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: Losing All Formatting in a Document.

Losing All Formatting in a Document

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 18, 2016)


Emily has a concern about how she keeps losing document formatting. Every time she highlights a section of text and then changes the font or margin alignment, Word changes the whole document into that new font or margin.

Before explaining how to fix this, it is necessary to do a bit of a review about how formatting is handled in Word. In general, there are two types of formatting in Word: implicit and explicit. Implicit formatting, which is formatting done by "default," is implemented through the use of styles. Explicit formatting is done through the use of formatting commands, such as those found on the toolbars, in the menus, and in various dialog boxes.

All default formatting in Word begins with styles. You can't get away from them; they are always there, even if you try to ignore them. If you change what is within the definition of a style, then you've changed the formatting applied across all paragraphs or characters that use that style. If you create new styles, you are creating new "default" formatting that can be applied to various elements of your document. If you try to ignore styles, then most, if not all, of your paragraphs use the Normal style.

Any explicit formatting you do is always done as an overlay to the underlying style-based formatting. For instance, if you select a few words in a paragraph and then click the Bold tool, the selected text is formatted as bold, but you haven't removed the style that controlled how the text was originally formatted. You can't remove it; you can only override it.

Word also makes it possible for explicit formatting to not just override the implicit formatting, but to become the implicit format. This happens because Word can "absorb" explicit formatting changes into the underlying style. When this occurs, any other document elements that used that style automatically change to reflect the newly applied format.

This behavior (of absorbing explicit formatting into the underlying style) really muddies the water for people just learning how Word handles formatting. All of a sudden, local formats can be propagated globally, and that results in what appears to be strange behavior on the part of Word.

How to solve the problem? Turn off the setting in Word that causes explicit formatting to be absorbed into the underlying styles. You do that by following these steps if you are using Word 2002 or Word 2003:

  1. Choose Styles and Formatting from the Format menu. Word displays the Styles and Formatting task pane.
  2. Hover the mouse pointer over the style you want to change. A drop-down arrow should appear at the right of the style name.
  3. Click the drop-down arrow and choose Modify. Word displays the Modify Style dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Modify Style dialog box.

  5. Clear the Automatically Update check box.
  6. If the style is stored in a template (it is not defined only for the current document), then I find it a good idea to choose the Add to Template check box.
  7. Click on OK.

Finally, follow these steps if you are using Word 97 or Word 2000:

  1. Choose Style from the Format menu. Word displays the Style dialog box.
  2. Select the style you want to change, and then click Modify. Word displays the Modify Style dialog box.
  3. Clear the Automatically Update check box.
  4. If the style is stored in a template (it is not defined only for the current document), then I find it a good idea to choose the Add to Template check box.
  5. Click on OK.

That's it; that's how you stop Word from applying the explicit changes to the underlying style. Of course, if you've inadvertently changed styles earlier (because the Automatically Update check box was selected), then you'll need to go back and change the style definition so that text appears as you want it to. You'll also need to go through and perform these same steps on any other styles in the template or document.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (93) 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: Losing All Formatting in a Document.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is 0 + 7?

2016-07-14 15:55:46


I am using Word to write "procedures" with numbered steps.

When I close word and reopen my document, all numbering is gone.

I hit ctrl A and F9 (update all fields), no problem.

Close Word, wait a bit, reopen and nothing, gone. Cannot get numbering back,
or can I?

2016-04-22 05:39:33

Jaap Verbeek

Last night, I got an Office update, resulting in a lot of formatting issues in all document, especially symbols have been changed. My Word version is Microsoft Word 2010-2011. Thank you very much.

2015-06-23 19:54:16


when i convert doc file to html it shows miss alignment in the boxes text in file
pl provide me a solution for this

2015-06-12 16:23:47


Dear Sir
I had saved one word document a few days ago. Today when I am trying to open
it but I am getting a 'File Conversion' dialog box. It is asking me to select
text encoding = 'Windows Default or MS-Dos or Other Encoding (with list of
items in drop down). And when I clicked cancel, it showed tons of box where I can't read. I did not do any conversion or anything on this file. Please help. Thanks in advance!
when I clicked on window default, it still showed tons of boxes that are not words, which is unreadable.

Please send your response to my

2015-06-11 08:38:41

yogita jadhav

when i convert doc file to html it shows miss alignment in the boxes text in file
pl provide me a solution for this

2014-12-28 12:47:52

Don Sylvester

I have the exact opposite problem. After four hundred pages of double-spacing, I saved the document only to have it revert to single spacing and I cannot change it back without rewriting the entire thing. WHY?!!!!!!!!!!
This is six months work down the damn drain!!!!!!

2013-10-23 16:30:27


Help! I'm busy proofreading a novel. The editing has been extensive. The novel has been split into four different Word documents, separating the chapters (i.e. 1-5, 6-8, etc.). I was in the middle of document four - haven't had an issue with the previous docs - now when I try to open it, most of my changes have totally disappeared. There is no double spacing, no strike-throughs (found under Format:Font), no red lettering for suggested changes, and no comments (entered from Insert).
I do have a file from two days ago that is missing two days work because I renamed this file.
Is there a way I can retrieve it without having to redo my work in the old file?
I appreciate any help you can give.

2013-06-22 07:35:56

Mickey Mouse

When I copy and paste, I want to keep destination formatting, and every time I paste, I have to click and choose. I want to set keep destination formatting as my default(MSOffice 2003)Thank you, you are an awesome teacher.

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