Stopping Styles from Changing with Multiple Users

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated April 20, 2021)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016


Deborah is working in an office that has documents on a server so that multiple people can work on them. Her role is to format the finished articles. For example, she may change the Normal style from 11 point to 10 point and create new styles as appropriate for the document. When she views the file, the styles stay the way she defined them, but if someone else opens the document, the style settings for the built-in styles revert to default. In other words, all the Normal-styled text will change from 10 point back to the default of 11 point. Deborah has tried avoiding the built-in style names, and she even makes sure that the "based on" styles do not use the built-in style names, but the problem still crops up. She wonders why this is happening and how she can make the styles stay the way she sets them, even if others later open the document.

The concept of styles and what they can do is very, very powerful. When you set up a template on your system, you can easily apply formatting to paragraphs, characters, and even tables so that you get a consistent look within and across documents.

Things get a bit more complicated when you start sharing those documents with others. How styles are defined on the other system—particularly the Normal style, on which so many styles are based—can affect the shared document once opened.

This doesn't seem to be Deborah's problem, however. She indicates that she is not basing her house styles on any of Word's built-in styles. With this being the case, there are a few things to try. First, make sure that the other users don't have an older version of the templates on their systems. If they do, there could be difference in the style definitions in the older templates that are affecting the document.

Second, you need to check the users Normal template. It is possible that some of the house styles have made it into their Normal templates, and those house styles—which may be different from those in the official template—are overriding what is in the document.

While you are looking at their Normal template, you should also check to make sure that none of their styles are defined with the "Automatically Update" option turned on. This can rapidly allow users to mess up what is in your document styles. (Don't forget to check all the styles for this setting, not just a few.)

The problem with checking these things is that it involves getting on the other users' systems and checking what templates and styles are there. This can be almost impossible when those users may be in remote locations. You could try educating the users on what to look for, or even create a macro to somehow look for what templates and styles are on the other system. Neither of these is a particularly easy task.

There is one other thing you could try. You could look at your template and make sure that all of your house styles (all of them, mind you) are based on a single style. You could make this the Normal style, but I personally tend to shy away from using the Normal style. Instead, create a new style, perhaps named HouseBase, on which all other styles are based.

The benefit to this is that when you receive a document back from another user, you can load that document and then simply copy the HouseBase style from your template into the received document. Theoretically, at least, this should affect all other styles in the document and they should revert to the formatting in the HouseBase style. Since all the other styles in the document are based on this base style, they will be affected as well.

Another thing you might do is to add one more step to your processing when you are done with your work on the document. As one of the very last things you do, follow these steps:

  1. Display the Review tab of the ribbon.
  2. Click the Restrict Editing tool in the Protect group. Word displays the Restrict Editing pane at the right side of your document.
  3. In the Formatting Restrictions area, select the Limit Formatting to a Selection of Styles check box.
  4. Click the Settings link, right under the check box. Word displays the Formatting Restrictions dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  5. Figure 1. The Formatting Restrictions dialog box.

  6. Make sure in that the list of styles reflects those that you want the user able to use.
  7. Adjust the check boxes at the bottom of the dialog box, as desired.
  8. Click OK. Word closes the Formatting Restrictions dialog box.
  9. If the restrictions you put in place raised some potential conflicts with styles used in the document, Word asks you what you want to do. (Answer as you desire.)
  10. Click Yes, Start Enforcing Protection. Word displays the Start Enforcing Protection dialog box.
  11. Enter a password for the protection, if desired. (You'll need to enter it twice.)
  12. Click OK.
  13. Close the Restrict Formatting and Editing task pane.
  14. Save your document.

At this point users should not be able to adjust the formatting in the document, unless they are working with the styles you specified in step 5.

Finally, if all else fails you can remember that there should be no changes to the formatting in the documents if the user cannot save the document. You could use some level of document protection—for instance, making the documents read-only—so that they could be opened, but not saved using the same document name. This should help to protect any formatting you already have in the 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 (4361) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016.

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 seven more than 9?

2022-02-07 09:59:17


Thank youl This is helpful. However, the list of styles is endless and hard to know which ones to select. Also we do want some of our people to have some flexibility in their reports.

2017-10-03 08:38:36


Also, go to Developer > Document Template > and on the "Templates" tab, make sure that "Automatically update document styles" is not checked.

2017-10-03 08:32:17

Lee Batchelor

True Judith, but not everyone has PDF editing software. Adobe products are expensive and the open source PDF software has a long way to go before it actually works well. (Perhaps you can provide the name of such software for editing PDF docs??)

Besides, writers shouldn't have to use two pieces of software just because the first one was poorly designed by a company that just doesn't care. Truth is, Word needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. MS has been playing catch-up since the Word Perfect days.

2017-10-02 23:11:13


The easiest way to keep others from messing up your style in a document is to convert it to a PDF file that can be edited, commented upon, etc. Then when all changes are collected, the editor can change the original Word doc to produce the finished product.

2017-10-02 11:34:56

Lee Batchelor

This has been a major problem that MS has never addressed. I believe when they invented Word, they meant it for a single user who wanted to replace the typewriter. They had no way of knowing hundreds of people would become involved in document editing. Problem is, MS never kept up with the times. Allen's last solution is the best. It works some of the time. However, basing all styles on HouseBase only works for text styles. If you create numbered or bullet lists, I believe that method falls apart. The MS bullet and numbered lists are already a major screw-up. Adding a third variable would completely mess things up.

The best solution? Have all your custom styles "travel" with your document, which they do, but when someone else opens it, the only styles in force are those that come with the document - Word ignores all others. Any writer worth their weight in salt always uses styles to control document formatting.

Of course, none of the solutions to the many problems with Word will ever be fixed until MS starts listening to those who pay their outrageous salaries - us!

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