Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. 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

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated February 19, 2021)


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.

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, and 2013. 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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What is 4 + 8?

2021-08-09 07:21:03

David in Mississippi

Whay Roy said is absolutely true - in EXCEL. However, if you are in WORD (Isn't this WordTips?), then you don't need to worry about it. It's good to keep this in mind, though, when you use Excel, or any other spreadsheet.

2021-08-08 05:26:27


In David in Mississippi's comment, one cannot just copy the cell or one will eventually paste what ends up in that cell, not what one wanted.

You need to press F2-Edit and copy the contents that way (highlight contents, press Ctrl-C). The do the Redo's. Now when you paste, it will be the content you copied, not the cell.

(If you copied the cell, Excel remembers that it was the cell you copied and when you go to paste, it takes that, not something from the Clipboard, so it takes the cell and its then current contents which is not the content you did the Undo-Redo process for.

A different way of solving this is to have the expanded Clipboard open. What Excel puts there is the value of the cell you copied. Then once the Redo's are done, click that entry from the expanded Clipboard. This is "less good" than the above though as unless you do the F2-Edit approach, the value the expanded Clipboard will hold will be the VALUE of the formula, not the formula. So... fine for cells holding values ("constants" in Excel-speak) but not for ones holding formulas. Or formatting or Conditional Formatting, and so on. Just for ones holding simple values. The above at least gets the formulas, though it also will not get formats, etc.

2021-02-19 13:05:28


To David in Mississippi: Thanks for the brilliant comment

2021-02-19 11:42:08

David in Mississippi

Here's a way AROUND this "can't solve it" problem, at least for deleted items. You're welcome to post this in a future issue.

1. Roll back all the undos until you get to the item you wanted to keep.
2. Highlight that item and copy it. (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.
4. Find the place in your document where you want that item to go, then paste it there.

If you find that you cannot paste the item because somehow it fell off your clipboard, then before redoing the redo's, first paste the item into a separate document. After the redo's, you can copy and paste it from that other document.

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