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One Change Affects Everything

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: One Change Affects Everything.

Perhaps you've had this happen to you: You are typing along, and you decide you need to make a formatting change in your document. In this particular case, you want to format a particular paragraph as bold face. You select the paragraph, click on the Bold tool on the toolbar, and all the paragraphs in your document change to bold—not just the one you selected.

Or, you decide you want to add a bullet to the start of one paragraph. You select the paragraph, click the Bullets tool, and bullets appear in front of all the paragraphs in the document—not just the one you selected. What is going on, and how can this be corrected?

When this type of change occurs, you can press Ctrl+Z right away (the Undo shortcut) and Word reverses its action. Continually pressing Ctrl+Z is a pain, however. It is much better to understand the cause of the problem, then you can make the changes you need.

Formatting in Word is based on styles. Even if you don't know what styles are or have made a conscious decision to never use styles, they are still there, working in the background. Every paragraph in your document is based on an underlying style that defines how that paragraph appears on the page. With this tidbit firmly understood, the next time you get a "global change" when you only wanted to affect a single paragraph, follow these three steps to greater enlightenment:

  1. Press Ctrl+Z to undo the global change.
  2. With the insertion point still in the paragraph you formatted (or the paragraph completely selected), choose Style from the Format menu if you are using Word 97 or Word 2000. Word displays the Style dialog box, with the appropriate style of your paragraph already selected. If you are using Word 2002 or Word 2003, choose Styles and Formatting from the Format menu to display the Styles and Formatting task pane. Hover the mouse pointer over the selected style and click on the down-arrow at its right side.
  3. Click on Modify. Word displays the Modify Style dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Modify Style dialog box.

Take a good look at the dialog box. At the bottom is a check box labeled Automatically Update. If this check box is selected, it means that whenever you make changes to the paragraph, in your document, those changes are automatically made to the style that is assigned to the paragraph. Once the change is made, then every other paragraph in your document that is formatted using the same style is automatically changed.

If you are a person that ignores styles completely, or who thinks you don't need to worry about them, this is where you can get into trouble. In most cases, Word uses the Normal style as the default style for paragraphs in a document. If the Normal style has the Automatically Update check box selected, it is guaranteed that you will experience the problems described at the beginning of this tip.

To solve this problem, follow these steps:

  1. Display the Modify Style dialog box, as described in the previous three steps.
  2. Make sure the Automatically Update check box is cleared.
  3. Make sure the Add to Template check box is selected.
  4. Click on OK to close the Modify Style dialog box.
  5. Click on Close in the Style dialog box in Word 97 and Word 2000, or close the Styles and Formatting task pane in Word 2002 and Word 2003.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (569) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: One Change Affects Everything.

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Comments for this tip:

Todd    27 Sep 2016, 14:11
Helpful, been command b / command z'ing for too long. Nice to know there is a way to make it stop, even if it is somewhat convoluted.
Carla    19 Sep 2016, 21:38
Thanks a lot! It was so useful!
MicroS    04 Sep 2016, 23:09
OMG Thank you!! This particular problem has been making me crazy, and you helped in a clear and immediate way.
Nikita    10 May 2016, 02:53
I am working on a word document and need to set a few words to BOLD in the pages. These words are repeated many times in the document. When I try to replace it with bold from format, it changes the whole page to bold. Can I do this for just 1 word which I need?
Sylvia    13 Mar 2016, 00:56
I have a different problem. I am about to submit a manuscript for publishing. I am using another book as a guide and the excerpts are in bold. My regular typing is in regular type. I don't know how the entire manuscript was transposed. My regular type is nor bold and what should be bold is now regular type. It changed the ENTIRE manuscript. Is there a way to get it back without manual going through the entire manuscript and changing everything back? That would take days!
Bill Maryott    01 Mar 2016, 00:22
That was a fabulous tip. I looked high and low how to get bolding to behave in Word 7 and you explained it fabulously.
Heluo Hill    18 Feb 2016, 12:28
Hi Michelle,

It’s been a while since you asked your question (we’re in 2016 in the mean time), but since I used to have the same problem, here is how I ‘solved’ it. It may be a work around only, but it works.

In any case, while you’re at it and as you go, you may each time check with the ‘Show All’ button, to see how you ‘end’ sentences and how you ‘go to’ new sentences. Either way, and as it is, to get to a new sentence you can hit just ENTER or CTRL+ENTER, which the latter will change the paragraph icon normally there at the end of each sentence to some sort of an arrow.

If you use CTRL+ENTER, it is likely to get just one bullet.

Anyway, each time that you see just one bullet, position your cursor right at the end of the last character in your first line. Then click ‘delete’, so as to have the ‘second’ line now attach to the first line. Then just click ENTER. Repeat this on the how many lines there are in your bullet and it will be all neat.

You may now want to ‘play’ with the white space between bullets, and you can use Formatting ‘paragraphing’ for that.
Captain Claw    21 Jan 2016, 03:08
Mr. Allen Wyatt, I thank you.
Vickie Higgins    11 Sep 2015, 11:25
I, too, had been struggling with this for ages. I didn't think there'd be a fix, but there was. Thank you so much!!
Alan    15 Aug 2015, 10:00
I had been struggling with a document for weeks until I read this article. Problem solved. Many thanks.
gaz    08 Jul 2015, 11:19
brilliantly simple, cheers
David Saraiva    02 Feb 2015, 15:33
Thank you, I had this problem for a while. Good explanation.
Ingo WIll    12 Dec 2014, 11:16
I cannot see that this works as described for Word 2013.
Even after switching off "Automatic paragraph formatting" as described in your article, changes to one paragraph are automatically transferred to all paragraphs of the same style.

In addition, there seems to be no possibility for switching off the "Automatic paragraph formatting" for the "Normal" style. What is the philosophy behind this?

Mintjar    21 May 2014, 12:22
For Word 2010, Right click specific bullet point > Styles > Clear Formatting.

Maybe its not the best solution, but hope it helps.
Michelle    18 Feb 2014, 14:45
Working in Word 2013. Having a similar problem. I try to bullet one list, but Word inserts a single bullet symbol in front of the very first paragraph of the doc and indents that and all following paragraphs (but none are bulleted), as if the entire document is one paragraph getting bulleted. I try to remove all formatting (Ctrl + Spacebar), but I still can't get the paragraphs to act individually.
Jackie    12 Dec 2013, 11:45
Thank you, thank you, thank you for such a simple, straight-forward explanation!
PNI    21 Jul 2012, 16:09
What to do if I have Word 2010?

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