Using and configuring AutoFormat As You Type

Have you ever been typing along and looked back at what you just typed and discovered that something weird happened? Like, you typed a few dashes, hit return, and suddenly there’s a solid line all the way across the page?

There’s more than one possible explanation for these kinds of oopsies (none of them your fault, fortunately), so there’s more than one fix.  Today, we’re going to talk about setting your AutoFormat options.

And here’s where things can get a little complicated.  There’s a couple of different types of “Autoformat.”  There’s the Autoformat feature that you can invoke on demand (at Format, AutoFormat) to go through your document and change certain formatting based on a set of rules.  But the one we’re going to talk about today is known as “AutoFormat As You Type.”  It’s the feature that, basically, reformats certain characters into other things.

Oh, here, it’s probably easier to show you.

Word 2002-2003

Click on the Tools menu and go to AutoCorrect options (confusing, I know), then go to the AutoFormat As You Type tab as shown below:

Microsoft Word's AutoFormat As You Type dialog box

Word 2007-2010

To get to the AutoFormat options, click on the Office Button (in version 2007) or on the File tab (in version 2010), then click Options. In the Word Options screen, go to Proofing and click AutoCorrect Options:

The dialog box you’ll be presented with is very similar to the one seen in version 2002-2003 above:

You can see what my choices are above, but feel free to experiment with unchecking the various boxes, since what annoys me may not necessarily annoy you, and vice versa.

For example, using the settings above, if I type two dashes together in Word, when I hit the space bar after, the two dashes turn into a single dash (or “em dash”).  Why?  Because it’s a little prettier in type.  Same is true for making the “st” in “1st” superscripted or turning 1/2 into the single-character symbol for half.

Some of those pretty characters, however, may not play nicely with your printer.  For instance, we had a client recently who couldn’t print those curly begin and end quotation marks (they showed up as little boxes instead – weird).  So, I had to turn off the AutoFormat feature off that replaces “straight” quotes with “curly” ones when creating documents for them.

One of the more maddening AutoFormat features (for me, anyway) is its tendency to try to out-think me when it comes to things like numbered/bulleted lists and lines.  You know, like when I type “1.” and hit tab, and suddenly the whole paragraph gets indented and there’s suddenly a “2.” in the next paragraph.  That’s AutoFormat at work.

And the truly infuriating one?  Typing a few dashes together, hitting enter, and suddenly getting a solid line all the way across the page! Aaaaaaaargh!!

That’s why I’ve turned off most of the AutoFormat features (particularly the Apply As You Type ones).  Because if I want a bulleted list, then dang it, I’ll ask for one.

So next time Word automatically replaces text you’ve typed with something you didn’t want, take at look at what’s checked under AutoFormat As You Type.  Preventing another drive-by character assassination may be as simple as unchecking one or more of those boxes!

About the Author

I spend an inordinate amount of my time playing with computers and attempting to explain technology to lawyers and law office staff. It's not always easy, but someone's got to do it.