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How to switch off bad features of MS Word
and other Windows problems

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Most of us use the Microsoft Word word-processing application. This application has been around for some time now, and over the years Microsoft have added more and more new features. Not all these are actually useful, and some are a positive nuisance. The good news is that you can switch them off in most cases.

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How to switch off Autoformatting

Word can be set to apply certain formatting automatically. For example, it can be set so that the "th" of ordinal numbers automatically appears in superscript, i.e. 5th appears as 5th. Most of these formatting options are undesirable in normal writing. Unfortunately, it seems that when we get Word, most of these options are already switched on, and many users do not know how to switch them off. This is why we see all sorts of inappropriate formatting in University circulars.

Here is how to switch off this automatic formatting. When autoformatting is switched off, it is still quite possible to use these formats when you want to. Switching them off simply restores control to the user. The following notes apply to both Word 97 and Word 2000.

  1. Start Word and open a document.
  2. Go to the Format menu and select "Autoformat".
  3. A box will appear. Click the button "Options".
    A series of "tabs", which are like overlapping file cards, will appear. Click on the tab at the top of the file card to get at that card.
  4. Go to each of the "tabs" in turn. There will be a series of "check box" options: options with a small box,in which a tick ("check" in American English) may appear. If you click the box, it changes: if there is no tick one appears, if there is a tick it is removed.

    If a box is ticked, then that option is switched on; otherwise the option is switched off.

    MS Word screen showing Autocorrect options tab

    To switch off all these options, UNCHECK all the options, i.e. set all of them to un-ticked. Although all these options have their uses for some circumstances, most of them are merely a nuisance for ordinary word-processing, especially in an academic context. One possible exception, on the "Autoformat" tab, is "Replace straight quotes with smart quotes". This option causes Word to put in curly open or close quotation marks, instead of the straight quotation marks which are the same for open or close quote. Even here, however, note that the curly marks may cause problems in converting formats or sending as email.

  5. Remember to look at all the tabs. The main "Autoformatting" options appear on two tabs, "Autoformat" and "Autoformat as you type". To switch off these options, you need to uncheck the boxes on both tabs.

This will stop most of the undesirable automatic formatting, but a few options are located elsewhere. Notably, tab marks at the start of paragraphs can turn themselves into automatic indents. This option is a major nuisance and often causes great frustration to users who do not know how to switch it off. To switch this off, go to the Tools menu, select Options, and select the Edit tab. Ensure that the "Tabs and backspace set left indent" box is UNCHECKED.

MS Word screen showing Tools-Options-Edit, to switch off auto-indent

It is worth making a tour of all the various options and settings of MS Word, in order to find and switch off the many irritating things it does. Of course, you may even find a few options that you actually want to switch on.

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Getting rid of bad and excessive formatting

People will often send you documents which have been created in the latest version of Word, and in which they have used all sorts of fancy and unnecessary formatting. This can be a nuisance:

  1. if you need to print the document and the formatting is going to make it many pages long, when it could easily be fitted on a few pages
  2. if you need to edit the document
  3. if you need to convert to some other format

The "Bullets and numbering" formatting in Word, for example, can create all sorts of problems in these cases.

How to get rid of excessive and unnecessary formatting which is cauing you trouble? There are two main options:

  1. Remove it by hand. This is sometimes the only practical method, but it tends to be time consuming. Also, it can sometimes be quite difficult; as you first have to work out just what sort of unnecessary formatting has been used before you can undo it.
  2. Save the document in a simpler format. This is the option we will be looking at below.

The second option works like this. A document can be saved in various formats, such as the standard Word document format *.doc, or HTML, or plain text. Different formats support various features. For example, it is possible to format characters as italic in HTML, so HTML "supports italics". Plain text, howevr, does not support italics. You cannot have italics in a plain text document. (In fact, plain text does not support any formatting at all, it just gives you the text. That is why it is called "plain text".)

If you save a document in a particular format, any features which are not supported by that format are lost. Sometimes this is a problem, but it can also be used to your advantage as a way of removing formatting.

The process can be represented digrammatically as follows. Consider Word format *.doc and a simpler format *.xxx which supports fewer features. By saving the file as *.xxx the features not supported by *.xxx will be removed:

Latest Word *.doc format   Simpler format *.xxx
Format supports italics, bullets-&-numbering, indents   Format supports italics, indents but not bullets-&-numbering
Document "test.doc":
includes italics, bullets-&-numbering, indents
saved as ==>
Document "":
includes italics and indents but not bullets-&-numbering

The simplified document "" can then be re-opened in Word. Bullets-and-numbering formatting will have been removed, but italics and indents remain because these features were supported by *.xxx.

For MS Word documents, Wordpad is particularly useful. Wordpad comes with Windows and can usually be found from the Start menu via Programs - Accessories. Wordpad is a simple word-processor that can usually open Word documents, and can save in a simple form of Word *.doc format. It can do italics and most of the other basic formatting things. BUT - it does not support a lot of the fancy features.

