Three Microsoft Word Formatting Snafus … Solved!

Microsoft Word can create formatting problems that seem to defy solution no matter how many diagnostic tools you use. Here are three of the biggest head-scratchers I see in day-to-day law office work (and how to fix them).

That Horizontal Line You Can’t Delete

There you are, typing along and minding your own business, when all of a sudden a horizontal line appears across your page. You do what seems to be the sensible thing: placing your cursor before the line and hitting the Delete key. Except, that doesn’t work.

What you’ve got here is something called a paragraph border that’s been created for you courtesy of Word’s AutoFormat feature. You made the innocent mistake of typing three dashes in a row and hitting the Enter key, and Word decided that you must have wanted a line all the way across the page.

Here’s how you get rid of it:

  • Place your cursor into the text immediately preceding the horizontal line
  • In Word 2007-2010, click the Border drop-down in the Paragraph section of the Home tab of the Ribbon and choose No Border

Word remove border Three Microsoft Word Formatting Snafus ... Solved!

  • In Word 2002-2003, go to the Format menu and choose Borders and Shading, then choose None or No Borders

That Large Blank Space at the Bottom of Your Page

Or perhaps, as you’re proofing the document before printing, you notice that one of the pages has a large amount of white space at the bottom.

Word blocked text e1329703337879 Three Microsoft Word Formatting Snafus ... Solved!

You turn on your Show/Hide button, looking for a page break code, but there’s none to be found. So if no one has accidentally put a hard page break in there, why is the page breaking there?

The fault lies with Microsoft Word’s version of Block Protect, which keeps sections of text together on the same page. This is a particular problem with text that has been generated by outside systems, such as billing programs.

The fastest and easiest thing to do is to hit CTRL-A to select all the text in the document, then go to the Home tab and click the Launcher arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the Paragraph section:

Word paragraph launcher e1329703377868 Three Microsoft Word Formatting Snafus ... Solved!

You’ll get the Paragraph dialog box. Make sure the three checkboxes below are unchecked (you may have to click them twice to get them unchecked):

Word block protect Three Microsoft Word Formatting Snafus ... Solved!

Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to scroll through your document (preferably in Print Preview mode) and make sure all your page breaks are correct.

That Highlighted Text That Won’t Go Away

If you save your Westlaw or other research portal documents as Rich Text Files (.rtf) and then try to use that text in Microsoft Word, you may notice your research keywords are highlighted. Unfortunately, they’re not highlighted Microsoft Word’s way, so you can’t just select the text, drop-down the little Highlighter tool in the Font section of the Home tab, and choose No Color to delete the highlighting.

That’s because you’re not dealing with font formatting (which is what normal highlighting is), you’re dealing with paragraph formatting. Quickest, easiest fix? Select the text with your mouse or keyboard, then press CTRL-Q to remove all paragraph formatting. If you need to preserve other paragraph formatting like indentation, etc., select the text and click on the drop-down next to the Shading icon (it looks like a paint can) on the Paragraph section of the Home tab, then choose No Color.

So, What’s Your Puzzler?

There are probably as many formatting snafus as there are Microsoft Word users. Which one has puzzled you lately?


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  • Joe

    Thank you, you Angel!!!!

  • Andy Mergendahl

    Deborah, have you seen a glitch in Word 2003 where at seemingly random times whole paragraphs of text suddenly change to a different font? I believe it usally happens when using the Backspace key. Any help much appreciated.

    • Deborah Savadra

      I have, and it’s usually because someone’s backspaced over a code of some sort (like the paragraph break, which occasionally is the border between one text ‘definition’ and another). Sometimes, rather than setting the base font of the document (or the “Normal” font) to whatever font they want, users will change fonts on blocks of text in sort of random fashion, which can result in some weird document behavior.

      Next time that happens, you can hit CTRL-Z to undo the damage, then try to set the Normal or relevant paragraph styles to the right font. Or do CTRL-A to select all text and (assuming you want the entire document to be the same font) and change the font for the whole document.

      • Andy Mergendahl

        A million thanks.

  • Mario Sandoval

    Nice! We still have a few of those WP people in our office that constantly ask questions about Word 2010.

  • duvallawyer

    Awesome posts! Thanks so much!

  • Atty

    Oh god, that horizontal line thing makes me CRAZY. Thanks for posting this! Hallelujah!

    • Deborah Savadra

      There’s also a way to prevent that from happening ever again. It involves re-configuring AutoFormat:

      (1) Go to Tools, AutoCorrect Options (Word 2002-2003) or go to Word Options, Proofing via that big, round Office Button in the upper left-hand corner (Word 2007) or on the File tab under Options (Word 2010), then go to AutoCorrect Options.
      (2) Go to the AutoFormat As You Type tab (all versions).
      (3) The checkbox that controls this particular feature is found under “Apply as you type” (almost dead center – see it?). Uncheck the “border lines” checkbox (and any of these other AutoFormat features that have been bedeviling you lately) and click OK.

