Reformatting a Document with Messed-Up Styles

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 25, 2020)


Fred has a 60-page legal document that has styles from all over the map (such as a dozen versions of Heading 2, numerous tab distances even for the same level of text, etc.). Fred wonders how he can easily, quickly, and safely reset and make all these styles consistent.

Given the three requirements (easily, quickly, and safely), the old adage comes to mind: You can have any two you want, and two out of three ain't bad!

Seriously, there is no quick way to do what you are asking. The reason is because, literally, you are trying to unravel what has become a bowl of spaghetti. Editors of various stripes have been struggling with this problem for years, and it is not a problem that Microsoft has been able to fix. In fairness to Microsoft, it is not a problem that is really possible to fix. For just one instance, let's say that you have (as you say) a dozen versions of Heading 2 in the document. If Microsoft were to develop some automated way of fixing this, how would the automation know which of the versions of Heading 2 was the correct one? What if it chose incorrectly? Now, multiply that by a dozen or more different styles you need in the document. The problem quickly goes from bad to worse and the solution may be no improvement over the original problem.

What seasoned editors have done to address this problem is to come up with their own techniques to "unravel" the spaghetti. If the document is short and has relatively few errant styles, you may be able to work directly in the document. Here's one approach:

  1. Open the document.
  2. Make sure the Styles pane is open. (Display the Home tab of the ribbon and click the small icon at the bottom-right of the Styles group.)
  3. Click the Options link at the bottom of the Styles pane. Word displays the Style Pane Options dialog box. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Style Pane Options dialog box.

  5. Using the Select Styles to Show drop-down list, choose In Current Document.
  6. Using the Select How List is Sorted drop-down list, choose Alphabetical.
  7. Click OK to close the dialog box.
  8. In the Style pane, hover the mouse pointer over one of the styles you want to remove from the document. A downward-pointing arrow appears at the right side of the style name.
  9. Click the downward-pointing arrow and choose Select All X Instances. (The X will actually represent the number of times the style is used in the document.) Word selects all the paragraphs or text that uses the style.
  10. In the Style pane, click on the style you want applied to the selected text. The style of the selected text is changed.
  11. In the Style pane, hover the mouse pointer over the same style you used in step 7.
  12. Click the downward-pointing arrow and choose Delete XYZ. (The XYZ is the name of the style.) Word displays a dialog box asking if you want to delete the style from the document.
  13. Click Yes. The style is removed from the document and disappears from the list of styles in the Style pane.
  14. Repeat steps 7 through 12 for each style you want to get rid of.

In applying this technique, you'll want to save your document periodically so that you don't lose your work.

Obviously, this technique can take a while, which is why I mentioned it as a good approach if you are working with a relatively short document. If the document is really messed up, the best approach is to start fresh and apply styles as you want them applied. When choosing a "start fresh" approach, though, it is always a good idea to do your work on a copy of the problem document, not on the original.

One way to start fresh is to select the entire document (Ctrl+A) and then press Ctrl+Q to remove all explicit paragraph formatting and then press Ctrl+Space Bar to remove all explicit character formatting. While this won't get rid of the unwanted styles from the document, it will allow you to reapply styles without the complication of dealing with weird explicit formatting that may have been applied.

To take this process a step further, create a brand-new document that is based on a template that includes your approved (desired) set of styles. With the two documents open (the source document from which you've removed explicit formatting and the target document you just created), follow these steps:

  1. Select everything in the source document except the final paragraph mark. (Easiest way: Press Ctrl+A, hold down the Shift key, and press the Left Arrow key.)
  2. Press Ctrl+C. This copies everything in the source document to the Clipboard.
  3. Switch to the target document.
  4. Display the Home tab of the ribbon.
  5. Click the down-arrow under the Paste tool. Word displays a variety of pasting options.
  6. Click the Keep Text Only tool. (It looks like a clipboard with the letter A at the bottom-right.) Word pastes unformatted text from the Clipboard into the target document.
  7. Close the source document.
  8. Open the original document. (You did work from the copy, not the original, right?)
  9. Using the original document as a visual guide, apply styles in the target document to make it appear as you want it to appear.

