Reveal Codes in Word

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 26, 2014)


I get many people who write and express frustration because they miss the "reveal codes" feature they were used to in WordPerfect. They do not understand why there is no comparable function in Word. The reason is because there is a core difference between how documents are formatted in Word and WordPerfect, and each takes a totally different approach to text in general. I won't try to convince anyone that one approach is better than the other; both have their pros and cons. Suffice it to say that they are just different than each other.

WordPerfect essentially treats text and formatting the same. When you format some of your text, a "start code" is inserted at the beginning of the selection, and an "end code" is inserted at the end. These are actual codes, inserted in the actual text. These are the code markers that are visible when you display the reveal codes window. You can select and delete these codes, just as you would any other character. In fact, you can insert a "start code" in your text, and if you don't insert an "end code," (or if you delete the "end code" without deleting the "start code") the rest of the document is formatted according to the lone "start code."

You can't do that in Word. This is because Word treats text and formatting completely independent of each other. The file format used in Word stores formatting information in a different portion of the file than the text to which that formatting is applied. Thus, the formatting is not within the "text stream," as it is in WordPerfect. Instead, Word tracks the paragraph and character formatting applied to every character in the document, without the need to worry about "start codes" or "end codes."

In Word, basically "what you see is what you get." If something is formatted as bold text, it appears as bold text. It is essentially impossible to have stray or unused formatting codes in your text, as you can in WordPerfect. The reason is because there are no such codes.

The closest you can get to the reveal codes is to display the complete formatting information that Word is applying to a character or paragraph. You can do this by following these steps:

  1. Press Shift+F1. (You can also choose What's This? from the Help menu.) This causes the mouse pointer to change to an arrow with a question mark beside it.
  2. Point to the character or paragraph in question and click the mouse button.

When you do this, Word 97 and Word 2000 display a "balloon" that looks like the dialog balloons used in some cartoons. The balloon contains detailed information about the formatting of the character you pointed to, as well as the paragraph in which the character appears.

If you are using Word 2002 and 2003, the Reveal Formatting task pane is displayed at the right side of the screen. This task pane shows all the same information that is in the balloons used in earlier versions of Word, but provides the added feature of allowing you to modify formatting, as desired.

If you are using Word 97 or Word 2000, you have two options at this point. You can either click on a different character to see more formatting information, or you can press Esc to make the balloons go away. If you are using Word 2002 or 2003, the Reveal Formatting task pane remains on the screen until you either display a different task pane or dismiss the task pane all together.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (1837) 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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What is six more than 8?

2017-12-02 11:50:44

Jamal Mazrui

I understand the general point about Word formatting, but I thought paragraph formatting information is stored in a paragraph mark character. Adding or deleting such a character within the character stream certainly affects formatting of surrounding text.

In a related matter, is there a macro or file save format that can reveal all character and paragraph formatting of a Word document in a separate output file, such as a text or XML file? I want to be able to examine formatting of a document outside of Word, itself.

2012-03-13 23:20:53

Dave Grigger

wow, your popup is REALLY annoying.
popups are bad enough, but badly formatted ones that black out the rest of the page are even more so.

2011-11-10 08:33:26

Larry McNair

Thanks!!! Saved me a lot of time tring to see how to turn this OFF.

Have a Blessed Day!!!!

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