Software

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.

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.

20 comments
JSCC
JSCC

*THANKS!* so much for the info! that mess was annoying:)))

maj37
maj37

I had never seen one either so I checked the options and it was turned off. I turned it on to see what happens. maj

stapleb
stapleb

As someone who was trained in document prepration and presentation, I find the "dumbing down" of Word completely and utterly irritating. It is designed to now hold the hand of the operator who "knows not what they do", and irritate the trained professional. I turn off all those annoying features as they are a source of absolute frustration for a competent user.

mcneilus32yd
mcneilus32yd

great information, I wondered what ththis annoying feature was all about. It will be very useful to help polish up my college and professional papers and save time doin so.

edh1215
edh1215

A user could always right-click on the marked text and chose to fix the inconsistency. That's the point of the feature... just like spell and grammar check.

pgit
pgit

Chalk one up for the local community college business development center I guess, just about everyone around here seriously using MS Office in a business environment has been through a couple courses on word, excel, outlook etc. I have never gotten a complaint about wavy BLUE lines. (I have seen them in docs looking over people's shoulders) However I have gotten a few questions about the wavy RED lines, as in "they were there before you reinstalled... how do I get them back?"

.Martin.
.Martin.

I must format my writing well :D

stapleb
stapleb

Maj, Would be interested to hear what you think now that you have activated the feature.

AndrewFisher
AndrewFisher

Even the most competent of us sometimes mis-spells preparation as prepration, and a discreet tool to draw such errors to our attention should not be scorned.

dhays
dhays

You might even check your postings: ththis and doin in lieu of this and doing. doin may be how we talk, but it is not a correct spelling of doing, and ththis I am guessing was just a typo. When we take care to check our spelling and typing, even in a forum like this, it reflects better on us. I see so many misspelled, misused words in the posts on this website, it makes one wonder if anyone went to school at all.

dhays
dhays

A few times the suggested fix makes no sense at all, and you will keep the formatting/grammar/spelling as is. Word was created by humans and as such, is not infallible. Take the suggested change and review it to see if it fits your circumstances and fix it or forget it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As the article notes, there may be times when a writer may do something intentionally for effect.

pgurney
pgurney

It looks like the default setting in Word 2007 is to turn the tracking of inconsistencies off. Probably why some of us haven't seen this wavy blue line.

AlexTech08
AlexTech08

That, or you never have to change your formatting. I do a lot of work with templates in Word, so most of my page is wavy blue lines because of the formatting codes my program embeds; and when I did documentation work, I often had to change formatting to differentiate user input from machine output and to differentiate both of those from the regular text (much like you see in computer manuals). Never thought much about turning it off, since it wasn't all >that< annoying to me - but it certainly makes my coding easier to read. Helpful tip!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't think I format my writing well as much as I don't change the format. I do everything in 12 pt Arial. I'm not a technical writer; my audience is usually just me, and I don't need to format different sections in different ways. It's a good hint for those that do need to do those things.

rykerabel
rykerabel

Or you could just install ieSpell for Internet Explorer.

bulk
bulk

I also produce a lot of documentation, including code fragments and command lines. The trick is to define and apply a style (I use "Code", which defines a monspaced font and turns off spell and grammer checking etc). Then an absence of blue lines indicates you have a consistently-formatted document. Word is easy to use badly but takes some effort to use well. Incidentally, I noticed that when I switch on "Track formatting" and "Mark inconsistencies" in beta Office 2010, wavy blue lines appear in almost every received email - most annoying - so I've had to disable it for everyday use and only re-enable for a serious bout of documenting. Richard

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