This tip has addressed only three possible techniques you could use; there are dozens of others you could use and that editors use every day. In my experience, it is this last technique—the one just described—that is probably the best approach. It is not quick, it does get easier with practice, and it definitely is safe. It also provides the cleanest approach to creating a document that is easy to maintain with the fewest chances for "gottchas" to crop up.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (13289) 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. ...


Adjusting Values with Formulas

Paste Special is a great tool that allows you to modify the values in a range of cells in your worksheets. You may want, ...

Discover More

Shading a Cell Until Something is Entered

Conditional formatting provides the opportunity to get very creative with your formatting. One such creative urge can be ...

Discover More

Converting Tables to Charts

Put numeric information in a table and you can then convert that information to a graphical chart using Microsoft Graph ...

Discover More

Create Custom Apps with VBA! Discover how to extend the capabilities of Office 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access) with VBA programming, using it for writing macros, automating Office applications, and creating custom applications. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2013 today!

More WordTips (ribbon)

Making Language Changes Apply to Text in Footnotes and Text Boxes

Word allows you to modify the language associated with the text in your document. How you modify the language can affect ...

Discover More

Checking Bilingual Documents

Do you routinely work with multiple languages in your documents? If so, you may appreciate the suggestions in this tip, ...

Discover More

Printing a List of Custom Styles

You can add any number of styles to your document in order to define how you want your text to appear. If you later want ...

Discover More

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

View most recent newsletter.


If you would like to add an image to your comment (not an avatar, but an image to help in making the point of your comment), include the characters [{fig}] in your comment text. You’ll be prompted to upload your image when you submit the comment. Maximum image size is 6Mpixels. Images larger than 600px wide or 1000px tall will be reduced. Up to three images may be included in a comment. All images are subject to review. Commenting privileges may be curtailed if inappropriate images are posted.

What is 3 - 2?

2019-10-03 20:07:58


I have several health care manuals that are formatted. Recently when I open them on my computer to make a few small edits, and clicked on a style sheet, the leading went wacko (too much space between the lines). The file doesn't have the same problem on my partner's computer. (we use mac mojave). Just curious... if I bought a new copy of Word and installed it, would I have the same problems?

2019-08-23 04:04:16

Ken Endacott

Each messed up document has different problems but one common factor seems to be that they are not quick to fix. I have a number of macros that I use but the most frequently used tool is good old Find & Replace. I almost never resort to a fresh unformatted document.

As for cleaning up numbering my approach is to convert any automatic numbering to text using a macro similar to Andrew’s, then apply numbered styles. The paragraphs will then have two sets of numbers which should agree with one another, I can guarantee that initially they won’t . After getting them in step the text numbers can be removed with Find & Replace. The F&R commands vary with the numbering scheme but typically they search for a paragraph mark followed by a numeric character and delete up to character after next non numeric character.

2019-08-22 10:03:09


I'm a fan of using variations of the "start fresh" approach. However, I recommend (in the copy) first converting all automatic numbers to ordinary text (otherwise resetting may remove the numbers completely). See (I use the macro below).

Sub ConvertNumbersToText()
Const WindowTitle As String = "ConvertNumbersToText"
If Selection.Type = wdSelectionIP Then
If MsgBox("Convert numbers to text in DOCUMENT?", vbYesNoCancel + vbExclamation, WindowTitle) <> vbYes Then Exit Sub
If MsgBox("Convert numbers to text in SELECTION?", vbYesNoCancel + vbExclamation, WindowTitle) <> vbYes Then Exit Sub
Selection.Range.ListFormat.ConvertNumbersToText (wdNumberAllNumbers)
End If
MsgBox "Done.", vbOKOnly, WindowTitle
End Sub

And, consider converting fields to field results (Ctrl-A to select all and Ctrl-Shift-F9 to do the conversion).

