Microsoft Word Oddity #872,982
April 14, 2021 2:50 PM   Subscribe

What are these odd text boxes and how can I efficiently get rid of them?

I've received some files in Word that have odd formatting. Editor says the files originally came in pdf format, possibly the source of the oddity. Sometimes whole paragraphs are encased in these odd things. In many cases, as throughout this particular file, there's a bunch of extra spaces.

I found I could right-click on the blue tab and remove them one by one. That works fine for the first example which is just spaces. But not so much for the full paragraphs enclosed in one of these.

I was able to somewhat mitigate the problem by saving as a .doc file and reopening in Word, but that just converted them all to text. I then had to search and replace to remove all the odd bits of double spaces. But this isn't my favorite solution because this left me with spaces before periods, commas, super-scripted numbers, and beginnings of paragraphs. Probably other spots too, but I'll have to go through it with a fine tooth comb, and I'd rather not.

What are these? Is there a better way to remove them and clean them up?
posted by hydra77 to Technology (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure why they’re showing up, but they look a lot like fillable forms in Word.
posted by MadamM at 3:25 PM on April 14

Those may be fields. You could try search-and-replace -- 'field' should be under the special pull-down menu in the Find dialog (look in Advanced Find if you don't see it in Find), and replace with nothing.
posted by metabaroque at 6:08 PM on April 14

Is there a better way to remove them and clean them up?

My general approach is to refuse to work with files that have been converted from PDF to other formats. If you have absolutely no choice but to change what's in a PDF, you're far better off using an online PDF editor to do a shitty job of that directly rather than trying to convert the PDF to anything else, because those conversions are always broken in endless ways; fix one kind of breakage and whole new layers of it become apparent. No exceptions.

PDF is a final destination before printing or displaying format, not a suitable format for anything that requires further editing.

If you end up not needing to re-type the entire thing from scratch by hand, take that as a win.
posted by flabdablet at 10:40 PM on April 14

Select all text, copy, throw into Notepad, select all, copy, paste in brand new word document. Find and replace double spaces with single spaces. Reformat if necessary.

(With original document, you can use Find and Replace to highlight styles or formatting. Cursor in Find box, make sure there isn't any characters, including spaces, then go formatting menu and choose, for example, italics, then cursor in replace box - again making sure no characters there - go to formatting and choose highlight. Make sure a colour is set in your highlight menu. Then in Find & Replace, hit go or ok or whatever it is, and bingo, all the italics in your original doc are highlighted, making it easier to reformat your new document).
posted by b33j at 12:30 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

Of course you will need to global F & R on space before period to period, space after paragraph mark to paragraph mark, but this is pretty safe to replace all.
posted by b33j at 12:32 AM on April 15

Best answer: Those look like content control boxes to me. I deal with these sometimes at work.

They are very easy to remove:
Select all text (Ctrl + a),
right click on one content control box,
select remove or delete (I can't remember what the option is).

All of them should disappear.
posted by Stoof at 5:45 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks jedicus and Stoof for giving a name to these annoyances. According to this, there's not much of a better way for clean-up than my original Save as a doc file, then do a variety of find-and-replace-and-hope-I-find-them-all.

(There's a lot of other formatting that needs to be maintained, like footnotes, italics, etc., that precludes a conversion to Notepad, and there's no way in hell I'm retyping the whole 2700-word document - that's a great way to introduce a whole new batch of errors.)
posted by hydra77 at 9:40 AM on April 15

Did my suggestion not work? I literally just did it on a document with 100s of content control boxes. Took 10 seconds to remove them all.
posted by Stoof at 12:18 PM on April 15

I have to admit, Stoof, I, too, am surprised that my solution wasn't of use.
posted by metabaroque at 3:07 PM on April 15

Response by poster: @Stoof: Not quite. After selecting all the text, I couldn't then (also) right click on one of the control boxes. When I Control-A to select the text, the control boxes aren't highlighted/visible. The text within them is selected, but the tab isn't visible to be right-clicked on. See here for screen grab of all text selected vs. seeing and being able to right-click the tab of the control box.
posted by hydra77 at 3:12 PM on April 15

Best answer: Did you try right-clicking in an area where you know there is a control box? You don't have to click on the little tab - just right click within a content control box. Apologies if you've tried this already!
posted by Stoof at 5:23 PM on April 15

Response by poster: Stoof, that worked! I didn't realize that as I moved my mouse around with all text selected it offered a slight outline around the content controlled items. Right-clicking within gave me the option to 'remove content control' with no content lost. Thank you thank you thank you thank you!
posted by hydra77 at 9:49 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

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