Automatically Update Document Styles Setting

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 16, 2020)


Bruce has noticed, in the Templates and Add-ins dialog box, a check box labeled "Automatically Update Document Styles." He is unclear on what this check box actually does. Does it update styles in whatever template he is choosing, or does it update the styles in the document based on whatever template he's attaching to the document? (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Automatically Update Document Styles check box.

In short, this particular control does the latter—it updates styles in the current document (the one to which you are attaching the template) to match the styles in the template. Let's suppose, for instance, that you have a style called Body Text in the current document, and it is 12-point Times New Roman with no space before or after and a first-line indent of .25 inches. However, the template you are attaching also has a Body Text style that is 11-point Arial with 13 points after and no ident. If you check the Automatically Update Document Styles check box, then the definition for Body Text in the document (along with any other style definitions in the document) are overwritten by the style definitions in the template.

If you think about it, this process is natural—in most instances you would want the template styles to supersede the styles in your document. That way you can easily modify the appearance of your text for different purposes, as defined by the various templates you've created. If you don't use the Automatically Update Document Styles check box, you are (in effect) telling Word to ignore the styles in the template you are currently attaching to the document.

There are three caveats to understand in this process. First, explicit formatting is not overwritten; only style-based formatting is affected. Second, if there are any custom styles in the document that don't have counterparts in the template, those styles are not affected.

Third, it should be understood that this overwriting is not just a one-time thing; it occurs when you first attach the template and whenever, thereafter, you open the document. If you attach a template to a document and later modify the styles in the template, those modifications are reflected in the document the next time you open it. If you don't want the subsequent updating to occur, then you can again display the Templates and Add-ins dialog box and clear the Automatically Update Document Styles check box.

As a final thought, remember that there is another setting in Word, on a different dialog box, that is easy to confuse with the Automatically Update Document Styles setting. (I bring this up only so that you don't confuse the two of them.) On either the Create New Style from Formatting or Modify Style dialog box there is a check box labeled "Automatically Update." (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Automatically Update check box is a totally different control.

Perhaps it is the fact that both check boxes begin with the two words "automatically update" that makes them so easy to confuse for some people. While both settings have to do with styles, this latter one operates totally differently from the one discussed up to this point. It causes a style in the document to be updated on the fly as you make explicit formatting changes to any text or paragraphs formatted with that particular style.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13124) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Word in Office 365.

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 six more than 6?

2019-11-01 16:59:47

Word Up

It would be helpful if you also say how to get to these dialog boxes. After searching for other tutorials on the web, I found that the following sequence is required to get to the Templates and Add-ins dialog box at the tab you illustrate:

File | Options | Add-ins | Manage | Templates | Go | Templates and Add-ins | Templates

Now I need to figure out how to get to the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box...

2019-08-19 08:27:05


Why does the checkbox in figure 2 automatically get checked on some occasions when I import a style from another template. Even though on the other template that setting is unchecked.

It would appear there is a deeply buried setting that is causing this very annoying default behaviour.
I know there is a macro that can do a bulk update on the document template, however, I would prefer to not have this behaviour in the first place.
Also, getting macros to run as a default causes security concerns.

2019-02-26 00:57:28


Hi Allen,

Great post thank you, now is there any way to set the GPO to un-tick this option to ensure documents do not get updated with the style?
or else a script maybe to mass disable this?

It seems the default templates keep changing this, and I do not want it to apply to everyone as several other dept have different styles and currently working on a separate one. Seems like when other users are opening that dept documents it gets modified.
Any ideas?

Best Regards,

2017-06-06 16:57:56

Gordon Hyatt


Longtime subscriber - love your tips. Also have a daughter living in Wyoming, so connected to your move there!

have a question on this topic. I have recently updated from Office 2007 to 2013. We have always had a template: Default, and then .dotx that we use to provide standardized styles for all our base documents. In this upgrade, we made some changes to the base styles in this document, and moved the file to a new network Workgroup templates folder (from Word07\Workgroup to Word2013\Workgroup). Now when users open an existing document formatted with these base styles, we get duplicate styles in our ribbon, e.g. Body Txt, Body txt, Quote, Quote, Title, Title, etc. I check the Update styles checkbox discussed above, but even though the styles are named exactly the same, it is not updating my document, and display both styles from the old and new template.

Any thoughts on how to resolve this?


2016-04-27 21:02:58

David McCormack

What happens when the document is opened on a workstation where the template cannot be found. It seems to load the normal style sheet on that workstation which then changes nearly every style in the document.

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