My short cuts – automatic formatting as you type (and how to get rid of it)

22 Aug
My short cuts – automatic formatting as you type (and how to get rid of it)

In this post we looked at AutoCorrect, and automatic formatting is really an aspect of AutoCorrect – although I find it’s more annoying than useful, I have to admit. In this post I’ll show you where to find auto formatting, what it does, and how to turn it off.

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents.

What is automatic formatting?

Automatic formatting is basically Word trying to be helpful. Instead of a Paperclip Man or cartoon dog popping up in the corner of your screen, it will try to guess what you’re doing and format it to what it thinks you want. This can be very useful, or it can drive you mad, depending on context.

Where do I find the AutoFormat menus?

AutoFormat lives on a set of tabbed menus alongside AutoCorrect. For full instructions on how to access AutoCorrect, see my article on AutoCorrect and where to find it, or if you’re confident, do this:

  • Word 2003: Tools – AutoCorrect Options
  • Word 2007: Office button – Word Options – Proofing – AutoCorrect Options
  • Word 2010: File tab – Options – Proofing – AutoCorrect Options

When you’ve done that, you should see a window that looks like this:

AutoFormat tabs in the Autocorrect window

The two features we’re interested in are AutoFormat and AutoFormat As You Type.

What is the AutoFormat menu for?

Let’s look at the AutoFormat menu first. Click on the relevant tab in the AutoCorrect Options window and you’ll see this:

AutoFormat menu

This is how you tell Word what you want to automatically format – however, whatever you change here doesn’t affect AutoFormat as you type. In fact, if you search on Google or in Word’s own help menus, it’s hard to find out what to do with this menu. I can tell you, after exhaustive research, that this menu is used to format your document after the event, at the end, when the document has already been created.

By pressing OK, you will apply all of the automatic formats that you have ticked to the document in question. You can pick and choose which ones you apply, and they are all pretty self explanatory, and you can ask it to retain the styles already set up in the document if you want to.

What is the difference between AutoFormat and AutoFormat As You Type?

AutoFormat is used to format the document after it’s been written. This is particularly useful if you’re sent a document to use which has the “wrong” quote marks, etc. AutoFormat As You Type is used when you’re creating a new document, so you can automate the format and make it consistent as you go along.

What is the AutoFormat As You Type Menu For?

The AutoFormat As You Type menu allows you to choose what Word helpfully automatically formats for you. Let’s have a look at the menu: just click the relevant tab if you’re looking at AutoCorrect or AutoFormat.

AutoFormat As You Type menu

You can see that there are lots of options here – most of them are pretty self-explanatory, especially as they give examples by each tick box. The ones that cause most issues, in my experience, are

Replace as you type: Internet and network paths with hyperlinks

Apply as you type: automatic bulleted lists / automatic numbered lists

Let’s look at what these do in your document … and then how you can stop this if you want to.

What does AutoFormat As You Type do?

As I said before, AutoFormat As You Type tries to be helpful. It particularly likes helping you make nice neat lists. So if you start some bullet points by typing a * or

and then a space, for example, it will turn them into bullet points for you!

Notice the little AutoCorrect Options icon appearing to tell you what Word’s doing. When you type some text and hit Enter, you’ll automatically be given a new bullet point to start you off:

(You escape from this treadmill by hitting Enter twice at the end of your last list item.)

If you start typing a list by putting a 1. at the beginning of a sentence …

… when you press the space bar, it assumes you’re writing a list and helpfully indents it:

and when you press Enter at the end of that line, it helpfully numbers the next line for you:

As you can see, you do need that full stop after the number, otherwise it doesn’t “realise” you’re writing a list.

It does it with letters, too, which is all well and good, until you happen to start the line with the letter A, but you don’t want to create a lettered list. What do I mean by this?

Well, in my case, I do a lot of transcription. I need to type the person’s name (usually initial and surname) followed by what they said. If it’s a name that begins with anything but A, that’s fine. I type the initial and full stop and carry on, and all is fine:

However, if their name begins with an A, I type my A.:

and Word springs into action, handily giving me that little icon to show that it’s making me a list.

OK, I can click on the little AutoCorrect Options icon and change the settings from there …

But it’s still rather annoying.

Automatic hyperlinked URLs and email addresses

The other annoying “feature” is when Word automatically turns any URL or email address you type into a hyperlink, complete with attractive text colour change and underline. This is all well and good if you’re typing a document that will be looked at on screen and you want the reader to be able to click through, but if you’re just happening to type an email address into the dialogue in your novel …

… you don’t want it to do this:

(You can tell it’s a novel: I’d never not reply to an email!)

How do I stop Word applying AutoFormatting As You Type?

It’s simple, fortunately. Go back to that menu and untick the items you don’t want Word to AutoFormat. Make sure you also click on OK before closing the window:

Now you can type whatever you want and Word will leave it as it is, and won’t try to “help” you.


Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010, all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

Why don’t you take a look at my other useful short cuts here


Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Copyediting, Errors, New skills, Short cuts, Word, Writing


Tags: , , , ,

4 responses to “My short cuts – automatic formatting as you type (and how to get rid of it)

  1. Heather

    November 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    This is exactly the 3rd blog, of your site I read.
    Nevertheless I really like this specific one, “My short cuts – automatic formatting as you
    type (and how to get rid of it) | LibroEditing
    proofreading, editing, writing” the most.
    Take care -Kristi


    • Liz at Libro

      November 11, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog posts and hope you find them useful.


  2. augusta

    May 3, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Helpful info. But now I can’t get rid of those little underlinings in places that Word has changed via autoformat! I write using Scrivener and moving it into a word doc always makes me wince…


    • Liz at Libro

      May 4, 2014 at 7:20 am

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure whether you mean the wiggly red or green lines Word puts under things that appear to it to be incorrect spellings or grammar mistakes (in which case, if you know they’re correct, you can turn that off using Word Options – Proofing – When correcting spelling and grammar in word and untick “Check spelling as you go” / “Mark grammar errors as you type), or the solid lines that appear when you have Track Changes turned on (in which case have a look at this article: Let me know if that helps or if you can be more specific and give me more details about what’s actually happening.



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