Software

Word -- Keep your stinking hands off my styles!


The number one complaint I have about Word is its dogmatic need to control everything I do. Now, I realize that Microsoft professionals put a lot of thought into Word's default settings, and I don't fault them for their choices -- well, not too much. On the other hand, some settings annoy me.  I could list them all -- there are several. Instead, I'm just going to tell you about the one that truly makes me want to stick pins in someone's effigy.

Ever been typing along, applied a style, and found it wasn't the style you defined? A style is a set of formatting attributes you apply. You define the style to save time. Instead of applying several formats, you apply the style. Word, by default, knows when you've altered the formatting for an applied style and automatically updates the style -- whether you want it to or not.

There are two ways you can stop Word in its tracks:

  • Disable the feature by choosing AutoCorrect Options from the Tools menu, clicking the AutoFormat As You Type option, and then unchecking the Define Styles Based On Your Formatting option in the Automatically As You Type section.
  • Force Word to ask you by choosing Options from the Tools menu, clicking the Edit tab, and checking the Prompt To Update Style option.

Don't select both options, of course -- they don't work together. Choose one method or the other.

There are a lot of Word settings you can disable if they annoy you. I'd like to hear about the settings that drive you nuts. If you don't know how to disable them, maybe I can help.

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.

38 comments
Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

Years ago I created my own Normal.dot (from the default) in the Office version that preceded '95. It contains all the styles, macros and toolbars that I've customized (now and then I add or remove some), and I keep it in a System.sav folder on my data drive so it gets backed up whenever that drive does. I also keep it in a Settings folder on a USB drive (along w/ Personal.xls and Excelnn.xlb) so that whenever I wind up for any length of time on a different PC, I can simply copy Normal.dot (and other templates I might need) to a local folder and modify the path for User templates (Tolls -> Options, File Locations tab) to point to it. This saves a lot of setup time and assures me of having the tools I want and need and, as much as possible, only the tools I want and need, pretty much wherever I wind up working.

zage
zage

I hate that pop-up menu that appears when you select something in the document. I.E., if I decide to move a word from one point of the paragraph to other point, I highlight it and at the moment I will going to grab-it here comes the pop-up menu hiding the word behind it. This behavior interfere with what I want to do and sometimes (when working fast) it makes me select a command or function that I didn't want to apply. >:(

bmadtiger
bmadtiger

Has anyone else ever had trouble with styles being reset to their original default settings when using outlining? I have used Outlines with styles, changed the style to the way I wanted it to look and after doing some changes to the outline (eg promoting or demoting items), the styles all revert back to their default. Wierd!

tonyrony
tonyrony

I especially hate the "feature" where just part of the pull-down menus appears, forcing you to wait for the rest of the menu to appear or click on the little double-arrow appearing at the bottom of the menu. In conjunction with this, I wonder how many people really benefit from moving the last-used menu item to the top of the pull-down menu. I just wish they'd leave the customization up to the customer.

ThumbsUp2
ThumbsUp2

... forced confirmation of deleting highlighted text, or anything for that matter (press Y/N after you press the delete key). Some documents do it and others don't and we've never been able to track down the setting that causes it, since delete confirmation is turned off even on the documents that still force it. Hate that "feature".

seanferd
seanferd

I have a tendency to do this with all software. Most folks would find this approach less than desirable, probably. Biggest annoyance: Text auto-selection. No, I didn't want that entire line highlighted. Off you go. Excellent tip for users of Word, Susan!

ismith
ismith

One of the first changes I make to Word when I install it is to turn off the option to automatically define styles as you type and yet I keep finding that my Normal template styles keep getting redefined to match whatever template I use the most. For example, since I most often am typing manuscripts at home, I find that the Normal style in normal.dot has been redefined as double-spaced. When I create a "blank document" that's what I get. At first I thought it was my fault, that I had changed the styles before saving the template (thereby saving the style changes to Normal) but when I got my latest computer I deliberately created a template, saved it, and then made changes to the template. The styles in Normal were still changed. Do you know of any way to avoid that problem?

