Taming unruly formatting in your Word documents

Applies to

Microsoft Office Word 2003

Microsoft Word 2002

Have you ever received a Word document that contains dozens of font styles and sizes, and then been asked to make it consistent? Or you've put together a long document from smaller documents that other people have worked on? Or just accidentally wound up with too many different formats in the same document?

If your document is suffering from the "snowflake syndrome," in which almost no two paragraphs look alike, these strategies may help you.

  • Control how text is pasted from other documents.

  • View and change formatting by using the Styles and Formatting task pane.

  • Review formatting details and change formatting in the Reveal Formatting task pane.

  • Compare similar formatting — in which two words or paragraphs look almost the same — and then apply identical formatting.

The first strategy is prevention. You can keep unruly formatting from creeping into your document as you copy and paste text from other documents that are formatted differently. If your document already contains unruly formatting, the other strategies in this article may help you fix it.

Controlling how text is pasted

If the text is formatted differently in documents or other resources that you are pasting from, the key is to control how text is formatted when you paste it. The Paste Options button in Word enables you to format pasted text like the text that's already in your document, so that you keep the formatting in your document consistent.

The Paste Options button appears just below your pasted selection after you paste the text. When you click the button, you see a list of options for pasting information into your document.

The available options depend on the type of content you are pasting, the program you are pasting from, and the format of the text where you are pasting.

Pasting list items into a list

For example, if you are pasting list items near a list, you can decide whether the pasted text is included in the list or is pasted as a new list. If you are pasting into a paragraph, you can decide whether the text keeps its original formatting or is formatted like the surrounding text.

If you are pasting data from Microsoft Excel, you can specify whether you want to link the data and how you want to format the data.

Viewing and changing formatting and styles

The next strategy is to view and adjust your document's formatting in the Styles and Formatting task pane. From the task pane, you can see what formatting is applied throughout your document, select text with the same style or formatting, and reapply formatting you've used elsewhere in the document for a more consistent look.

styles and formatting pane

Button image Formatting information is displayed in the task pane

You can open the task pane by clicking Styles and Formatting on the Formatting toolbar. As you click the text throughout your document, its formatting description appears in the task pane.

You can show different types of formatting in the task pane. Two settings are the most helpful for cleaning up your document, and you can adjust these settings by using the Show box .

  • The Available formatting setting allows you to view the formatting available in the document. It includes formatting that is applied in your document, styles you've created, and some common headings.

  • The Formatting in use setting shows only the formatting that is currently applied in your document.

Let's say that you receive a document that contains a mismatch of paragraph formatting. As you click through your document, you see that eight paragraphs are formatted as 11-point Arial, five paragraphs are formatted as 10-point Times New Roman, and two paragraphs are formatted as 11-point Verdana.

You'd like to format all paragraphs as 11-point Arial, which is the default, or Normal style, for your document. Unfortunately, your paragraphs are scattered throughout your document, so you're concerned that it would be time-consuming to identify which paragraphs contain what formatting.

By using the Styles and Formatting task pane, you can easily select text that contains the same formatting. For example, with just a click, you can select all the text that's formatted as 10-point Times New Roman, and then with another click, you can apply your default 11-point Arial style.

As you identify formatting that you don't want to keep and then apply your default Arial style, you'll notice that your document is looking more consistent, and fewer formatting descriptions are listed in the task pane.

Reviewing formatting details

As you work with your document, you may want details about the formatting that's applied. While you can point to a formatting description in the Styles and Formatting task pane to see a description, you can review even more details by using the Reveal Formatting task pane.

Reveal Formatting task pane

The pane shows many details about your text, such as the font, paragraph and line spacing, styles, and language. You can expand or collapse these details as needed to focus on the specific details you want to view.

While viewing the details, you can do any of the following:

  • To change any formatting properties, click the text with a blue underline, and then change any options you want in the dialog box that appears.

  • To determine the formatting source, such as whether the formatting comes from a style, select the Distinguish style source check box.

  • To show formatting marks, such as paragraph marks and tabs, select the Show all formatting marks check box.

  • To format a text selection like the text that surrounds it, select the text. In the Selected text box, click the arrow, and then click Apply Formatting of Surrounding Text.

Comparing similar formatting

From the Reveal Formatting task pane, you can also compare paragraphs with similar formatting. Let's say you're working on a legal contract, and the text in one paragraph looks almost, but not quite, the same as text in another paragraph. Instead of scanning the details about both paragraphs to determine what's different, you can quickly compare the formatting of the two paragraphs.

Compare the formatting of two text selections

  1. Select the first instance of formatting you want to compare.
    In the Reveal Formatting task pane, an example of your formatting appears under Selected text.

  2. Select the Compare to another selection check box.

  3. Select the second instance of formatting to compare.

    An example of that formatting appears in the second box under Selected text. Under Formatting differences, any differences between the two selections are described.

    When the two selections are exactly the same, No formatting differences appears instead of the description.

  4. To format the second selection so that it matches the first selection, click the arrow next to the second box under Selected text, and then click Apply Formatting of Original Selection.

Note: Word 2003 enables you to place restrictions on a document so that formatting can be modified in limited ways or not at all.

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