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Selective Undo

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: Selective Undo.

It's happened to all of us—you are editing your document, and you delete an object. You then type a bit more, make a few more changes, and then realize that you should not have deleted the object. You take a look at the undo list in Word (by clicking on the down arrow next to the Undo tool on the toolbar), and you see that the delete action you want to undo is buried down five or six layers in the Undo list. If you choose that delete action, then all the changes since that time are also undone. Wouldn't it be great if you could be selective about the "undos" that you want to choose? Wouldn't it be great if you could choose to undo just the delete action, and leave everything else alone?

It would be great, but you can't do it in Word. You cannot select a single item from the undo list without also undoing everything since that point. Why is this? Quite simply it is because being selective in undoing actions can cause instability in your document. It is much easier to simply "roll back" the document state to when a particular edit was made than it is to pick and choose which edits to undo.

Let me provide an example. Let's say that you have a text box that includes some text. You delete some text in the middle of the text box, then you type some more text in the box. You then type some text in the regular document, outside the text box. Finally, you decide to simply delete the text box. In this process, at least four actions have been recorded in the undo list: the first text deletion, the typing in the text box, the typing outside the text box, and the deletion of the text box.

If you try to undo just the first item on the undo list (the first text deletion), how should Word behave? The context in which the text existed—the text box—is no longer in the document. The text cannot be restored to a place that no longer exists. Word, to get around the problem, simply "rolls back" the document to just before the first edit. In this case, the document stability is maintained because the text can be restored in the same context from which it was originally deleted.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1320) 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: Selective Undo.

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