So, a good way of getting rid of Word numbering formatting is as follows. Suppose the document with bad formatting is NDP9.doc:

  1. open the document in Wordpad
  2. save it (under a new name, say NDP9-2.doc) from Wordpad
  3. open this document (NDP9-2.doc) in Word

You will find that the formatting has been greatly simplified and inproved.

NB: it is important to re-save the document under a new name as you need to check that you have not lost anything vital. Sometimes Wordpad may remove formatting that was actually useful. In that case, you can try again by getting Word's "Save as" option. Word (and many other word-processors) is capable of saving in a variety of formats as well as the one it normally uses. Some alternative formats that can be useful for getting rid of excessive formatting are:

Screen shot: Save as...

The extreme case is saving as plain text (described by Word as "Text only"). This removes all formatting. One use for this is if you have a document which has been scanned in and which has a large amount of spurious formatting added by the scanning process.


Footnotes are a slight problem. They are essential for historical writing, but relatively few formats handle them well. (Word and StarOffice do handle footnotes well.) This means that where there are footnotes, the techniques dicussed above not be practical as the (really useful) footnotes will disappear along with all the (largely useless) fancy formatting. If there are only a few, then you could just copy them in again later.

Luckily, this particular problem does not arise very often, as in practice footnotes do not seem to appear much in the sorts of documents which arrive full of excessive formatting.

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To disable macros:

We strongly recommend that you disable macros completely. There is almost no use for macros in ordinary academic word-processing, whereas allowing them to run puts you at serious risk of major viruses which can destroy all your files.

The procedure differs according to which version of Word you have.

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Word 97

  1. Start Word and open a document
  2. Go to the Tools menu and select Options. MS Word tab showing Macro virus protection option
  3. A group of "tabs" will appear - like overlapping file cards, you select the one you want by clicking its tab. Select the "General" tab.
  4. You will now see a list of options with check boxes (see above). Make sure that "Macro virus protection" is CHECKED, i.e. switched on.
  5. Now click "OK".

With the "Macro virus protection" option switched on, Word 97 will not run macros automatically. When it opens a document which contains macros, it will ask you whether you wish to allow the macros to run. Always answer no - do not run any macros.

If you do this, then even if a virus is present, it cannot run, and so cannot do any damage. However it will still be there and could be activated at a later date by mistake. To detect and remove viruses you need to have and use an up-to-date antivirus program.

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Word 2000:

In Word 2000 the process is simpler and less prone to user error. One hopes that this indicates a growing awareness at Microsoft that macros are for many users a problem rather than an advantage.

  1. Start Word and open a document.
  2. Go to the Tools menu and select "Macro". This will open a new menu to one side. Select "Security".
    MS Word screen showing Tools-Macro-Security selected
  3. Two tabs will appear. (In the illustration below they are shown side by side, but in fact the tabs overlap each other and you click on the tab at the top to gain access to the one you want - i.e. only of the two shown below will be visible at a time.) One is "Security level". Select "High" - only signed macros from trusted sources are allowed to run; all others are disabled.
  4. Now go to the other tab, which defines "trusted sources". Set this so that there are NO trusted sources. For this, ensure that the box is empty (use the Remove button if necessary to remove items), and uncheck the box "Trust all installed add-ins and templates".
    MS Word tabs for macro security, showing maximum security settings

With these settings, Word 2000 should never run macros at all.

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Macros in MS Excel

Macros, and hence macro viruses, also exist in MS Excel. As with Word, we recommend that you disable macros. The procedure is similar to that for Word. For example, in Excel 97, go to the Tools menu and select Options. Select the General tab and make sure that Macro virus protection is checked. Click OK. As with Word 97, with this option switched on, Excel is supposed to consult you before running any macros. When asked, always answer no.

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Stopping Windows from hiding your menus

Recent versions of Windows include some new features to annoy users. Among these is an irritating habit of hiding some of the items of your menus, on the grounds that you haven't used them recently - rather as if your car hid the handbrake if you hadn't used it in the last half-hour.

To prevent this, you can alter the settings as follows:

  1. Go to the Start Menu and click "Settings"
  2. Select "Taskbar & Start Menu"
  3. Select "General" tab
  4. Find the option "Use personalized menus" and uncheck it.
  5. Click OK

Internet Explorer does the same thing with your "Favorites" (bookmarks) menu. It calls this "personalized menus". To stop this:

  1. Start IE
  2. Go to Tools Menu; click "Internet Options"
  3. Click "Advanced" tab
  4. Find the option "Enable personalized favorites menu" and uncheck it.
  5. Click "OK"

While on the subject, another thing in new versions of Windows that many people find irritating is the "fade-out" effect when you use menus. To stop menu transition in Windows:
Start menu - Settings - Control panel - - Display - Effects --"Use transition effects for menus" should be UNCHECKED

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Stopping Word from hiding your menus

There is a similar problem with Word, in which it shows only partial menus. To prevent this, go to
Tools menu - Customize - select Options tab - check "Always show full menus".

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Copyright © University of Botswana History Department
Last updated 21 April 2003