Word vs. Docs for Editors

Word processing word cloud

If you’re a copyeditor, you probably use Microsoft Word, a desktop program introduced in the 1980s. Or maybe you use Google Docs, a browser-based application that debuted in 2006. Some of us switch back and forth.

Both programs are designed for writing and editing and reviewing, including tracking and commenting. This post won’t get into tracking and commenting. Instead, I’ll consider how to do a couple of basic tasks, first in Word and then in Docs. If Word gets to go first, that’s because it has (many) more built-in tools than Docs does. But there’s usually a way to handle something in Docs if you need to.

NOTE: I’m using the desktop version of Word 365 for Windows. For Google Docs, I’m using Chrome. If you’re using a different version of Word (except for the scaled-down web version, which I didn’t bother with here), or if you’re using Docs in a different browser—or if you’re on a Mac—everything should still work as described, but menu labels and keyboard shortcuts will vary.

Find and Replace Formatting

Let’s say you’re editing a manuscript and the author used underline instead of italics. It should be easy to replace the one with the other.

MS Word: Word users take it for granted that you can find and replace not just text but also formatting. Here’s how to find text formatted with an underline and change that formatting to italics:

  • Open Find and Replace (Ctrl+H).
  • With your cursor in “Find what” (the box should otherwise be empty), type Ctrl+U to specify underline. Or you can click More > Format > Font and apply the regular underline style from there.
  • Now put your cursor in “Replace with” and type Ctrl+I and then Ctrl+U and Ctrl+U again to specify italics but no underlining (or use the Format > Font method to do the same).

The Find and Replace box should now look something like this:

Find and Replace dialog box in Microsoft Word showing how to replace underline with italic, no underline.

  • Next, either click Replace All (to change all instances at once) or Find Next (to do them one by one).

Google Docs: In its native state, Docs doesn’t give you the option to find and replace formatting. However, there’s a third-party add-on called Advanced Find & Replace that promises to do it. (It’s free to try, but there’s a small fee after a certain number of clicks.) In my tests the add-on found all the underlining but then added italics on top of it, making it a three-step process:

  1. Replace underlining with italics.
  2. Select all the text in the document.
  3. Click the underline button (or type Ctrl+U) twice—first to apply underlining everywhere (don’t worry, it won’t remove existing underlining) and then to remove it everywhere.

Another option: Open the document in Word, do what you need to do, and then bring it back into Docs.

Clear All Formatting

It’s often necessary to clear the formatting from a word or paragraph so that it matches the style of the surrounding text—for example, when it’s been pasted from another source (see next section).

Word: In Word, you can use the Clear All Formatting button (a capital A with an eraser that lives in the Font group under the Home tab).

  • To leave italics and other character styles intact, put your cursor in a paragraph whose formatting you want to clear (don’t select any text, not even a single character), then click Clear All Formatting. This will apply the Normal style to that paragraph. But it should retain italics and any other formatting for individual letters and words.

BEFORE YOU TRY IT: For Clear All Formatting to be useful in Word, the Normal style needs to match the default style for the rest of the document. If it doesn’t, right-click on the Normal style in the Styles group under the Home tab. Then choose Modify to begin fixing the style. Or put your cursor in a paragraph of regular text that’s got the basic formatting you want and, instead of Modify, choose Update Normal to Match Selection.

  • To clear out italics and other character styles, select the text you want to fix before clicking the Clear All Formatting button. Selecting an entire paragraph or multiple paragraphs will revert those paragraphs to Normal. But if you select only part of a paragraph, the selected text will take on the default font and other attributes of the existing paragraph style (whether it’s in Normal or something else, like Heading 1).

KEYBOARD SHORTCUT: In Word for Windows, either Ctrl+Spacebar or Ctrl+Shift+Z should clear extra character formatting from selected text (like magic). But that leaves paragraph styles intact. To revert paragraphs to Normal like the button does, you’ll need to create your own shortcut. Go to File > Options > Customize Ribbon and choose the option to customize keyboard shortcuts. Then, under the Home Tab category, find and select the ClearAllFormatting command. Enter your preferred shortcut and click Assign. I use Alt+0 (that’s a zero).

Docs: You can clear formatting in Docs in three ways: (1) via the Format menu, or (2) by clicking the T with backslash icon on the toolbar, or (3) by typing Ctrl+\. However you do it, this tool works much like the Clear All Formatting button in Word.

