the Mini-Toolbar I know you can unselect this stupid thing, but it still appears whenever you right-click on the page. I want it gone for good.

[GZ]
[GZ]

I am a heavy user of MS Word and although overpriced, it gives me what I need. The biggest anoyment is not listed for me but it is a quick key to Paste Special. Normally everything is pasted as copied. When you work a lot with MS Word then you rather have instead of CTRL-V another CTRL-? that pops-up paste special. In most cases (for me 90%) you want to paste only the contents of another source and not all the special code that lies under it. But you are forced to go through the menu as far as I know. A tip would make me very happy if one exists.

cory.schultze
cory.schultze

OK, solve this: Ever since Word 2003 has been updated, it's been rubbish. In particular, the text boxes. For some reason, text boxes take up a massive amount of system processes, especially when the format of some selected text changes. I created a single-page document with two text boxes in it and one small gif - when it saved, it was 105MB! I did the same with tables instead of text boxes and it was 32KB. Also, when you change the formatting of your text at the cursor, it's fine. If you change the formatting of your text with two carriage returns selected, it's fine. But if you change the format of your text with just one word selected, or anything but the aforementioned, Word decides to change the ENTIRE document to your selected text's format (and with text boxes, it can take up to 10 minutes to make one letter bold!) Then you have to Ctrl-Z, which basically takes word to what you wanted to do. Thirdly, what the hell is that invisible character after your cursor at the end of all your text? With some fonts, it's an actual character, like 3of9 barcode, so I have to blend it with the background. I wanna go back to Lotus...

aspergerian
aspergerian

I like to outline my own way. MS Word forces me to outline in a way pre-approved by Bill Gates. I'd like to be able to outline my way. My brain looses its train of thought when Word automatically reformats what I've written. Is there a way to entirely disable Word's outline auto-reformatting?

cldboone
cldboone

In office 2007 there is no tools/options, click the windows button on the top left, and choose word options, then find your settings.

katsoprano
katsoprano

Well, no one has addressed the annoying feature in 2007 I wish I could turn off - the blue shading that occurs in a table - to the point you can't read what you're typing. I fervently wish I could turn that option off.

charles.aponte1
charles.aponte1

Using Excel, how can I assign a numerical value to a letter? for example...U equals 3.5; S equals 7.5

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

Are you serious? An article about Microsoft Word? Why not dust off Wordstar and write an article about that? Or Volkswriter? It's the 21st century, for pete's sake. Anyone still using the security nightmare known as "Microsoft Word" is still living in 1995. Get with the program -- if it doesn't natively support OASIS Open Document Format, it's not worth writing an article about.

fadbel
fadbel

These are all very handy hints. There is one, however, that bugs me to no end, especially when using Word as my Outlook editor. That feature is the default paragraph setting of "Auto" for line spacing before and after any text typed in a message. I ALWAYS have to reset that manually to 0 for each. If I want specific settings for paragraph formatting, they ARE available. I cannot find a way to make the AUTO setting go away.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I have an annoying Word problem of my own. I use curly quotes in text. Spellcheck accommodates an existing quote, but if I insert a quote using SpellCheck, it inserts a straight quote. It's terribly annoying that SpellCheck doesn't match the document's defaults.

ben.rattigan
ben.rattigan

How do you change the default style in Word 2007, I tried doing it in Word Options and it doesn't change. The default style is Normal and I want it to be No Spacing. I have tried changing Normal.dotx, no change.

boucaria
boucaria

I get this change if I remote to my main computer from a PC on a different floor, and the default printer becomes the printer on the PC I am remoting from. It works quite well usually, but then the company has TCPIP printing for Windows 7, since there is no Print server for Windows 7 available. AND: Word and all of its MS counterparts are forced on the Office I work at. IE 8 cripples access when other options are available. I just tried Abiword and Open Office on a variety of Documents used by the MS Word system; Abiword is fine with basic Word Processing documents, and Open Office is totally compatible with Word 2007 in all templates. The kicker is, that I am running Abiword and Open Office from a MobileApps Install that has more easy to use options than the general office setup. Final comment: I find it very interesting that ALL of the techs I know personally on two continents who support Windows at a high level ( some at a Desk top level) do not use Windows for their own personal choices. At the very least, the advanced techs will run Ubuntu with VMWare Workstation and only use the Windows clients when it comes to work on the laptop or desktop. The amount of functional and security concerns expressed by associates is intriguing. Most of the time, I use Windows software because I HAVE to... and also because if I don't have some degree of familiarity with the software I support then I am hamstrung. Also, I advise staff on home setups, and how to secure their systems. It's not the best, but since its what I am helping them with, I do it the best I can. Ah well, Maybe I can get a job doing something in Contracts and Intellectual property ? :-)

janitorman
janitorman

Do what I do, turn your speakers off. Computers were never designed to have sound, playthings like youtube aside, which has no place in productivity.