  • Joe

    My biggest problem with word is formatting pleading paper. Issue one is leaving the caption page unnumbered. Every time I try to start page 1 on a different page, the caption page reverts to a blank word doc; no pleading lines. Also, can never seem to figure out the best spacing for lines. I’ve tried “exactly at 24 pt,” which usually works, but sometimes the lines start going above the pleading number. Would love to know how to perfectly format pleading in word!!

  • Miscellaneous Lawyer

    I have two common snafus, one of which I have solved, one I haven’t.

    The first is when I notice that suddenly all of my text is in Times New Roman at 12point font. We use a different font (book antiqua) that is fairly similar, so the difference is sometimes hard to spot for a few lines.

    The problem is that when I remove italics, I tend to keep typing fairly quickly. I type ctrl-i, ‘space’ etc. What I *actually* do is type ‘ctrl-i’ ‘ctrl-space’ without knowing that I kept the ctrl key down too long. What that does is removes formatting and reverts to the ‘standard.’ There are two solutions; don’t do it, and change your ‘standard’ formatting to the one you actually use.

    The second problem is where I have section breaks in a document (say a will) I often struggle to keep the page number OFF the first page, (part of section 1) but ON the last page (part of section 2.) I use the ‘don’t number first page’ check-box, but it often numbers it anyway.

    • Deborah

      (1) If you want to use Book Antiqua routinely, I would (as you point out) modify the “Normal” style in the Normal template to that font and make sure the “New documents based on this template” radio button is selected so that all documents default to that font. That way, when you accidentally remove the formatting, it’s still in Book Antiqua.

      (2) I have a detailed tutorial on using section breaks to control page numbering at

  • Brendan Connal

    Okay, this is a tough one…

    How can I look at two different pages at the same time. I want to look at page 2 for my contents, and say page ten to see what the title on page 10 is. I know that you can skip pages in Excel, but I haven’t discovered a way in word, so I have to keep scrolling all the way up the document and then all the way down again.

    Please help!

    • Deborah Savadra

      If you click the little grey/blue button at the bottom of the scroll bar just below the scroll bar (it should give you a “Select Browse Object (Alt-Ctrl-Home)” tooltip when you hover your mouse over it), you can can use the button marked with a right arrow in the set presented to Go To a specific page, section, etc. See for a good explanation. (And sorry I didn’t spot this comment earlier!)

  • Alan Carpenter

    View two parts of a document simultaneously

    After splitting, scroll the top section back to the Contents section and carry on working in the bottom section.

    Alan Carpenter

    • Deborah Savadra

      Well, that would certainly help with trying to conform one set of document formatting with another with minimal scrolling. Thanks for posting that link!

  • Christine

    Please! I need help with the briefs I get from the attorney’s I support. They cut and paste paragraphs, citations, formatting into a brief. I am responsible for creating the Table of Contents and the Table of Authorities, but many times the files come with the previous codes already there, generating wrong page numbers and a table of contents that is piece meal.

    Is there a way to mass delete all the codes and TOC TOA formatting so that I can start marking a clean brief. My briefs seem to be 50-100 pages, so going in one by one can be time consuming when my turn around is expected same day or within 24 hours. I have Office 2010 and my attorney’s use Office 2003.


    • Deborah Savadra

      Here’s the problem (as you’ve apparently already figured out) — using features like Clear Formatting (that button that looks like an eraser in the Font section on the Home tab) doesn’t touch embedded codes like marked citations.

      What I’d recommend is that you select the offending text, use CTRL-X to lift it out of the document, then use Paste Special ( to drop it back in as Unformatted Text. You’ll lose formatting like italics/underline on case names, etc., but it sounds like a small price to pay to get your TOAs/TOCs working correctly.

      And it sounds like your attorneys need a quick lesson on Paste Special, too. The two seconds it’ll take them to NOT do CTRL-V will save you a ton of time in not having to clean up after them, WHICH WILL HELP THEM GET WORK OUT THE DOOR FASTER. Can we all say Win/Win?

  • Tim


    How can I add or delete lines and/or spaces on one page without it affecting all the other pages before and/or after?

    • Deborah Savadra

      That’s tricky and really depends on context. In some documents, changes like that don’t affect pagination; in others, it does. You might have to resort to using a hard return at the end of the edited page to force-preserve the pagination after the edits.

  • Sharon Crommett

    How can I add a blank page to the end of a pleading – one without the lines, numbers or footer?

