Category Archives: Microsoft Word


I misspelled misspellings in all capital letters on purpose.

Today is Easter, 2018. Last night I went to the Easter vigil at my church—a beautiful service, but hard on an editor. The printed order of worship contained the word SOLENMN in all capital letters. The misspelling wasn’t half as distressing as knowing a likely contributing cause: Microsoft Word’s default spellcheck setting of “Ignore words in UPPERCASE.”

If you’re using Microsoft Word, you can find this setting under the proofing options. I solenmnly urge you to turn it off.


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.”

Backing up tracked changes

Sometimes I want to see the tracked changes in Microsoft Word even when the author doesn’t. One writer has high confidence in my copy editing and wants to see only the changes that could alter the meaning from what he intended. He doesn’t want me to track my corrections of his punctuation, subject-verb agreement, or spelling.

However, sometimes I want to see those changes, especially if the document comes back revised. I may want to see where I corrected a name because I looked it up or where I made changes for consistency. Also, sometimes I do make errors in editing, and I want to go back and look at the editing and find out where I went wrong.

My solution is to work with a file that I label “markup.” It has all my tracked content changes. I save it for future reference, and then I save it with “edit” instead of “markup” in the file name. In the “edit” file, I go through and accept all the changes the author doesn’t want to see, leaving only the queries and the edits that could affect the meaning.

This method is acceptable, but if you have a better one, please post a comment and tell us about it.

En dashes – from where?

For years I wondered why so many writers and publishers were choosing to use en dashes (which are the width of a capital N) where em dashes (yes, the width of a capital M) used to be standard.

Em dashes have long been used to separate phrases and clauses—groups of words that contain a subject and a verb but aren’t written as an independent sentence. The dash in the previous sentence between the words clauses and groups is an em dash.

En dashes were normally used to separate a range of numbers (such as 50–100) or to join a compound word to another word or words (such as New York–Chicago).

In typing class, back in the (ulp) 1960s, we used two hyphens in place of em dashes–because typewriters didn’t have em dashes.

Microsoft Word has a feature called “Autoformat as you type,” and one of the choices under “Replace as you type” is “Hyphens (–) with dash (–).” (I don’t use it because I do a lot of HTML formatting in Word, and replacing double hyphens with dashes will ruin some of the code.) But if you use this feature (and I believe it’s turned on by default) and if you type two words with two hyphens between them, Word will replace the two hyphens with an em dash. What the “Replace as you type” menu doesn’t tell you, and what I didn’t learn until this month (September 2016) is that if you type a space, a hyphen, and another space, Word will turn the hyphen into an en dash, as illustrated in the title of this blog post.

My guess is that a lot of writers and publishers have not been choosing to use an en dash in place of an em dash. My guess is that a lot of writers don’t know one kind of dash from the other but have been typing space, hyphen, space where they wanted a dash, and Microsoft Word supplied one, and the publishers left it as written, or, to be precise, as typed by the author and as modified by Microsoft Word.

My solution when editing in Microsoft Word is to search for en dashes with space before and after them (in the Find menu, enter a space, then alt+0150, then another space) and change them to em dashes without space if that’s appropriate or to en dashes without space if that’s what they should be.

Listing acronyms from figures

When editing a document that has a lot of acronyms (initials or abbreviations pronounced as a word, such as Nasa or radar) or just plain initials (such as FBI, pronounced not as a word but by saying the letters F-B-I), I try to reduce their quantity by eliminating as many as I can. If IOTs* (initials of things) appears only once, I would delete it. When the reader comes across initials of things (IOTs), it might be useless trivia or it might be essential to memorize it in order to understand the rest of the document. The reader doesn’t know, but I can search for it with Microsoft Word’s find & replace tool and see whether it ever appears again in the document. If not, I delete it.

However, a lot of documents I edit have charts, graphs, or other figures that have been placed as pictures. Word can’t search the text in these pictures, so my practice for years has been to go through them and write down any abbreviations, initials, or acronyms that are not defined in the figure where they appear. All of them get listed in a note or glossary. When editing, I would continually refer to the written list to see what has to remain in the glossary even if it appears nowhere in the document’s text. This has involved a lot of back-and-forth referring to the written list.

Last month I thought of a better way to make that list of terms that appear in figures. It is so obvious that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it years ago: instead of writing down the abbreviations, initials, or acronyms in a separate list or file, I just add them to the document I’m editing. They can be the starting material for a glossary, simply a separate list, or added to an existing glossary, in which case I add a note to myself indicating which figure the term appears in so that I know not to delete it from the glossary.

Then when I come across initials of things (IOTs) in the text, I can search for IOTs. If it appears anywhere in the document, even just in a chart, Word should find it. If it turns up only in the glossary, with a note such as “(fig. 4),” I will know to keep IOTs in the glossary. If it turns up nowhere, I can safely delete it.

If I’m the last editor in the world to think of this, you can say, “Ha, ha! Steve has been using a handwritten list of terms that appear in figures!” If, like me, you’ve been wading through a mire of abbreviations, initials, and acronyms and struggling to cope, this may help you out of the quicksand.

*This is a silly string of initials I made up; it doesn’t belong in any serious document.

