July/August 2020

Tech From the Trenches

How to Fix Formatting Problems in Microsoft Word

Barron K. Henley

See if this sounds familiar. You’re editing a Microsoft Word document but the formatting keeps shifting even though you’re not overtly doing anything to cause the changes. As an example, I recently received an email from a lawyer with a Word document attached. The email read, “I need to finalize the attached brief, but I can’t figure out how to keep the font/formatting from randomly changing on me. HELPPPPPPPPPPP!” The document in question suffered from a very common defect that affects many Word documents. I thought I’d use this column to explain the source of the problem and how to fix it.

Cause of the Problem.

The random format shifting is caused when a document’s default formatting disagrees with new formatting that has been layered on top of the default. The annoying issue with a document’s default formatting is that it won’t leave you alone. While you’re editing, it will keep revealing itself and percolating to the surface. That’s what causes the shifting. Surprisingly, this type of latent defect is present in easily 70 percent of the documents lawyers have emailed to me when they ask for help.

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