    • Deborah Savadra

      Insert a Next Page Section Break (on Page Layout tab in 2010, select Breaks, then Section Break – Next Page), then double-click into the header or footer and, on the Header/Footer Tools tab, disable Link to Previous by clicking on it. That will enable you to remove the page numbers, etc., from that section (the blank page) without disturbing the header or footer of the main document. See for details.

  • Carmelino Gozum

    I am typing out a legal document. And finished but now I have to type in the names of the people the signatory on the side. How do I type in those names on the right side of the page vertuically? You know people will have to sign every page….how can I add their names on the side and maybe a line above their names.

    • Deborah Savadra

      I would use the Indent feature (probably the third button from the right in the Paragraph section of the Home tab, depending on which version of Word you’re using) to put the signature lines, etc., over on the right-hand side of the page.

  • B Murray

    You absolute legend. That ‘white space’ trick is golden. Thank you so much

  • Darin Newton

    I’ve had problems with this quite a bit, only there are no page-breaks in the white space. It’s just completely blank. I’ve recently found that it was due to having figures in the text and the way that the anchor is attached to a certain line. If you have a large blank space on the page preceding a figure, the line that the figure is anchored to will not move up into the previous page, so you just have to move the anchor down to a different line.

  • chelsea

    im trying to get rid of the header and footer on the second page but the break button doesnt work what other way can i get rid of this. i am using a microsoft word 2007

  • Jennifer

    HELP – this always happens and the person who used to fix it for me isn’t around. When using mail merge in a Word document, it shows twice as many pages as there are. So even when I scroll through the document there are no blank pages, when I print there is a blank page every other page. This isn’t a printer problem either because at the bottom of the document it says it is an 84 page document when I only merged 42 pages. Ugh.

  • Heather

    Thanks for the tip on getting rid of the shading. I was able to use this in a table that had “hidden” shading I couldn’t see on screen.

  • Nira

    I use MS Word 2010 in conjunction with Nuance PDF Converter. I’ve recently converted a document from PDF to Word. I’ve gone through once to fix all the things that Word doesn’t recognize as actual words and had copied as pictures (don’t even get me started on that…), but I found it had also tampered with the basic margins. At this point I had sent it back to the original requestor and everything was fine.

    After fixing the margins and re-formatting a lot of the internal text (tables, flow-charts, etc), I sent it back again. This time all of the formatting was even WORSE than before I fixed it. He sees a horribly messed up flow chart, and I see a nice, clean one. It’s the same document, same version of Word, same kind of computer, same monitor, even!

    Why does this happen, and how can I fix it?

  • Jesse

    I am drafting a document that has numbers in the left margin from 1 – 28 like…
    4 etc.

    I have gone to “line numbers” on “page layout” and it has none checked. Well, that’s just not true!! They are there and I can’t get rid of them. Suggestions?


  • sally

    Where my cursor used to be now appears a hand. The hand will not allow me to place the cursor where I need it to be and will not allow me to type text or highlight the row.

  • saima

    hi, its a good post but i couldn’t fine the answer to problem i’m facing ;(
    MS word 2010 , i’m doing a research assessment. i had made front cover, done bit of literature reviews…… and….. at the end i had made budget and timeline ( which were suppose to be the last part of assessment).
    now i still need to put stuff in between front cover and budget. i want that when ever i add stuff in, i don’t disturb the last two pages. when i would need a new page it comes after the reviews before the budget without disturbing or moving budget’s position.
    any help would be appreciated.

  • High School Student with Paper Due Tomorrow

    I have the weird shading/highlighting problem in various parts of my paper, but following your advice didn’t seem to make it go away. The paint can was already set to “No Color,” and pressing Ctrl+Q with the text selected didn’t seem to anything. Do you have any advice? I have already looked at the normal highlighting and shading settings of course, to no avail.

  • Elaine Goldman

    You solved my problem. I had that white space on my resume and I could not figure out how to get rid of it. Thank you for your help.

  • Kirt Keeler

    Anyone know why when I print 2 pages per sheet there is a large blank space at the bottom? It’s like it is printing the footer in with it or something, albeit blank.

  • RickOMG

    usually about 4 or 5 pages into document for no reason The Line spacing will jump mid sentence and it is NOT showing that it has jumped It shows its the same 1.15 but It’s IMPOSSIBLE to get rid of.. (OCD kickin into overdrive. LOL) I have tried everything to fix this and I am doing nothing odd to create it. this is the third time in my life that I have run into this problem on 3 different systems… Is it me or has anyone else had similar problems?

  • hwei


  • Dave Eccleston

    Thank you thank you thank you! The second (big sections at the bottom of the page) was driving my insane!

  • CongoPasteur

    Bless you!

  • Sharon

    My problem is that my document looks fine, but when I print as a booklet it prints with lines, borders and shading! The first print, only the second page printed this way. The second print, the entire document printed this way. I can’t get rid of it. But it doesn’t show on screen.