pwhalen
pwhalen

Way back when Microsoft had a real competitor named Word Perfect they released Office 4.3 It did everything I could ever dream of. I did papers, wrote letters, created reports, made complex spreadsheets, produced Powerpoint presentations, even published flyers, brochures, and booklets. Do you know what, IT STILL DOES!!! What are all these "Bells and Whistles" good for if they don't actually improve the product? "Revenue Enhansement"! Microsoft can't make money off you if they can't convince you that you can't live without their NEW and IMPROVED software.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Most of the customization can be disabled/enabled -- you just have the find the right option. To disable personalized (adaptive) menus, do the following: Choose Customize from the Tools menu and then select Options Check the Show Standard and Formatting Toolbars on Two Rows option. Check the Always Show Full Menus option. The Show ... Toolbars option isn't really part of your problem, but it's all part of the same effort to try to free up real estate.

Sereniti
Sereniti

...we don't know how to use CTRL+Z if we end up deleting something on accident. Sheesh.

seanferd
seanferd

On how the confirmation dialogue itself is the stupidest thing in UI design. The idea being that any well designed software should never need such a thing.

Jaqui
Jaqui

it's the "you are to stupid to know what you are doing feature"

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm glad you liked this tip. When I considered writing about it, I thought, well... why not just suggest they turn them ALL off, but I thought better of it in the end. :) You're on the right track though -- I have disabled several of their auto features and I suspect lots of users do. Readers: Let's create a nice long list of all the auto features we've disabled! I'm not sure how helpful such a list will be, but you never know.

melekali
melekali

Write protect normal.dot so Word cannot make these changes. If you want to make changes, unwrite protect just for your changes. This is the way we stopped macro viruses before the advent of anti-virus software back in the stone ages.

Sereniti
Sereniti

I can NEVER get Word to retain my default font. I don't like to use Times New Roman, I prefer Arial. No matter where I set that font as the default, when I open a new document, there's that doggone Times New Roman again! And what's worse, if I DO set a font on the first paragraph of my document, I expect that font to remain in effect until I change it again but NOOOOOOOOO, I have to either re-set the font after I hit for the next paragraph, or I have to use to keep the formatting. I really hate the, "There, there, dear, you couldn't possibly know what's best for your document as well as we do, so just let us do it and don't worry your pretty little head over it." And don't EVEN get me started on automatic hyperlinks!!!!

JGHowland
JGHowland

Don't forget to turn off the option to automatically save changes to normal.dot when you save your document. That will also cause an unexpected change to the MS default, many times for the worse.

ragnajane
ragnajane

I can't take credit for this tip, it actually comes from reading my "(2003) Word Bible" (from QUE Publishing) ... create a new base style, to replace Normal, in any customized template. Build all your customized styles on that base, which is slick, 'cuz you can change the base (font, pt, etc.) and all the styles connected to the base change too! Another QUE tip, don't alter the Normal.dot ... create customized .dots (nothing's worse that corrupting the MS-issued "default" template.)

seanferd
seanferd

I've done this by backing up, then altering the Normal template. Another way is to change which template is the default. Either way, I've never found a quick way to choose when starting a doc. Then again, I don't use Word a whole lot. Back when I was writing help files, I aggressively customized the entire app, but I wasn't using it for much else, so it didn't matter. I wouldn't mind some pointers in this area myself.

seanferd
seanferd

here are some similar or related thoughts without the extreme attitude about all confirmation dialogue boxes. Designing for People Who Have Better Things To Do With Their Lives Bad UI 10: Read This (OK/Cancel) Bad UI of the Week: Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission Bad UI Design = Catastrophic Data Loss Are Confirmation Dialogs Harmful? and Forum Never Use a Warning When you Mean Undo Defeated By a Dialog Box >>>Don't forget to hover over the links. ;)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

at least when it comes to some things. I have on regular occasion clicked 'the wrong thing' and been saved by that dialogue. However, it's pretty unnecessary for a freaking game of solitaire...

