Word Operates Backwards

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 3, 2012)

Linda ran into a problem where, all of a sudden, Word was starting to operate "backwards." Comments entered in the text were right-aligned, even though they were formatted as left-aligned. Her arrow keys also worked the opposite of the way they should: the left arrow moved the cursor to the right and vice versa.

This problem is undoubtedly related to the language settings in Word, and possibly within Office. Word (and Office) supports many different languages, including languages that are written from right to left, such as Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, and many other languages.

The solution is to figure out where--exactly--the language change has been made, and then undo it. One thing you can try is to get out of Word and rename your Normal.dot file. This file can contain the default language setting for Word; renaming the file and then restarting Word causes the old Normal.dot to be ignored and a new one created.

Of course, renaming Normal.dot also means that other settings contained within the file are also lost. If you don't want to do that (or if renaming the file doesn't solve the problem), then you need to make sure that the language settings for Office are set the way you want them. Follow these steps, assuming you are using Word 2000 or later:

  1. Close down Word; get out of it completely.
  2. In Windows, click Start | Programs | Microsoft Office Tools | Microsoft Office Language Settings. This starts the Office Language Settings program. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Office Language Settings program.

  4. Make sure the only language shown as "enabled" is the language you use. The interface for the program differs slightly based on the version of Office you are using, but there should be a list of available languages shown, along with a list of languages that are enabled. Use the controls to make sure the desired language is set.
  5. Exit the Office Language Settings program.

Now that you are through making sure that Office understands which language you want to use, make sure that you set the default language in Word itself. Follow these steps:

  1. Start Word and make sure there is a blank document on the screen.
  2. Choose Tools | Language | Set Language. Word displays the Language dialog box. (See Figure 2.)
  3. Figure 2. The Language dialog box.

  4. Make sure that the language you want to use is selected in the language list. (This should be the same language you set in the Office Language Settings program.)
  5. Clear the Automatically Select Language check box.
  6. Click the Default button.
  7. Close the dialog box.

These steps set the default language in whatever template is loaded in Word at the time. Since you started (in step 1) with a blank document, this means that the default language for the Normal.dot template was set. If you use other templates, you will want to make sure that you load a new document based on each of those templates, in turn, and go through these same steps to change their language settings.

For additional information, check out Word's Help system and search for an article entitled "Change Paragraph Direction."

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (291) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

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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