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: One Change Affects Everything.

One Change Affects Everything

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated March 16, 2024)
This tip applies to Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, Word in Microsoft 365, and 2021


Perhaps you've had this happen to you: You are typing along, and you decide you need to make a formatting change in your document. In this particular case, you want to format a particular paragraph as bold face. You select the paragraph, click on the Bold tool on the Home tab of the ribbon, and all the paragraphs in your document change to bold—not just the one you selected.

Or, you decide you want to add a bullet to the start of one paragraph. You select the paragraph, click the Bullets tool, and bullets appear in front of all the paragraphs in the document—not just the one you selected. What is going on, and how can this be corrected?

When this type of change occurs, you can press Ctrl+Z right away (the Undo shortcut) and Word reverses its action. Continually pressing Ctrl+Z is a pain, however. It is much better to understand the cause of the problem, then you can make the changes you need.

Formatting in Word is based on styles. Even if you don't know what styles are or have made a conscious decision to never use styles, they are still there, working in the background. Every paragraph in your document is based on an underlying style that defines how that paragraph appears on the page. With this tidbit firmly understood, the next time you get a "global change" when you only wanted to affect a single paragraph, follow these four steps to greater enlightenment:

  1. Press Ctrl+Z to undo the global change.
  2. With the insertion point still in the paragraph you formatted (or the paragraph completely selected), display the Home tab of the ribbon and click the small arrow icon at the bottom right of the Styles group. This displays the Styles pane at the right side of your screen.
  3. Hover the mouse pointer over the style that is selected in the pane and click the down-arrow at its right side.
  4. Click on Modify. Word displays the Modify Style dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  5. Figure 1. The Modify Style dialog box.

Take a good look at the dialog box. At the bottom is a check box labeled Automatically Update. If this check box is selected, it means that whenever you make changes to the paragraph, in your document, those changes are automatically made to the style that is assigned to the paragraph. Once the change is made, then every other paragraph in your document that is formatted using the same style is automatically changed.

If you are a person that ignores styles completely or who thinks you don't need to worry about them, this is where you can get into trouble. In most cases, Word uses the Normal style as the default style for paragraphs in a document. Fortunately, Word doesn't provide an Automatically Update check box for the Normal style. But if your document is using some other style for the basis style for all paragraphs and the Automatically Update check box is selected, it is guaranteed that you will experience the problems described at the beginning of this tip.

To solve this problem, follow these steps:

  1. Display the Modify Style dialog box, as described in the previous four steps.
  2. Make sure the Automatically Update check box is cleared. (If you don't see this check box, it means that you've displayed the Modify Style for the Normal style; you don't need to make any changes to the Normal style.)
  3. Make sure the New Documents Based On This Template radio button is selected.
  4. Click on OK to close the Modify Style dialog box.
  5. Close the Styles pane.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (11326) 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: One Change Affects Everything.

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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