Paste Text without Formatting

Pasting without formatting works a lot like clearing all formatting but for pasted text. I find this one to be endlessly useful (and it can be set as your default in Word; see below). For example, when I copy a book title from Amazon into a reference list, I want it to look like the surrounding text—not huge and bold.

Word: Here’s how to paste without formatting in Word:

  • Copy some text, then put your cursor where you want the text to go.
  • Click the arrow under the Paste button (in the Clipboard group under Home), and then choose Keep Text Only by clicking the clipboard icon with the A on it. (You’ll also find this icon using the right-click menu.)
  • Or type Ctrl+Alt+V to bring up the Paste Special dialog box. From there, choose Unformatted Text (Unformatted Unicode Text should do the same thing).
  • Or assign your own keystroke (see KEYBOARD SHORTCUT in the previous section). The command you want is PasteTextOnly (under the category All Commands). I use Alt+Y for this one; the letter Y looks like a funnel, and I like to imagine its narrow aperture filtering out unwanted formatting.

MAKE IT THE DEFAULT: By default, Word copies the formatting of the source text, but you can change this. Go to File > Options > Advanced and change the options for cut, copy, and paste accordingly. If you want to paste without formatting by default, choose Keep Text Only (which will match the formatting of the destination as described above).

Docs: In Docs, you’ll find the option to paste without formatting under the Edit menu; alternatively, you can type Ctrl+Shift+V. (As far as I can tell, there’s no way to change the default behavior to always paste without formatting.) I like the keystroke because it’s easy to remember, and it also works in Gmail and in a surprising number of other environments.

Insert Unicode Characters

For our last example, let’s do special characters. Let’s say your manuscript includes an illustration credit for The Persistence of Memory, the famous oil painting by Salvador Dalí. The accent in “Dalí” looks right, but you need to fix the dimensions: 24.1 x 33 cm. It’s best to use a multiplication sign (×), not a lowercase x.

Word: There are many ways to insert a special character in Word. Here’s what I usually do:

  • Type the name of the character (or a description of it) into Google: e.g., “multiplication sign Unicode.”
  • Figure out from the results what Unicode number it is. Wikipedia is especially valuable for this kind of info, or you can use the character name index at Unicode—or, in this case, you can look it up in table 12.1 in CMOS. However you get there, the code point for the multiplication sign is 00D7 (those are zeros).
  • Open the Symbol dialog box (Insert > Symbol > More Symbols). Then type or paste “00D7” into the character code field (highlighted in yellow below):

Symbol dialog box in Microsoft Word showing the multiplication sign, Unicode 00D7.

(And yes, that’s the vomit emoji—or U+1F92E—among my recently used symbols. I was experimenting.)

A NEAT WORD TRICK: You can enter the Unicode number directly into your Word document and then type Alt+X to turn it into the character. If that doesn’t work, put “U+” in front of the number; that tells Word to ignore any adjacent characters that may be throwing it off. The trick also works the other way around—a handy way to find out the code point for any character directly from Word. For example, if you put your cursor after the í in “Dalí” and type Alt+X, the í will be replaced by 00ED; do it again, and it will change back into the letter.

Docs: Go to Insert in the menu to bring up the special characters dialog box. From there, you can type or paste “00D7” into the search box. Hover over the result to confirm that it’s the right character, then click to insert. Or you can use the Symbol > Math category.

Dialog box for special characters in Google Docs showing the multiplication sign, Unicode 00D7.

A third option is to try drawing the character in that empty box. But when I did that, it brought up ten different versions of an X, including the letters X and x (in both Latin and Greek) and, confusingly, a “multiplication X,” a character that’s close but not what we want (it’s part of the dingbats set of Unicode characters—and it’s too big). But that drawing box is a great way to explore—and sometimes find—special characters.

* * *

I hope this was a useful exercise. Word obviously has the edge in features (or at least the desktop version does), and it can be endlessly customized. (For complex documents, it really has no competition.) But Docs is nice for the same reason Gmail is: If you have a browser (as we all do), you’ve got all you need. Except maybe an add-on or two (or three).

Word cloud by Kheng Guan Toh / Adobe Stock.

Editor’s Corner posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press.

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Russell Harper BitmojiRussell Harper (@cpyeditor) is editor of The Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and was the principal reviser of the last two editions of The Chicago Manual of Style. He also contributed to the revisions of the last two editions of Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition

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