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Stop Fussing With Word Formatting Issues

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

You've got your document formatted exactly to specifications: titles are properly bolded, block quotes are well blocked, bullets sit in perfect lines. Then you insert just one troublesome picture or footnote -- everything is shot. Goodbye beautiful formatting; goodbye well-arranged page. Hello desperate plea for a last-minute extension.

It doesn't have to be like this. With a few quick tricks, you can help escape Word formatting hell -- at least most of the time.

Preventing Word Formatting Disasters

It can be hard to appreciate it when Word is destroying your day, but the world's most popular word processing program actually has fairly sophisticated formatting and layout capabilities.

The problem with these, though, is that they can often operate automatically and opaquely, leaving you wondering how things got messed up and how to set them right again.

It's not as bad as Clippy. It's worse.

One of the best ways to avoid Word-induced pain is to be proactive. Take steps now to make sure your documents aren't messed up later.

Start by setting your copying defaults, to make sure that when you copy text between documents, you don't ruin the formatting of the destination document. To do so, make sure instruct Word to have all pasted content match the destination formatting. You can find a quick guide to making that change here.

Another proactive measure is to use sections breaks in your documents. Like page breaks, section breaks separate your .doc into (you guessed it) sections, allowing you to customize formats for each section. Here's a simple overview of how to use them.

Four Quick Word Tricks

But there are some simple interventions you can make on the spot, as well. As Deborah Savadra, editor of the Legal Office Guru blog, recently reminded us on Lawyerist, three simple commands can help you fix Word formatting errors quickly.

First, if you need to remove character-level formatting like fonts, italicization, or text size, highlight the text and press CTRL and SPACE, simultaneously. That removes character-level formatting while maintaining the paragraph set up.

Secondly, if you want to do the opposite, use CTRL and Q. Fonts, bold text, character size, etc., will be kept intact, but paragraph-level formatting will return to your normal style.

Then there's CTRL, SHIFT, N, essentially a combo of the earlier two shortcuts. Pressing ctrl, shift, and N simultaneously removes all formatting and returns the text to your document's default style.

And finally, there's the biggest Word hack of them all: Word Perfect. If you're frustrated enough by Microsoft Word, ditch it, like many other lawyers have, and try out Word Perfect, where formatting legal documents is often much simpler.

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