Stop Word from Changing Your Formatting

Last Updated: October 17, 2014

Microsoft Word is one of those programs that people REALLY love to hate. I tend to cut it some slack because, as one of the most (if not the most) commonly used computer applications, it has to serve the needs of people of all different skill and comfort levels—from those who still pine for their IBM Selectrics (and I have my days!) to people who customize each and every element of the program to their needs (guilty!).

However, I definitely recognize why a lot of people are frustrated by it. And if there’s one area that I hear a lot of complaints about, it’s when Word decides to change the formatting of something that you didn’t want it to.

Now, some of Word’s AutoFormatting options I really like, like when it automatically converts two hyphens (––) into a typographic em-dash (—), because I think it looks more professional. Likewise, there are some AutoFormat choices that I like sometimes, but not others. A good example of that is when it automatically converts a typed URL ( into a hyperlink (

On the other hand, there are some that always drive me crazy, like when I want to write a list of something and as soon as I hit Enter after starting a sentence with “- “, the text is indented and the hyphen turns into a bullet. If I wanted to create a bulleted list, I would use the bullet button or a List Bullet style.

For most of the AutoFormat options, the default is that they’re “on.” So I’m simply going to explain here how to turn off the ones you don’t want, whether that’s on a case-by-case basis or permanently.

The illustrations below come from Word 2007. I’ll list how to do the same steps in Word 2003 at the end of the post (and those steps should be fairly similar for previous versions as well).

I’m going to start by showing how to undo a single instance of AutoFormatting.

Type any URL and click Enter.

The URL will be turned into an active link.


Because the AutoFormat is simply a step that Word has recorded behind the scenes, you really just need to Undo it, which can be done in several ways:

  • Press Ctrl + Z.
  • Click the Undo button in the Quick Access toolbar at the top left of the window.

    Note: If you click the down arrow to the right of the button, you’ll actually see the AutoFormat step listed.

  • You may also see the AutoCorrect Options button appear (it looks like a little lightning bolt, but doesn’t always show up consistently). If so, you can click on the down arrow to also remove the AutoFormatted step (as well as turn that particular option off permanently.

Now we’re going to look at how you can turn off any of the AutoFormat options permanently.

From the Office button, click Word Options.

The Office button is the round one at the top left of the window.

Select Proofing from the left-hand menu.

Click the AutoCorrect options button.

Click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.

Now you can see all the options available and turn off those that you don’t want.

If you’re not sure what some of the options mean, click the question mark at the top right of the window and a Help dialog box will appear. In the Word section, click the plus sign beside “What does each option do?” to get descriptions of them all.

Now you can work in Word the way you want to—not the way it wants you to!

Instructions for Word 2003

To undo a single AutoFormat instance, you can use the same options as in Word 2007:

  • Press Ctrl + Z.
  • Click the Undo button in the Standard toolbar.
  • Use the AutoCorrect Options button if it appears.

To permanently change the AutoFormat settings, go to Tools > AutoCorrect Options and click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.

Note: In Word 2003, this dialog box does not have built-in help, so you’ll have to search Word’s main help file (F1) if you need an explanation for a particular option.

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  1. says

    I was working on my manuscript, when arbitrarily Word 2010 shifted the formatting so it appeared to shorten the header of each page so the center text function doesn’t truly center the text on the page. I checked my backup files and those are still the same as created. This file opens as normal then after about 30 seconds, Word changes the view. Is the view changing or the formating? Do you have any clue what causes this? Thank you.

    • Elizabeth Kricfalusi says

      Hi John.

      I’m sorry. I don’t know what you mean by “shorten the header of each page.”

      – Elizabeth

      • says

        The page actually narrows so the text that is supposed to be centered is no longer centered. It opens normally, but shirts to a narrower page. I’ve never seen this before. I have virus ( checked my computer so it must be a Word issue.

        • Elizabeth Kricfalusi says

          Hmmm… I’m definitely stumped by that one. If you want, you can send me the file at and I’ll have a look and see if anything jumps out at me. If the text is sensitive, you can just replace it with something else.

  2. says

    Kathleen, I don’t have a computer at the moment that has Word 2003 on it to confirm, but the Tools > AutoCorrect Options approach should apply to all new documents. I’m not sure what’s happening in your situation, but I know I never had to deal with the auto-formatting again after I made the changes I wanted.

    Sorry I can’t help more right at this moment.

  3. says

    Well, I was super excited when I THOUGHT I had found the answer to my much-queried question: how to PERMANENTLY change the auto-format options.
    Much to my disappointment, you did NOT answer it. This method, as far as I can tell, changes the auto-format functions for ONLY the document you are working on; once you start a new document (Word 2003) you have to start all over again. I was looking for a way to change the defaults for ALL new documents . . . I just can’t seem to find an answer to that one.