How can I clean up a stack of Microsoft Word documents?
October 2, 2011 7:13 AM   Subscribe

How can I strip all manually-added formatting from some large Microsoft Word documents whilst retaining the basic heading structure (i.e. not simply Clear Formatting)? More generally what are some good resources for a graphic designer (who is fairly familiar with InDesign but who avoids Word like the plague) who needs to get to grips with Microsoft Word in a hurry?

I have been asked to restyle 14 Microsoft Word documents, each with approximately 100 pages. The client is insistent that the docs be kept in Word rather than InDesign, so that she can modify them as necessary in the future.

She has made some use of Styles - the basic heading structure necessary for generating a table of contents has been used. But she has manually overridden the format of the heading styles on a case-by-case basis (e.g. Heading 2 + Calibri, 12pt, Not Italic, royal blue), rather than modifying the formatting of the style itself. There's probably a dozen or so 'styles' that I need to clean up. Some are paragraphs based on a unique Heading Style like the example above. Another half dozen are just modifications of Normal, such as making coloured words within paragraphs.

I can't conceive of the effort involved in creating the documents in this fashion. And I can't work out how I can fix this unholy mess without expending a similar amount of effort myself. Word's Clear Formatting command strips out all the formatting - I just want to remove what InDesign would term "overrides".

  1. How should I remove all manually added formatting from the doc, whilst retaining the basic heading structure?
  2. Do I do use the same technique for the remaining 13 documents, or are there ways I can streamline things for subsequent documents?
  3. Is Word sufficiently compatible across operating systems and versions of Word that I should even be contemplating doing this in the first place?
  4. Any other basic advice given the task in front of me?
  5. What is a decent online resource (in the vein of Stack Overflow) for semi-intelligent discussion of Word?
My system: OS 10.7.1; MS Word 2008 12.3.1
Their systems (more than one person in their company will be editing): Windows version ???; MS Word ???
posted by puffmoike to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does select all + Control-spacebar work for what you need? That's what I use to strip formatting in many cases. I find Word very compatible across platforms, too. Later versions can open earlier versions, but it doesn't always work as well in reverse.
posted by theredpen at 7:22 AM on October 2, 2011

One strategy I sometimes use is to copy and paste stuff from Word to Wordpad and back. This might remove more formatting than you wish to remove, though.
posted by box at 7:24 AM on October 2, 2011

If you view the document in Outline view, you can select the non-heading styles and clear the formatting from them. Then, on the Style pane, for each heading style click the down-arrow to the right of the style and click Select All, then double-click the style to reapply it to the headings.
posted by Houstonian at 7:25 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since you work with InDesign, can you import or copy the Word file into it, do the changes and then export to Word?
posted by Gyan at 7:26 AM on October 2, 2011

Just a guess here - how much formatting do you lose if you save the document as .RTF?
posted by COD at 7:34 AM on October 2, 2011

If you save as rtf you shouldn't lose any formatting. If what you want to get rid of is character formatting over that of each style, ctrl-spacebar is the way to go.
posted by Logophiliac at 8:04 AM on October 2, 2011

I can't work out how I can fix this unholy mess without expending a similar amount of effort myself.

I think your evaluation of your predicament is absolutely correct.

Cleaning up other people's Word messes is just a horrible, time-consuming, thankless grind. It's a hideous job, and there is no way short of abuse of mind-altering substances to make it less so.

After a couple of hours at it you will find yourself approximately 5% done, and ready to kill the next person who hits Enter multiple times to get to a new page.
posted by flabdablet at 8:39 AM on October 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Windows version ???; MS Word ???

You also need to know what fonts are installed, what make and model the default printer is and what paper size its default paper tray thinks is installed.
posted by flabdablet at 8:41 AM on October 2, 2011

I have exported an InDesign document to Word and had it use all the styling I'd set in InDesign. This was in CS3 and Word 2000.
posted by elle.jeezy at 8:58 AM on October 2, 2011

I would guess all the styles are built on normal. Modify normal and they all will change
posted by Sheppagus at 4:55 PM on October 2, 2011

Thanks to all for their input. Ctrl-space was a command I wasn't aware of, and that will no doubt be helpful down the track.

However flabdablet's comment - Cleaning up other people's Word messes is just a horrible, time-consuming, thankless grind - whilst only serving to reinforce what I already thought, was what I really needed to hear.

I've just called the client and told them I'm not going to do the job.
posted by puffmoike at 8:08 PM on October 2, 2011

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