2019-08-21 19:31:36

Charles Borlase

"In fairness to Microsoft, it is not a problem that is really possible to fix. For just one instance, let's say that you have (as you say) a dozen versions of Heading 2 in the document. If Microsoft were to develop some automated way of fixing this, how would the automation know which of the versions of Heading 2 was the correct one"

I argue that for MANY documents, the initial styles are what you want. And if it's not, at least you have a problem that is consistent.

If a tool could be developed that would lock in the first Heading 1, 2, 3,.... it would alleviate tons of headache.

2018-07-24 16:31:29


The drop down arrow for the Hyperlink style is always grayed out so I can't select and change the format of the copied hyperlinks (clicking inside the hyperlink shows the style as Normal). Searching for the style Hyperlink returns a not found.

2017-08-12 04:06:38

Virginia Catmur

Thanks for this tip - but this method doesn't (didn't) carry over the footnotes. I've now added these back in manually, so no damage done, but I wondered if there's a way of copying over the text from a messed-up document that does also carry over the footnotes?
Thanks again
Virginia Catmur

2015-08-27 15:20:12

Kathy Mergulhao

I totally agree with the steps outlined above. There is no easy way to manually restyle/rebrand/renumber documents. Copying the text into Notepad ensures all Word "stuff" is removed as well.

What's new on the market is Word Renovation Tools. We designed this software for the legal professionals who often have to restyle/rebrand/fix lengthy documents. It preserves footnotes, cross references and is fast. Totally gutting a job of more than 250+ pages, 377 footnotes took less than 15 minutes!

2014-10-31 08:45:33

Jennifer Thomas

Steve, here is a link to an MS topic that has several macros for removing unused styles -- we have Microsystems to do that so I haven't used this but to me, the macro 'NukeStylesNotInThisDocument' looks like it would work the best.

2014-10-31 03:27:05

Ken Endacott

I am puzzled by the message "DO NOT CHANGE THIS". When does it appear?

2014-10-30 20:38:51

Steve Gray

I use Styles extensively but they are a mess. The list of styles supposedly in my document contains many I never heard of. Deleting all but the ones I use is almost impossible without spending hours. And my tables are occasionally changed without my doing it or wanting it. An important style is missing: DO NOT CHANGE THIS! (Whatever this style is applied to.)
Word is missing several essential features, but Microsoft has apparently decided not to improve Word where it most needs it. The program is extremely flexible but they never finished writing it. It's in effect a beta version.

2014-10-28 13:25:47

Jennifer Thomas

These are good tips if you do not have Microsystems (the tool Kathryn referenced, I think) but I do have one objection and that is using Keep Text Only paste option.

You will have a lot less cleanup and reformatting work if you choose Merge Formatting or Match Destination styles; this works expecially well if you paste regular paragraphs,lists, and tables as separate processes (you get cool choices like merge or continue lists).

With Keep Text only, you'll have to reapply all direct formatting (bold, italic, etc), fix the superscript attribute of footnote references, re-do adjustments to list indent levels, re-apply hyperlinks, and often much more. But not to Jer Merrill -- Keep text only would have removed all those hyperlinks, so it can be a good option, depending on what you want.

Wordpad is better at keeping that as noted above, but still eliminates functionality needed for corporate documents.

2014-10-28 10:53:28

Kathryn KNowles

I've worked in the legal field for years and this is a huge problem. We have found that corruption hides in docs where you can never find it. Most of the time the best option is to get the text into a clean Word shell and start over.

We have a 3-party tool that will turn all autonumbering to hard text and remove all applied styles and turn text to Normal, retaining all formatting. There must be a way to do that in Word without the tool. I don't know what that is, though.

Pasting into Wordpad works better than pasting in Notepad. Wordpad will keep font and paragraph formatting. Then you can paste from there into a clean Word shell and restyle. If the cross-references have been automated, however, you have to turn them to hard text before you start any of this.

