Avoid style conflicts when combining Word documents

In Microsoft Word, when you need to combine two documents, you may have formatting conflicts. This is because Word uses character and paragraph styles. Every paragraph in every document has a style applied. It may be Normal, or it may be another style such as Header or Footer that Word applies by default. If you hope to manage the formatting of text in Word, you need to understand and use styles. One excellent place to learn is in the Microsoft Word tutorials by the late Shauna Kelly.

When you insert one Word document into another, whether by copying and pasting or by using the Insert menu, the styles in the text you paste will adopt the style definitions in the main document. If you paste text that has Normal style applied, and Normal is defined as 12-point Times New Roman in the source document but as 11-point Calibri in the receiving document, Normal text will become 11-point Calibri in the receiving document.

The best way to avoid conflicts in style definitions is to have both documents based on the same template. If you create both documents yourself on the same computer, they will by default use your Normal template. You also can choose a different template as the basis for a document.

However, you may not have this option. As an editor, I often receive documents from more than one source to be combined.

If the text I’m pasting should have the same formatting as the receiving document, all I have to do is make sure that the same styles are applied (for example, Heading 1, Heading 2, Body Text) and that the text does not have additional direct formatting applied that modifies its general appearance (direct formatting to italicize a book title, for example, is fine, but users who don’t know how to work with styles may select large blocks of text and change the font and size with the text tools on Word’s home tab rather than redefine the appropriate style—for example, Body Text).

If the text I’m pasting should retain its own formatting, I need to make sure it does not use any of the same styles as the receiving document. Even if they are different styles but still based on Normal style, the receiving document can alter the style definitions in the pasted text. So I made a template with unique style names, and the styles are based on “no style”—that’s one of the choices when you define a new style. I used lowercase for my style names to help them stand out in the Word styles menu. I saved the template on my website as .doc and .docx files. You are welcome to download and use them.

Here’s how to prepare a Word document for pasting into another without losing the style definitions:

  1. Copy the styles from the template into the Word document. You can use the Import/Export tool under Manage Styles at the bottom of the Styles menu on the Word Home tab, or you can just select all the text in the template and paste it into your Word document, then delete the pasted text—the styles will remain.
  2. Select a style with a definition that you want to preserve (for example, Heading 1). Select the paragraph. In the Styles menu, find head1 and right-click on it. Choose “Update head1 to match selection.” The style definition for head1 now matches the style definition for Heading 1. Use the Word Replace tool to change all instances of Heading 1 to head1.
  3. Repeat step 2 for every style you want to preserve. For example, redefine head2 to match Heading 2 and then change all instances of Heading 2 to head2. Redefine body copy to match Normal or Body Text or whatever style is used for body text in your Word document, then apply the “body copy” style all your body text.
  4. Look for any other paragraphs that have a style applied and, if you want to preserve its formatting, apply one of my user-defined styles or create your own (use the New Style button in the Styles menu). Two tips: First, call up the short Styles menu (control+shift+S). It will highlight the style that is already applied to whatever paragraph your cursor is in. Second, if you are repeatedly applying the same style (table text, for example) to paragraphs, you can click in one paragraph and apply the style, then click in another and press F4, the Windows repeat key, so you don’t have to keep selecting the style from the menu.

If you need more help with any aspect of Word, a great place to turn is Shauna Kelly’s “Making the Most of Word in Your Business.”

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