When Word won’t resize a page

Did you ever get that message when you try to change the size or orientation of a page or the kind of break that begins a section? “Settings you chose for the left and right margins, column spacing, or paragraph indents are too large for the page width in some sections.”

Here’s what you get when you click on “Show Help”:

“This error can appear if the margins are too large or small for the current printer, or if you:”

The page range might be invalid. A valid page range is the slide numbers or ranges using commas or dashes, with no spaces.
Print to a page size that is not supported by the printer.
Change the margins of the page, and that range is not supported by either the printer or the printer driver.
Print using a landscape setting and the printer driver is set to portrait (or the reverse).

Print a set sized object that does not fit into the printable region.
Print to a margin default that exceeds the printable area of the page (can sometimes happen after changing the default printer to a different printer).
For example, setting the left and right margins to 5 inches (no room for content to fit on the page).
Use print scaling (the percentage size to print the final content) set to a number below 10 percent.
Printing issues associated with a network printer are best handled by your local network administrator or support personnel.

That’s a lot of possibilities to check out (not to mention the awful grammar: “if you: The page range might be invalid”). There is another cause suggested by the pop-up box with the error message: an undefined number of columns. (Thanks to my manager at work, Michael Bowers, for discovering this and the solution.) First, make sure that the whole document should have only one column. Then select everything (Control+A) and go to the Page Layout menu, and under Columns, choose 1 for the number of columns.

If some of the document should have two or more columns, then select those sections and set the number of columns at 2 or whatever number of columns you want; then select the rest of the document and set the number of columns at 1.

One reader asked me to “walk the whole dog” and explain how to properly insert section breaks once you’ve fixed the columns or any of the ten problems suggested by “Show Help.” Walking less than a whole dog sounds pretty weird, so I don’t want to do that!

First of all, Word uses continuous section breaks to set off portions of the document with a different number of columns. If you use the Page Layout menu to change the number of columns for selected text, Word will but in continuous section breaks at the start and end of the section. Or you can insert a pair of continuous section breaks yourself and then select the text between them and change the number of columns.

If you want part of a document to have pages of a different size or orientation (portrait vs. landscape) or a different header or footer (the parts outside the copy area of a page, at the top and bottom), you need to make it a different section, and you don’t use continuous section breaks for this, you use odd, even, or next page section breaks. Next page section breaks are also called “new page” breaks, depending on which menu you’re using.

Choose the type of break you want from the Page Layout menu. There’s a pull-down menu (indicated by a little black triangle) for Breaks. Just click with the mouse where you want to insert a section break and then go to the menu and choose the type of break you want. To change the kind of break that begins a section, don’t delete the break; that will merge two sections, and that may cause problems. Instead, click within a section and then use the Page Setup menu (at the bottom right corner of the Page Layout menu) to change the type of section break.

Once you’ve inserted section breaks at the beginning and end of part of a document, you can click within that part and use the Page Layout menu to choose the size and orientation. Before you change those, make sure you want the header and footer to remain the same. For example, you might have page numbers at the right-hand margin or aligned to a center tab. If you change the orientation of a page to landscape, for example, such tabs might no longer be in the same places on the page. In that case, you want a different header or footer or both in your new section, but you want to keep the header and footer the same in the sections before and after the new section. Before you change the page size or orientation, click in the header and footer of the new section and make sure the Link to Previous box isn’t checked in the header and footer tools. Then do the same for the following section. You don’t want that one to change either, and if the header and footer are linked to the previous (new) section, they will.

I think that’s the whole dog. If I missed something, or if you have a question or can offer additional help, please leave a comment.

Avoiding clutter when tracking changes

My friend and agent Dave Fessenden, who is a writer and editor, wrote:

Steve, I wanted to ask you a question on tech writing: do you use [Microsoft Word’s] track changes in your job?

I have to [format] documents with tracked changes/comment balloons all over the document. I have tried turning off the tracked changes, but since they are still there (though invisible), I have great difficulty doing things like moving an image to another page.…

What are your thoughts on this?


Yes, I always track content changes. That’s the key. I turn off Track Changes when moving an image, refreshing a table of contents, setting the whole document to U.S. English, or anything else that doesn’t need tracking or could be messed up by tracking (moving, or just editing in front of, a footnote reference in the text, for example). Generally I try to do all the formatting and layout first with Track Changes off, then edit, and always, if possible, work with “no markup” as the choice of what to show.

Whether to track changes and what markup to show are separate choices in the Track Changes menu. If you track the change when you move a picture, then when you show the markup you will see the picture where it was deleted and where it was pasted. If you track changes while refreshing the table of contents, the markup will show the old table of contents and the new one. The markup for these changes and for alterations in paragraph formatting and font size can really clutter up a document to the point where neither the author nor editor can easily see the important content changes. Even showing the content changes can make the text hard to read, which is why I usually edit with Track Changes turned on but not showing the markup as I work. After I’m done editing I normally go through the document with markup showing and review my editing, and I check the comments to see whether they all have been addressed and whether my own comments and queries are understandable and make sense.

By the way, before editing anything, I make a backup file of the original, in case I really mess something up, which happens more often than I care to think about.