AutoFormatting: The Fastest Way to Format

If you haven't bothered to format your document at all, or if you received it in ASCII (text-only) format via email, Word's AutoFormatting feature may be able to handle the formatting for you. Among the many tasks AutoFormat can perform are

  • Creating headings and lists, including bulleted lists

  • Applying styles to many document elements

  • Replacing ASCII text with custom symbols, including curly "smart quotes," fractions, ordinal numbers such as 1st and 2nd, em and en dashes

  • Replacing Internet and network addresses with hyperlinks to the same addresses

To use AutoFormatting, choose AutoFormat from the Format menu. The AutoFormat dialog box opens (see Figure 9.16).

Figure 9.16. You can tell AutoFormat to reformat anything it pleases, or you can review the results of AutoFormat's handiwork one change at a time.


If your document is a letter or an email, telling that to Word helps it do a better job of AutoFormatting. In the Please Select a Document Type drop-down box in the AutoFormat dialog box, choose Letter or Email rather than General Document.


If you choose Email, Word removes extra paragraph marks that often appear at the end of every line in email messages, as well as performing other email?specific actions.

Next, click OK. Word reformats the entire document for you.


Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to get the best results from AutoFormat. Try running AutoFormat simply to get an idea of what AutoFormat does to your document. You may notice problems the first time around. Click Undo. Then, as is discussed in the next section, adjust AutoFormat options so that Word doesn't make changes you don't like. Finally, run AutoFormat again.

If you want, you can AutoFormat only part of a document. To do so, select the text you want formatted before you choose Format, AutoFormat. Don't forget that tables have a separate set of AutoFormatting controls (choose Table, Table AutoFormat). The AutoFormat command discussed in this chapter doesn't touch the way your tables are formatted.

For more information about AutoFormatting tables, see "Using Table Styles to AutoFormat a Table," p. 411.

Controlling the Changes AutoFormat Makes

You have a good deal of control over the changes AutoFormat makes. With the AutoFormat dialog box open, click Options. The AutoFormat tab of the AutoCorrect dialog box appears (see Figure 9.17). You can now clear any check boxes corresponding to document elements you want AutoFormat to leave alone.

Figure 9.17. In the AutoFormat tab, you can control the formatting changes that Word makes when you run AutoFormat.



If Word makes undesirable formatting changes, see "What to Do If Word Makes Formatting Changes You Don't Want," in "Troubleshooting" at the end of this chapter.

Here's a closer look at the document elements AutoFormat can change, along with some tips for making the most of AutoFormat:

  • Built-In Heading Styles. One of the best reasons to use AutoFormatting is to save time in transforming a text-only file into one that can benefit from Word's outlining features and heading styles. Before you try to add heading styles manually, consider clearing every box except Built-In Heading Styles and running AutoFormat to see how many headings it can format properly.

  • List Styles. With List Styles checked, Word automatically starts applying Word's built-in list styles (List, List 2, List 3, and so on) to any list of consecutive lines separated by paragraph marks.

  • Automatic Bulleted Lists. With this check box checked, Word automatically inserts bullets in place of the characters commonly used to substitute for bullets, such as dashes and asterisks.

  • Other Paragraph Styles. By default, AutoFormat transforms all text formatted as Normal into other formats such as Body Text. In some cases, Word can recognize from the contents of text what the text is likely to be. For instance, it recognizes address lines and reformats them with the Inside Address style. However, for convenience and simplicity, you might prefer to keep all text other than headings formatted as Normal. Clear this check box if you don't want Word to change the styles associated with text paragraphs.

  • "Straight Quotes" with "Smart Quotes". With this box checked, Word replaces straight up-and-down quotation marks and apostrophes with curly ones that look better. If you're exporting your document for use by another program, especially if you're crossing platforms (say, to the Macintosh or a Linux workstation), make sure that the other program can display SmartQuotes properly before using them.


    If you're a writer, you might have one client who requires SmartQuotes and another who prohibits them. Sometimes you'll realize partway through a document that Word has been adding undesired SmartQuotes. You can turn off SmartQuotes through the AutoFormat As You Type tab of the AutoCorrect dialog box. But what about the incorrect quotation marks that are already in your document? Use Find and Replace to get rid of them.