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'd like to hear more about this -- the idea that well designed software wouldn't need such a feature -- just what do you mean?

ssharkins
ssharkins

That's too funny! Thanks for making me laugh this morning. I do feel for MS -- they are between a rock and a hard place, and I face that just a little myself with my articles and tips. If they don't force the user to confirm, they'll get angry people saying, "But that's not what I really wanted to do..." In the end, it's really up to us to disable the features we don't like -- make our own happiness! ;)

Absolutely
Absolutely

"I'm glad you liked this tip. When I considered writing about it, I thought, well... why not just suggest they turn them ALL off, but I thought better of it in the end." [i]How To: Turn Off Everything In Word, Then Turn On Auto-Save.[/i] That was a good idea. Did they copy it from Corel?

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Turn off everything and then turn on things that you might find useful. My favourite annoyances are, auto-selection of whole words and automatic capitalization. Trouble is they come back each time I open a new document. Is there a way to turn this off even when opening a document you did not create? Les.

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

Then choose Yes on this? And your default font doesn't change and stay changed? That's weird. I'm using MS Word 2002 and my default font on the NORMAL template changes and stays changed when I follow these instructions, close the program and reopen it.

Absolutely
Absolutely

If you press Ctrl+A before selecting Arial the change will apply to every part of the document, including the next paragraph that doesn't exist yet.

Marshwiggle
Marshwiggle

Was your tongue set firmly in your cheek when you wrote that? I also get annoyed w/ confirmation dialogs, but have been really grateful when they kept me from doing something really stupid, like moving files and/or folders on a network drive, when I was really intending to copy them. As for all the comments about "good" software not needing confirmations, any software that good would be reading our minds, and that still wouldn't make it fool-proof.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

You do not need confirmation. Word can undo just about every action you take. I'm guessing the author is making an argument that if you can 'undo' everything you do, why would you ever need a confirmation dialogue. For example, I turn off the Windows delete confirmation. What purpose does it serve if you have a recycle bin. If I accidently delete something, I know where it went. Les.

Jaqui
Jaqui

Any well written application would be easy to work with, so there would be no need to confirm any action taken by the user. The user would not make any mistakes. [ so anything that has confirmation dialog boxes is telling you it is not worth using ;) ] after all, if it well written and designed, how could anyone make a mistake while using it?

seanferd
seanferd

I think it was a bit extreme in that a confirmation dialog would surely be necessary sometimes. I think the main thrust of the article pertained to, "The contents of this document have been changed. Would you like to save..." The author's answer was along the lines of, "Of course, otherwise, why would I have changed it?"

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

Why can Word not ask us what level of nagging we want upon installation? Under customized installation list all the auto features and let me select which ones I want. Les.

misceng
misceng

I too have been suffering from MS formatting help so I have solved the problem entirely. I have disabled Word. I use an old piece of software without the bells and whistles of Word. It is called Lotus Smartsuite Millenium edition. It does not care what I want to do; it does just exactly what I require of it. Result is less hastle and more productivity.

Absolutely
Absolutely

Internet Security is on a simple, easy-to-use [and worthless; I go straight for the individual controls, but that's not the point here] scale: "Low/Medium/High." I think the problem creating a similar scale for office software is merely finding a descriptive, recognizable name for the scale, but not quite as honest & direct as "Nag Settings."

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

I can't imagine what's wrong. I don't have any problems with Word on my pc but I seldom use it. I like OpenOffice.org's Writer much better.

Sereniti
Sereniti

I do know how to set that, and yes, sometimes it reverts to Times New Roman. But the real issue (and I probably didn't make myself clear enough) is that if at the beginning of my document I call out a font before I start typing anything, that font will not be retained from one paragraph to the next unless I . BANG! Right back to default or Times New Roman. And heaven help me if I back-space right after hitting the key - that will remove the formatting from the previous paragraph!

Absolutely
Absolutely

When I have to 'dress up' a document for somebody whose primary concern is not the text itself, I use OO.o

Sereniti
Sereniti

Sometimes it works, but just as often when I hit it goes back to Times New Roman. I know where/how to set the default font for all docs, just sometimes Word ignores the setting. :( Besides, I don't ALWAYS want everything to be Arial - sometimes I like my heading text, or list text, or some other text I want to bring attention to, to be a different font. Sadly, there isn't usually a one-size-fits all solution.

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