Train users to appreciate Word's annoying wavy blue lines

If your users find Word's wavy blue lines annoying, show them how to take advantage of the feature -- or disable it.

Word goes a long way toward helping you produce a polished document. In fact, one of Word's strongest and most popular features is Spell Check, which spots (possibly) misspelled words. Similarly, Word can also identify grammatical errors. As you type, Word displays a wavy line under suspect text as follows:
  • A red line indicates a possible misspelling.
  • A green line indicates a possible grammatical error.

For the most part, users find the wavy red and green lines helpful. They're an indication of a possible problem that needs their attention.

Then there are the wavy blue lines. If you support Word users, you probably often hear, "Can't you get rid of those squiggly blue lines?" Users object to the blue lines for two reasons: They don't know what they mean and the lines tend to go on and on. I've seen these lines take over an entire document. They're distracting at the very least.

Word's intention is good. That wavy blue line indicates an inconsistent format. For instance, if a paragraph is in 12 point, and you suddenly throw in just a few characters in 8 or 10, Word will display a wavy line under the smaller characters. Sometimes the feature works well. Below, the feature alerts the user to an improperly formatted list item. Often, the lines mean nothing. The formatted code below is fine, but Word wants the user to select another style.

As good as the feature tries to be, the lines can be distracting and users often complain. When this happens, you have two options:

  • Train users how to use the lines.
  • Disable the feature.

I recommend the first option. Trained users may still find the feature annoying, but they will understand its worth and know how to respond. Teach users to right-click the underlined text and choose one of the following options from the resulting context menu:

  • Correct the formatting problem by choosing the appropriate fix-it option.
  • Click Ignore Once and Word will remove the blue wavy line but not fix the formatting problem.
  • Click Ignore Rule and Word will skip all occurrences of that specific formatting problem within that document.

If a user still finds the lines difficult to live with and really doesn't need them anyway, you can disable the feature as follows:

  1. From the Tools menu, choose Options and click the Editing tab. In Word 2007, click the Office button, click Word Options, and then select Advanced in the left pane.
  2. In the Editing Options section, deselect the Mark Formatting Inconsistencies check box.
  3. Click OK.

Because this feature works as you enter text, you can't disable it while working and then enable it for a quick check. It just doesn't work that way. So disable this feature with a warning: Your users will lose the ability to visually check the document for formatting inconsistencies. On the other hand, people should be comfortable when working, and if the wavy blue lines are a hindrance, turn them off.

If this feature sounds like something you'd use, but it isn't currently working, repeat the above process and check the Mark Formatting Inconsistencies option. If the option is grayed out, check the Keep Track Of Formatting option first.


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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