2014-10-28 07:51:15

Ken Endacott

I often need to clean up documents that have messy style use but I have never needed to paste the unformatted text into a clean document. The problem with clean formatting is that you don't have an indication of what style the paragraph should be so it is necessary to either carefully read and understand the text, or have the original document open to compare paragraph by paragraph – a time consuming process.

One soon learns tricks to help, such as using Find & Replace to change the style of all paragraphs that are 16 point bold to Heading 1 and so on for other uniquely formatted paragraphs. Then set up F&R to for example, replace Normal paragraphs with Body Text and step through using the keys ALT/F and ALT/R to replace selected paragraphs or skip to the next. After each pass the number of unaltered paragraphs is quickly reduced until the few remaining can be fixed individually.

2014-10-27 09:00:42

Steve Dunham

I see this all the time at work, and not only are all those styles hard to work with, they sometimes seem to make the document corrput. We have a template with custom styles (body copy, head 1, head 2, etc.) that we have defined and based on "no style." We paste the text as unformatted and apply the custom styles. I didn't reply to the original question because it's not easy or quick. But it works pretty well.

2014-10-26 20:37:03


I find that someone had used the Format Painter (the painting brush icon) before giving the document to you, that using it agin often fails. I have to clear the formatting and use it.

Also, THe Mac version has a style tool that I wish windows had. It numbers each style in a both the document and in a dialog. It is easy to see similar, but different styles and easily correct them. The dialog has a link to the components that make up the style making it easy to correct a style. You can choose to show only the styles in the document or all available styles.

2014-10-26 16:38:59


When you have to reapply styles, don't forget to use the Format Painter (the painting brush icon). Once you have formatted a paragraph just like you want it, select the paragraph and double click the Format Painter icon (it is on the Home tab in the Clipboard group). After that you can give any other paragraph the same format by moving over it using the Format Painter cursor, which is a brush. This is an extremely useful tool for applying styles.

2014-10-26 10:39:33

dave tamblyn

I need to remove formatting whenever I save a pdf as a docx using Acrobat. Select all and paste as text only in a blank Word doc is my preferred method. It's pretty easy to reapply headers for short documents, but italics and bold are more of a pain.

2014-10-26 09:58:32

Graham Hobson

Hi jer merrill,

To remove specific hyperlinks select the whole document (CTRL+A) and then press SHIFT+F9, which will show all text of the hyperlink. You could then do a Find & Replace (CTRL+H) and remove them. Then do another SHIFT+F9 to put all remaining hyperlinks back to hyperlinks.

Hope this helps.

2014-10-25 21:59:03

Ken Endacott

If you have many hyperlinks to convert to text the quickest way is to use a macro.

The following link gives examples of macros. Beware, the macros will also remove internal hyperlinks for example reference hyperlinks and hyperlinks in TOCs. A more elaborate macro is needed to remove only external hyperlinks.

2014-10-25 09:10:14

John Patton

To really be safe after copying to clipboard, open notepad and paste it in notepad.

This will really render every thing to ascii text

Then copy from notepad to word.

Also directly pasting from one word doc to another is a really bad idea because the list template is brought along. Microsoft has not in 15 years fixed a short coming where you can not delete a list template. It does not exist as a VBA method.

2014-10-25 08:43:29

jer merrill

I created a book 5 yrs. ago.
"Chip, "My Life Story"

Sample @ "

As I created the text, and used certain terms, such as "tire chains"... [many parts of the country don't use them] I would create a link to (WikipediA) and hook it to "tire chains". It worked great — 'till some other publishers on Amazon got on my case.... [Wiki] not allowed in books on Amazon. No doubt because they did not know how to hook definitions to words.

With the mixed up paragraph styles, would there have been a way I could have used that feature to delete the links to 400+ words that I linked to Wiki?
Thank you for any/all help,

This Site

Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.

Newest Tips

FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."

(Your e-mail address is not shared with anyone, ever.)

View the most recent newsletter.