George_Butel
George_Butel

I have a new pc with a trial version of office 2007, and I cannot tell you how annoying it is after spending years with Word 2000 and having eliminated most of its annoyances to have to start over on each one. I'm going to try and invent a time machine so I can go back in time and keep the parents of whoever invented this menuless abomination from meeting each other so that we'll have a more earthling-friendly program.

JodyGilbert
JodyGilbert

Hi Jordon, Yes, this is from 2007 -- I had several people ask about some of these issues recently, and since the solutions are still relevant and applicable across the last four (at least) versions of Word, I thought it would benefit members to have another crack at it. Sorry about the dated discussion (although we're picking up a lot of new posts). j

ThumbsUp2
ThumbsUp2

Many of us, including businesses, won't switch to 2007. We're still using 2003 and will continue to do so until either it won't work any longer or something better than 2007 comes along.

ThumbsUp2
ThumbsUp2

Since the file name you've displayed starts with a tilde (~), it is obviously a temporary file which was not deleted when the program closed abnormally. If the program gives you the full path to where the template is stored, then go find it and delete it. Any template (.DOT file) placed in the Word Startup folder is loaded each time the program starts.

Kassandra_Fl
Kassandra_Fl

In Both Office 2003 and 2007 there is a new Paste Options icon that appears after you paste (through any method - Ctrl+V, Ribbon/Menu, or Clipboard) that looks like a clipboard usually to the lower right of the pasted item, click and the options of paste Special appear.

Larry3500
Larry3500

As a dedicated anti-mouser, the sequence of Alt-E (for the Edit menu), S (for paste Special), U (for Unformatted text) is only a little longer than Ctrl-V, so that's what I do. The analogous feature in Excel is Alt-E, S, T (for Text). Why can't the same feature be activated the same way in each MS Office product?

VEH
VEH

but the rest of us use what our corporate masters dictate.

JodyGilbert
JodyGilbert

I'm still trying to sort out the relationship between themes and style sets and style defaults and what affects what -- and I don't want to muddy the waters -- but I've been experimenting, and here's what I might try if your only goal is to eliminate the extra spacing between lines and paragraphs: 1. Select the Home tab and click the dialog box launcher in the bottom-right corner of the Paragraph group. 2. In the Paragraph dialog box, enter 0 in the After text box, under Spacing. (In Word 2007, it's set to 10 points by default.) 3. Choose Single from the Line Spacing drop-down list. (In Word 2007, it's set to Multiple At 1.5 by default.) 4. Click the Default button at the bottom of the Paragraph dialog box. Word will prompt you to see if you want to change the default settings for all documents based on the Normal template. Click Yes. Another thing to try: 1. With the Home tab selected, click Change Styles in the Styles group (right end of the Ribbon), select Style Set, and then choose Word 2003. That sets the spacing for the current document back to the way it is in Word 2003, and it changes the font size to 12 (but not the font itself). You can click Change Styles, choose Fonts, and then select Office Classic to restore the 2003 font defaults. 2. If you want to apply this fix to all your future docs, click Change Styles again and choose Set As Default. Hope this helps -- I'm still a Word 2007 rookie, inching my way from one solution to the next... Good luck! j

n4aof
n4aof

So far as I know, the default style will always be Normal, but you can change just about anything in the Normal style by changing the template. I have 2007 but I'm using 2003 so I can't check it right now, but if changeing normal.dotx isn't making changes, the most likely problems are either failing to save the changed template or editing the wrong copy of the template on a machine with more than one copy of the template.

janitorman
janitorman

Get rid of ms word and use a simpler program that you can find your way around in. AND IT'S FREE and installs on either Windows or Linux.

jrhengst
jrhengst

In Word 2000, when I want to center or align ONE line, the ENTIRE DOCUMENT moves. Aside from a momentary fix with Undo, how can I disable this irritating feature?? I've already explored all I can in Tools/Auto-Correct... and I haven't seen anything that sounds like my problem.

jrhengst
jrhengst

YES!!! Thanks. That took care of it.

martin.tech
martin.tech

This may because you have auto-update on: first check what style the lines in question are set to (probably 'Normal'), then go to Format>Style>[select the style]>Modify and deselect the 'automatically update' option. Any help?