Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Losing All Formatting in a Document.

Losing All Formatting in a Document

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated June 26, 2018)


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 ribbons 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 (on the Home tab of the ribbon) 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 do you 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:

  1. Display the Home tab of the ribbon and then click the small icon at the bottom-right of the Styles group. Word displays the Styles task pane.
  2. In the Styles pane, 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 New Documents Based On this Template radio button.
  7. 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 (7544) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word 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 3 + 8?

2018-01-15 13:14:19


After saving my Word document from .doc to .docx, some pages showed just a hyperlink to a section. It reduced the total number of pages in my document. Once I saved it back to a .doc file, the hyperlink disappeared, and the lost pages came back.

2016-12-08 18:18:19


I am completing a year loong project report for printing. When reviewing my document I found the table columns and rows are not aligning properly. Rows have changed to long columns over several pages, and some columns are now displaying off of the page on the right margin. The tabs appear to be off and I don't know why. I am at the deadline for converting to PDF and I am in a dilemma, H E L P. I am using WORD 2016!

2016-06-30 15:53:59

Cheryl Dixon

I am having a problem with a MS Word 2010 template form that was created about two years ago. This form has some tables within its format used for signature blocks for folks to fill out on the form. The form is saved as a .docx. A ASP .NET web site contains a few text boxes for users to fill out. Next the user clicks a button on the web site and using Aspose for Words software in conjunction with web site code, the template pops up for the user to open or save. When user opens the template and then completes the document and finally saves it. All of this was working properly in an MS Office 2010 environment when developed a few years ago.

Recently, the software environment was upgraded from MS Office 2010 to Office 2013. Now there are problems with the template form when it pops up. Now the tables within the document form are all misaligned, before anyone clicks 'Enable Editing'. Once the user clicks that button sometimes the form will realign itself properly after it opens. But even then, once the user types text and then goes to save the form, an error message appears informing of compatibility issues. I found that the user can check the checkbox to Maintain the earlier version format before clicking the save button.

Some times the check box helps to temporarily resolve the issue. But at times, when the user opens the saved document again there is a misaligned form (the table(s) portion). This misalignment problem never appeared until the MS Office upgrade about a month ago.

What is the best way to permanently fix the misalignment problem? What can I do with the template form in MS Word so that at least when a new Word document (.docx) is created in the MS Word 2013 environment the alignment is correct?

I have heard that Microsoft changed the default formatting (e.g. margins) on Word for 2013 when compared to previous versions. This probably explains the misalignment.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



2013-01-29 17:51:28


How can you un-check the automatic update so that NO document is updated with these styles. We have a document that was "explicit" formatted and saved, then when re-opened (on same computer that it was saved on) the formatting and positioning of pages is different. I assume it has to do with the styles, but I hardly ever use a style to format documents.

2013-01-28 08:51:06

Peter Johnson

The problem here is that Microsoft Word has "Automatically Update" set as on by default. This is the opposite of what most users need. The best approach is to remove it from all styles in your document using a VBA macro.

Sub RemoveAutoUpdate()
Dim s As Style
For Each s In ActiveDocument.Styles
If s.Type = wdStyleTypeParagraph Or s.Type = wdStyleTypeParagraphOnly Then
s.AutomaticallyUpdate = False
End If
Next s
End Sub

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