    First, choose Edit, Replace. Then, place a straight quote mark ('') in the Find box and another straight quote mark ('') in the Replace box. Choose Replace All. Word searches for both curly and straight quotation marks and replaces them all with straight quotation marks.

  • Ordinals (1st) with Superscript. Word recognizes typed ordinals (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on) and can automatically replace them with the more attractive 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on. This works with any number but does not work with spelled out numbers such as "twenty-eighth."

  • Fractions (1/2) with Fraction Character (1/2). By default, Word replaces 1/2, 1/4, and 3/4 with the better-looking symbol characters. Most fonts don't have symbol characters for other fractions, such as 1/8 or 3/16. If your document uses fractions that can't be reformatted, you may want to clear this check box to keep everything consistent.

  • Hyphens (??) with Dash (?). When Word recognizes that you've typed characters typically used in place of dash symbols, such as two consecutive hyphens in place of an em dash (?), it can substitute the proper character automatically. As with SmartQuotes, if you're planning to export your Word document, make sure that the program you're exporting it to can handle the symbols correctly.

  • *Bold* and _Italic_ with Real Formatting. When this check box is checked, if you type an asterisk followed by text and another asterisk, Word eliminates the asterisks and formats the text as boldface. If you type an underscore character (_) followed by text and another underscore character, Word eliminates the underscores and formats the text as italic. You might find the underline feature confusing, because text is being formatted in italic, not underline. "Pre-computer" style manuals instructed users to simulate italic on a typewriter by using underlining, but this can be confusing if you learned how to create documents using PCs, not typewriters. This option is not checked by default; it needs to be activated in the AutoFormat As You Type tab of the AutoCorrect dialog box.

  • Internet and Network Paths with Hyperlinks. This is a welcome feature if you are creating a document that will be published on the Web, or will primarily be used in electronic format: It saves you the trouble of manually adding hyperlinks. It is not so welcome if you are creating a printed document, or if you are providing a disk file for use in another program, such as a desktop publishing program. Word replaces standard text with hyperlink fields that look different (they're blue and underlined) and act differently (they're field codes, which can't be understood by many programs to which you may be exporting your Word file). If this sounds like trouble, clear this check box.

  • Preserve Styles. By default, if AutoFormat finds that you've formatted a paragraph with any style other than Normal, it leaves that paragraph alone. If you clear this check box, Word uses its judgment and reformats any paragraph it thinks necessary.

  • Plain Text WordMail Documents. If you are on a network, if you receive email, and if you have selected Word as your email editor in Outlook, checking this box tells Word to AutoFormat email documents that arrive as plain ASCII text. Checking this box doesn't affect any other text-only documents, including those you retrieve as ASCII files from other email systems and display in Word via the File, Open dialog box.

AutoFormatting Interactively

You've already learned that you can run AutoFormat, undo the results if you don't like them, and then control the types of AutoFormatting that Word applies through the AutoFormat tab of the AutoCorrect dialog box. You can also run AutoFormatting interactively and make decisions one at a time.

This gives you finer control over the AutoFormatting changes Word makes. However, because Word stops everywhere that it makes even the most minor changes, this can be a slow process. (There's no way to accept all the formatting changes of a certain type.)

One approach is to first run AutoFormat automatically, selecting only the changes you're sure you would accept. Then, you can run AutoFormat again, this time interactively, using different settings that correspond to changes you want to accept or reject individually.

To AutoFormat interactively, choose Format, AutoFormat. Then choose AutoFormat and Review Each Change and click OK.

Word AutoFormats the document and displays the AutoFormat dialog box (see Figure 9.18), from where you can review each change Word has made to accept or reject that change.

Figure 9.18. From here, you can accept or reject all changes, review them one at a time, or display the Style Gallery.


The AutoFormat dialog box stays open as you move through the document. So before you start reviewing changes in detail, you might want to use the scrollbar and other Word navigation tools to get a rough idea about how close Word has come. If the document looks right on target, click Accept All. If Word's AutoFormatting is far from what you had in mind, click Reject All.

If Word landed somewhere in between, click Review Changes. The Review AutoFormat Changes dialog box opens (see Figure 9.19), describing the first change Word has made to your document. While this dialog box is open, Word also displays the text changes it made throughout your document, with revision marks. If you prefer to see the document as it would look if all the changes were accepted, click Hide Marks. If you then want to take a closer look at a specific change, click Show Marks.

