Start Page: Microsoft Word for the legal profession: reformat documents

February 22, 2017

WilsonFor 2017, the Start Page column will focus on Microsoft Word. Each article will help build skills you can use each day in your practice to be more efficient and effective for your clients. Properly used, this application is a powerful tool in the lawyer’s toolbox. These articles will help you put Microsoft Word to work for your practice.

In the legal environment, we rarely start drafting a blank document in Microsoft Word. Instead, we are usually provided a document that someone else has started (based on a prior document) or from another attorney’s office. As a result, the formatting is inconsistent and can be frustrating.

There’s a good chance that your document contains information that was copied and pasted from older Word (or WordPerfect) documents, websites, emails, or the like. Since each “source” file likely has its own formatting applied, one of your first tasks is to determine if you can fix the existing text or need to start over. Thankfully, Microsoft Word makes this relatively easy, if you reveal the formatting.

WordPerfect users loved the “reveal codes” feature in their documents. WordPerfect showed exactly what was going on with the text in your document, much like html codes. Microsoft Word approaches formatting differently, but you can still see what is going on with your document. Once you learn how, you should quickly be able to fix most text annoyances.

Show/Hide ¶

To reformat a document, there are two views in Microsoft Word to know about. First, you will want Word to “Show/Hide ¶” formatting symbols (click the ¶ symbol under the Paragraph section of the Ribbon or press Ctrl + Shift *). This turns on the ¶ marks in the document (and usually freaks out the user). Don’t panic.

What you see on the screen are just placeholders for where formatting takes place. The ¶ symbols will not print. Why do you want to see these marks? Because Word formats text between the ¶ ¶ marks in the document. Turning these symbols on will help you isolate and see what is going on with your text. Once you find the issue, fix it and click to Show/Hide ¶ again. After using this feature for a while, users generally come to like it and leave it on all the time.

Remember that Microsoft Word formats between the ¶ marks. For example:

If I’m typing with normal text and press enter¶
this next line will be formatted with normal text.¶
Let’s change the last word to bold and press enter.
Now, the next line is bold. It picked up the formatting of the text directly to the left of the .

Note, you can adjust the formatting anywhere between the ¶ marks, but Word remembers the last applied formatting and carries it into the next line (with some exceptions). This is why, in some cases, your text is always italicized when you press enter. To fix that issue, go to the end of the previous sentence and turn off the italics and any other unwanted formatting. Now, Word returns to the formatting you want each time you start a new line.

Alternatively, you can clear the formatting from your new paragraph and start fresh. Simply place your cursor on the line you want no formatting applied to and click the icon under the Font menu that says “Clear Formatting.” Now, anywhere between the last ¶ and the next ¶ is free of any formatting, returning to the “Normal” style for that document (Styles discussed later).

Bonus tip: Sometimes your entire document needs reformatted. Press “Ctrl A” to select the text of the entire document and then click the “Clear Formatting” button to return all the text within the document to the “Normal” style. Then, proceed line by line to reformat the document to your liking. This can take a lot of time, so use judiciously.

Reveal Formatting

Second, you will want to know how to “Reveal Formatting.” This feature is buried in the Ribbon (click to expand the Styles pane | click Style Inspector | click Reveal Formatting) or you can select the troublesome text and press “Shift F1.”

On the right-hand side of your screen, you will see the “Formatting of selected text” across the Font, Paragraph, and Section. Under each heading (Font, Paragraph and Section), you will see how Word has formatted the selected text. Click on any of those options to change the formatting of the selected text as appropriate.


In the next post, we will explore the formatting options for Font, Paragraphs and Sections. Take a few minutes to try these tips and let me know how it goes or if you have any questions.•


Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Tesnar & Whalin in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. Seth writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


Recent Articles by Seth Wilson