Posted on Mon 30 March 2009

Word, how do I hate thee. Let me count the ways

There’s a real danger that my posts here are going to turn into a poor imitation of the marvellous Betalogue website. I must write something about music or photography soon.

Using Microsoft Word, as I do most days, for years now I have built up a fair degree of knowledge of how it works. It’s been years since I formatted a document by entering multiple line feeds or spaces and I am pretty comfortable creating document templates and styles for new documents.

Once set-up with proper document styles, Word can be really useful in creating standard documents in a corporate environment. What is really infuriating is just how often your document picks up other styles when you cut, copy & paste text from another Word document or browser. Generally, the associated formatting styles also get copied along with the text and you have to ask - just how stupid is that?

Here’s an example below from a document I use on a daily basis as my engineering logbook. Somewhere along the way I have pasted some text from another source into the document and the number of styles has gone from the small list on the left to the nightmare on the right. These are someone else’s styles (often Microsoft) that I didn’t want available in my fucking document.

Thankfully there are ways round this. If you are using Word on a Mac (you do use a Mac don’t you?) OS X you can use a paste plain clip plugin with a system utility such as Spark. If you are using Word on Windows you can use a utility such as PureText to trip out the formatting from any text copied to the clipboard when pasted.

In the picture below did you spot the ones called Heading 4 to Heading 9? They are built-in styles that weren’t in the original template and, because they are built-in styles, it’s not possible to delete them from the document! The only way to get back to the original state is to create a new document from the Word template and select all the text from the corrupted document make sure you don’t include the final pilcrow character ¶ that actually contains the additional styles and paste it all into the new document.

If that sounds hard work, it is and it’s not worth it. There are generally a lot of other things to fix after this copy and paste. Once this is complete your document is ‘Maggied’ (after Margaret Secara from the TECHWR-L mailing list, who first publicised the technique.) and you’re back where you started. Until the next paste that is!

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