Pasting Without Fear in Microsoft Word

I’ve been around lawyers long enough to observe one thing: you people love to cut-and-paste. Rare is the first draft that either doesn’t contain text lifted from another document or isn’t an out-and-out copy of a similar document done for a prior client. (Hey, it’s efficient.)

Don’t worry, I’m not here to browbeat you about the dangers of such an approach or suggest you do something different. Instead, knowing as I do that you’re going to cut-and-paste, I’m going to teach you how to do it with the fewest formatting snafus possible.

Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows.

Use the Paste Options Button

By default, when you paste text into Microsoft Word, you’ll see a small floating button at the end of the pasted text that looks like this:


Click on the drop-down, and you get these options:


The button icons across the top allow you to choose how much of the original formatting you want to keep. The leftmost button (the clipboard with the paintbrush) allows you to keep all the source formatting. The center button instructs Word to attempt to merge the formatting to the complementary with the destination document’s formatting. The button on the right makes the pasted text unformatted, which allows it to take on the formatting of your destination document.

This Paste Options Button can give you some on-the-spot help with formatting pasted text. Some users (like me) find this feature annoying and intrusive, particularly when the Paste Options Button obscures other text on the page.

Setting a Default Paste Mode

At the bottom of that Paste Options button, however, you’ll see a “Set Default Paste” command. Click it (or go to the File tab in Word 2010 or the Office Button in Word 2007, then go to Options | Advanced), and you can customize the default paste action (keep source formatting, merge formatting, or text only) in any of four situations:


In particular, if you do a lot of pasting from old WordPerfect documents, you’d be well advised to change the setting for “pasting from other programs” to either “merge formatting” or “text only.” You’ll notice, too, that this is where you can turn off the Paste Options Button (see highlight above) if you find it as annoying as I do.

Note that, even if you change these default settings, you always have the option of choosing a different paste method in a specific instance.

Using the Paste Button

If, in a particular situation, your default paste mode isn’t what you want, you can always go to the Home tab and use the Paste button to specify “keep source formatting,” “merge formatting,” or “text only”.


For even more options, you can use the Paste Special command to finely tune the paste result:


This dialog box is contextual, meaning that depending on the source of the text you’re pasting, you’ll get a different list of choices.

If All Else Fails

If you paste some text into a document and get an unpredictable or undesirable result, your first line of defense is CTRL-Z, which will undo the last action you took. If that’s not an option, use CTRL-SPACE, CTRL-Q, and/or CTRL-SHIFT-N to strip out any undesirable formatting.

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