Monday, October 6, 2008

Removing Unwanted Formatting From Your Manuscript

The time has come for you to print off a copy of your manuscript to send out to an editor, but something's gone screwy with Word. Surprise, surprise. Your quick glance through the document found a word that should have been in italics, but wasn't. So you corrected that, only to have your entire document converted into italicised text.

Then there's those pesky curly quotes that won't go away. You know your editor wants them straight up, no twist. Here's how to troubleshoot some of the trickier formatting woes.

Automatically Updating Styles

MS Word's formatting tools have a feature for automatically updating the formatting as you work. This can be very handy if you're using it for a specific style that has a single function (like making notes), but it can also be a right pain if you forget that it is turned on and you start fiddling with the formatting.

This is the feature you need to turn off if you find your whole document changing formatting when you only wanted to change a single word or section.

  • In the TaskPane (Word 2002/03), select Styles and Formatting. (Or click Format, Styles and Formatting.)
  • Select the style (Normal or Body Text) that you use as your main document style.
  • Click the down arrow next to that style. Select Modify. At the bottom right, uncheck the box that says Automatically Update.

    (In Word 2007, use the Styles Dialog Box Launcher to make alterations to the style.)
Removing AutoFormatting

A manuscript can be made to look very pretty in Word, with curly quotes, long dashes, and ellipses that make it look like it's ready to be bound into a book. However, your publisher usually doesn't want "pretty", so all that fancy formatting needs to come out.

To turn off the AutoFormatting feature:

  • Tools >> AutoCorrect Options… >> AutoFormat Tab
  • Under Replace, uncheck the boxes for Straight Quotes With Smart Quotes, and Hyphens With Dash.
  • Now click the AutoCorrect Tab. Find the entry for the ellipsis.
  • Now you have to decide whether you use the formatted version of the ellipsis. That is, do you sometimes publish e-books or create printed material yourself? If you do, you may want to keep this entry and simply use the Find and Replace feature described below.
    However, if constantly correcting the ellipsis is driving you batty and you only ever use Word to create manuscripts, you can hit Delete Entry.
Find and Replace Formatting

If you turned off the AutoFormatting before you started typing anything, you don't need to do anything further.

For existing documents, however, you now need to use Find and Replace to change the quotes and dashes back to their unformatted style.

    Start at the beginning of your document.
  • Edit >> Replace
  • Under Find What, type in the quotation mark you use
  • Under Replace With, type the same quotation mark as above
  • Click Replace All
  • Now repeat this step for the apostrophe, ellipsis, and dash as needed. If none are found by typing the character into the box, you may need to scan through your document for the first instance of the formatted character and copy and paste it into the Find What box. (For Word 2007, you will find the AutoCorrect Options and options to turn off AutoFormat under the Office Button >> Word Options >> Proofing >> AutoCorrect Options.)
Your document should now be un-prettified and ready for your editor.

---------------------------------------------Elsa Neal
Is Word driving you crazy? Then Word 4 Writers is for you. Learn to tame the monster and save your time in front of the screen for writing not fighting. Elsa Neal has been strong-arming Word for 14 years and teaching others to do the same. She is based in Melbourne, Australia.

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  1. Thanks Elsa! Always wondered if I could turn some of that stuff off. Now I know how.

  2. Elsa,
    What version(s) of Word does this advice apply to? Earlier than 2007?

  3. Very interesting! I shall look into this. Thanks.

  4. E. - You're still teaching your online MS Word course, right? I took it a few years ago, and it was awesome... overwhelming, but awesome. LOL. If you're getting a class together, Twitter would be the place to promote that.

    So glad to be getting these tips from you again! Word has so many features, if you can remember to use them.


  5. LILLIE: I've updated the post to include 2007.

    DANI: I've dropped the course due to time constraints, although I've kept the six-week tutorial option for now. I'm in the process of upgrading the e-book(s) and offering a print option. I'm going to be moving away from it being about Word specifically and more towards techniques to make it easier to use any word processing program for writing and making notes.

  6. Great tips,
    I'll have to remember how to apply them as needed.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Elsa,

    Do you do any typesetting?


  8. I'd also love a comparison of Word to OpenOffice. Can you address that in a future post?


  9. This is one of the most useful things I've read in ages. I friggin' HATE the auto-formatting....

  10. Of course, none of that applies to my Mac...Are there any guidelines for formatting in Pages 2.0.2?

  11. SHELLEY: No, I've not done typesetting other than for my own ebooks.

    DANI: I haven't tried Open Office yet, so I can't offer a comparison until I've had a good play around. I also can't put both programs on one computer - hubby tried that and it required reformatting the hard drive and purchasing software to uncorrupt all my files.

    GROOVY: I've never used a Mac, so unfortunately I don't know if Pages uses a different approach to Word. I'm guessing it does. A quick browse of the Apple forums reveals a number of disgruntled users trying to turn AutoCorrect off on various programs.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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