Figure 9.19. You can use this dialog box to move through your document to approve or reject individual changes.


To move toward the beginning of the document; click Find. To move toward the end, click Find. Word selects the first AutoFormatting change it made. When you select a change, Word tells you what it changed?for example, it might say "Adjusted alignment with a tab."

Using Style Gallery to Reformat AutoFormatted Text

The AutoFormat dialog box (refer to Figure 9.18) that appears after AutoFormat runs also gives you access to the Style Gallery. Using the Style Gallery, you can quickly reformat your styles to match the styles in a different template. Click Style Gallery to view it. Then, in the Template scroll box, choose a template containing formats you want to view. If you prefer the formats associated with the template, click OK.

As is always the case when you use Style Gallery (see Figure 9.20), Word doesn't actually change the template associated with the document with which you're working. Rather, it changes the formatting associated with the styles in your current document to make the formatting look like the formatting in the template you chose.

Figure 9.20. You can quickly change the look of your AutoFormatted document through Style Gallery.


For more information on working with the Style Gallery, see "Previewing New Templates with Style Gallery," p. 372.

Because all Word's built-in templates are based on Times New Roman and Arial, most of Word's built-in templates don't radically change the appearance of your document. However, if you've created custom templates that use Word's built-in style names, Style Gallery enables you to apply those styles quickly to an AutoFormatted document.

Using AutoFormat As You Type

Word can also AutoFormat as you type, helping make sure that your document is formatted properly as you work. In many cases, the document elements Word reformats on-the-fly are similar to those Word can AutoFormat when you choose Format, AutoFormat. In other cases, they are different.

For example, by default, Word doesn't convert text that it identifies as headings into heading styles while you work, because many people find it distracting, and because for some documents the text Word recognizes as headings may not be the same text you intend to format as headings.

On the other hand, if you're writing a document in which most of the headings consist of short blocks of text that end without a period, and are set apart from surrounding text with paragraph marks, you may find that it's a real convenience to have Word reformat those headings as you type them.

To control Word's on-the-fly AutoFormatting, choose Tools, AutoCorrect Options; then click the AutoFormat As You Type tab (see Figure 9.21). Make any changes you want to these options, and click OK. (For explanations of the options here, see the earlier discussion in "Controlling the Changes AutoFormat Makes.")

Figure 9.21. The AutoFormat As You Type tab enables you to control formatting changes Word makes while you work.


The following differences are worth pointing out:

  • Border lines. Unlike regular AutoFormat, AutoFormat As You Type can transform rows of hyphens or underlines into true bordering. (Check the Border Lines check box.)

  • Tables. AutoFormat As You Type transforms a row of hyphens and plus signs into a table row, with one column for each plus sign. (Check the Tables check box.)

  • Indents. AutoFormat As You Type replaces tabs and backspaces with indents if they appear at the beginning or end of paragraphs. (Check the Set Left- and First-Indent with Tabs and Backspaces check box.)

Automating Formatting for the Beginning of List Items

When you are creating a list, you may occasionally format the first word or phrase in the list differently than you format the remaining text in each list paragraph. You can see an example of this in Figure 9.22. Word can recognize this specialized formatting and apply it to the new list items it creates each time you press Enter at the end of a list paragraph.

Figure 9.22. After you create specialized formatting to begin a list, Word can use that formatting in list items that immediately follow.


To activate this feature, check the Format Beginning of List Item Like the One Before It check box in the AutoFormat As You Type tab.


If you're creating a numbered or bulleted list, this feature doesn't deliver the results you want unless you also check the Automatic Bulleted Lists and/or Automatic Numbered Lists check box.

Using AutoFormat As You Type to Generate Styles Automatically

If you can't be bothered with creating styles through the Style box, you can ask Word to watch you work and create the styles based on the manual formatting you apply. To turn on this feature, display the AutoFormat As You Type tab, check the Define Styles Based on Your Formatting check box, and click OK. Make sure that the document elements you want to AutoFormat, such as Headings, are also selected. Then click Close.


Many users find that this feature generates too many unwanted styles. If you turn it on, check its behavior before deciding to leave it on.

    Part I: Word Basics: Get Productive Fast
    Part II: Building Slicker Documents Faster
    Part III: The Visual Word: Making Documents Look Great
    Part IV: Industrial-Strength Document Production Techniques
    Part VI: The Corporate Word