What To Do If You Get A Word Document With Messed Up Styles Throughout

Scenario: Your boss comes to you with a Word document and you are asked to make the content look professional in a short amount of time. Someone else has written the content, and, when you look at the document, you see that the author has inconsistent styles throughout the file. Or one section has styles applied and another section has specific words highlighted on a case-by-case basis. Ugh.  

Going forward, you and your boss need a document that has consistent styles. There’s not much time until the end product is due. What’s the fastest way for you to fix this up?

Here’s the easiest and quickest solution that I’ve found:

1. Show the existing styles in the Word document.

Turn on the style pane and make the style pane at least 1” wide. Go to your Word settings and enable the option to view the style pane, set the width as 1″ (or wider), and save your settings. Then go back to the document and switch the view to Draft View.

Why? At a glance you’ll be able to see which style has been attributed to each paragraph in the document. Otherwise you’d have to click on each paragraph or heading and check which style has been attributed.

2. Change your view to Draft view and print out a copy of the document with the style pane visible.

Why? At a glance you’ll be able to see which paragraphs need style help and it’s much quicker than trying to compare documents side by side electronically. I’ve tried the electronic method to avoid making hard copies and wasting paper but I’ve always ended up having to make a printout in the end anyways after wasting precious time.

3. Make a new electronic copy of the Word document, save it with a new name, and strip out all the styles.

Don’t work within the original file. Leave it alone and as is.

In the new renamed file, select all the content (CTRL+A on PCs, Command+A on Macs) and apply the “clear formatting” option. This resets all the content to the Normal style. Now you’re starting from scratch on the styles front and you have the printout to help guide you. Save the file.

4. Apply the correct styles to headings and paragraphs. Save the new file often!

Put on your headphones and listen to some great tunes as you start to apply the styles. Use your printout as a guide and watch how fast you build a professional looking document. It’s actually fun when you get into a groove. Save often – I can’t stress that enough. You’ll find a pattern of saving that works for you – whether it’s after each new heading or at the end of every page. Just save, save, save.

5. Review your work and fix any issues.

I use Print Preview, turning on the multiple pages at a glance option, to do this task quickly. Glaring issues pop out at me. I also have the printout from the original file to refer back to (mostly to see how it’s NOT supposed to look like, LOL).

6. Save the file, keep a copy for your own records, and pass the file onwards. 

You may be thinking that I’m making more work for you with these steps. Nope. You’ll find it’s the fastest, simplest way to get the styles to be consistent and make the document look professional. And believe me, I’ve had to do this on 300+ page documents in less than 2 hours. No problem!