Working with Text Copied from the Internet

I frequently copy text from the internet or a PDF to use as an instructional example, either on my blog or, more frequently, in the training materials I create. Because I am a writing trainer working with environmental scientists, the passages that I copy are often long-ish and intricate.

Sometimes, the source material proves incompatible with Microsoft Word, and I have to do a lot of work cleaning up the text to make it presentable. Here are a couple of tricks I have learned to make the process easier.

Clear All Formatting 

Clear all formatting

This button is a lifesaver! To use it, select the text that’s giving you trouble, and press the button. It’s really that easy.

Just be careful because “clear all formatting” is a non-discriminatory function. Paragraph styles, bold type, italics, font – everything returns to the settings in your “normal” template. Any work that you have already done to format the copied text will be lost!

Set Paste Options

Set paste options


If you cut and paste a lot, and you’re comfortable formatting your own work, you may want to set your paste options to bring over the text only without the formatting. You can also use this screen to control how Microsoft Word handles text from other Word documents.

Show All Formatting

Show all formatting

If you’re looking for control at a micro-level, or if you’ve taken some steps already and the problem persists, you may want to look at the formatting to determine what might be causing the trouble.

Be aware when using this feature that styles and paragraph formats appear as small squares in the left-hand margin. You have to do some investigative work to determine what changed.

Global Find and Replace

Many of us use global find and replace to eliminate misspellings or correct data errors, but you can also use the feature to delete or change formatting marks. I will use the feature, for example, to delete tabs so that I can set paragraphs to have an indented first line. I also use it to delete manual line breaks in favor of the paragraph character or to replace non-breaking spaces with regular spaces.

To access a complete list of characters that you can find and replace, select Replace from the Editing tab on the Home Ribbon, then select More and Special.


Using Dummy Text to Eliminate Line Breaks

Frequently, when I copy text from the internet or Adobe Acrobat, it contains line breaks at the end of every line rather than at the end of every paragraph. Depending on the size of the font in Word, you may or may not be able to see this without your “reveal all formatting” feature turned on.

Unfortunately, you cannot simply use global find and replace to resolve the problem, because then you eliminate all the real paragraph breaks and have to spend valuable time comparing the text with the original to re-insert them. So here are a few steps you can take to resolve the problem using technology:

(1) Use the Global Find and Replace function to replace all paragraph characters with dummy text. You can use any text that does not appear in your document. I typically use three hashtags (###).

Dummy Text, Step 1

(2) Replace twice the dummy text with the paragraph character. This step restores the “real” paragraph breaks to the original.

Dummy Text, Step 1

(3) Manually review the text to ensure that paragraph breaks match the copied source.

Dummy Text, Slide 3

I hope you picked up something new from this post. Please be sure to share with your colleagues. And let us know what tips and tricks work for you.

Michelle Baker is the Conservation Writing Pro. She trains environmental scientists who work with government conservation agencies how to write more clearly and concisely. Contact her for all your writing training needs: 


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