Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. 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: Selective Undo.

Selective Undo

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated January 14, 2023)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


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It's happened to all of us—you are editing your document, and you delete an object. You then type a bit more, make a few more changes, and then realize that you should not have deleted the object. You take a look at the undo list in Word (by clicking on the down arrow next to the Undo tool above the ribbon), and you see that the delete action you want to undo is buried down five or six layers in the Undo list. If you choose that delete action, then all the changes since that time are also undone. Wouldn't it be great if you could be selective about the "undos" that you want to choose? Wouldn't it be great if you could choose to undo just the delete action and leave everything else alone?

It would be great, but you can't do it in Word. You cannot select a single item from the undo list without also undoing everything since that point. Why is this? Quite simply it is because being selective in undoing actions can cause instability in your document. It is much easier to simply "roll back" the document state to when a particular edit was made than it is to pick and choose which edits to undo.

Let me provide an example. Let's say that you have a text box that includes some text. You delete some text in the middle of the text box, then you type some more text in the box. You then type some text in the regular document, outside the text box. Finally, you decide to simply delete the text box. In this process, at least four actions have been recorded in the undo list: the first text deletion, the typing in the text box, the typing outside the text box, and the deletion of the text box.

If you try to undo just the first item on the undo list (the first text deletion), how should Word behave? The context in which the text existed—the text box—is no longer in the document. The text cannot be restored to a place that no longer exists. Word, to get around the problem, simply "rolls back" the document to just before the first edit. In this case, the document stability is maintained because the text can be restored in the same context from which it was originally deleted.

There is something that you can try, however, that may work for you, as long as your "undo" that you want to "redo" involves an object, such as an image, that you want to again appear in the document:

  1. Roll back all the undos until you get to the item you wanted to keep. (Undo the step that deleted the object so that it once again appears in your document.)
  2. Select that item and copy it to the Clipboard (use Ctrl+C).
  3. Redo all the items on the Redo list until you get back to where you started. This will also re-delete the item you just copied. It won't, however, remove it from the Clipboard.
  4. Find the place in your document where you want that item to go, then paste it there (use Ctrl+V).

If you find that you cannot paste the item because somehow it fell off your Clipboard or was replaced by one of the steps you redid, then simply paste the copied object, after step 2, to a brand-new document. After all the redos, you can copy and paste the object into your current 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 (10687) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Selective Undo.

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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Comments

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What is 8 + 4?

2023-01-20 01:36:37

Tomek

For those who use OneDrive (or possibly other cloud storage) for Word documents there may be another option to recover elements of the document that were later changed or deleted. OneDrive keeps previous versions of the files (not only Word documents) stored there. I believe they expire and are removed after 30 days, but if it is a document that you worked on recently for several days, you may be able to download a previous version or open it and save it under another name. In certain cases this may be better than undo, because the undo list is lost once you close the file.

The problem may be that versions may not have been saved if you continue working and making changes to the document without closing it, even if you save it manually several times. If you have AutoSave turned on, the document is saved automatically very frequently, but new versions are not created with every save. I am not sure ***if*** and how often previous versions are created in these scenarios, but they are definitely created when you save and then close the document.


2023-01-15 10:15:25

Andrew

I would point out that this solution is a more generally useful tactic than just for retrieving deleted items. Since the undo/redo sequenced doesn't affect the clipboard, nor does copying to the clipboard affect the undo/redo sequence, this is a useful technique for retrieving formatting, typed text, and many other things.

Sometimes I do a quick Ctrl-N, Ctrl-V to dump the clipboard into a new document, so I can manipulate the retrieved text etc. more conveniently.

Andy.


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