What happens when I send my document to someone else? Will Word mess up my formatting?
Will Word change my formatting if I send it to someone else?
Follow these two steps and Word won't mess up your document if the document is opened on another machine:
- Don't save your document if the Automatically update document styles box in the Templates and Add-Ins dialog is ticked.
- Use styles for all numbering.
There is an urban myth about Word that suggests that Word will mess up your formatting when you send your document to someone else.
Like most urban myths, this has an element of truth mixed up with a fair dollop of misunderstanding.
Myth 1: "When I send my document to someone, Word will mess up my styles"
This issue is about sending documents to other people. Or opening a document on a different computer.
Here's how it works.
All documents are based on a template
All documents are based on a template. Templates have names that end in ".dot" or, for Word 2007 and Word 2010, ".dotx" or ".dotm". If you didn’t specifically choose a template, then your document is based on normal.dot (in Word 2007 and Word 2010: normal.dotm). Everyone has a normal.dot (or, in Word 2007 and Word 2010: normal.dotm). If you don't have one, Word creates it for you.
What's the relationship between the styles in a document and its template?
When a document is created, it inherits the styles in its parent template. The template remains 'attached' to the document; but there is no further link between the styles in the template and the styles in the document.
There are only three ways in which the document and the template to which it is attached can change one another's styles, and they all rely on your doing something:
- You can change a style in a document's parent template. To do that, in the Modify Style dialog box, tick the Add to Template box.
- You can copy styles from the document to its template, or vice versa. To do that, in Word 2003 and earlier versions: Tools > Templates and Add‑Ins. Click Organizer. In Word 2007 and Word 2010: on the Developer tab, click the Template button then click Organizer.
- You can update the document with its template's styles. To do that you need the Templates and Add-ins dialog.
To get the Templates and Add-ins dialog, in Word 2003: Tools > Templates and Add‑Ins. In Word 2007 or Word 2010: Developer > Template. To update the styles in the document, in the Template and Add-ins dialog, tick the Automatically Update Document Styles box.
This box is one source of the urban myth, so read on.
What happens when Word opens a document?
When Word opens a document, it doesn’t care about the styles in the template on which the document was based …
you ticked the Automatically Update Document Styles box in the Templates and Add‑Ins dialog.
If that box is ticked in your document then, when Word opens the document, Word searches for a template with the same name as the one to which the document is attached. If it finds a template with the same name, then Word copies the styles from that template to the document.
But you don’t have my template. How does that work?
Imagine that you create a document based on a template named ReportTemplate.dotx, you leave that box ticked, and you send the document to me. I don't have a template called ReportTemplate.dotx, so Word would have nothing from which to update the styles. So Word can’t update the styles in the document.
However, you and I both have a file called normal.dot (in Word 2007 and Word 2010, it's normal.dotm). That's the so-called Normal Template, and everyone has one. If you based your document on the Normal Template, and leave that box ticked, and send the document to me, then all the style definitions in your document will be over-ridden by the styles definitions in my Normal Template.
So, if you want to preserve the styles in your document, don’t tick the Automatically Update Document Styles box in the Templates and Add‑Ins dialog. If that box is not ticked, Word won’t change any styles in your document, no matter what machine the document is opened on.
So where did the urban myth come from?
Imagine someone who doesn't understand this mechanism, who leaves the Automatically Update Document Styles box ticked, who bases all their documents on the Normal Template. Every time they send a document to someone else, their document's styles are over-ridden!
This person concludes that Word messes up styles when you send a document from one machine to another.
It's a classic case of an urban myth generated from inappropriate attribution of cause.
- Creating a Template – The Basics (Part I) on the MVP Word FAQ site.
- Creating a Template (Part II) on the MVP Word FAQ site.
Myth 2: "There’s something wrong with Word’s built-in styles because they change all the time"
Use Word's built-in heading styles because they have "magic" properties.
Why use Microsoft Word's built-in heading styles? for lots of reasons why the built-in heading styles make
your document easier to create and edit.
This myth says that there’s something wrong with Word’s built-in styles, because they change all the time.
It’s a myth.
The myth might have come about in one of two ways.
What happens when I use custom styles?
Imagine that you have a document with a custom style called MyNewStyle. And, you have ticked the Automatically Update Document Styles box. And, you based the document on normal.dot (or in Word 2007 or Word 2010 on normal.dotm). And you send the document to me.
When Word opens the document, it sees that you created this document from the Normal Template. Word hunts around on my machine for my Normal Template and finds it (because everyone has a Normal Template). It then copies all the styles in my Normal Template into your document.
But … my Normal Template doesn’t have a style called MyNewStyle. So Word can’t over-ride that style. So Word will retain whatever formatting you had in MyNewStyle.
Imagine the person who doesn't understand what's going on. That person sees that custom styles retain their formatting. And they conclude that the built-in styles have something "wrong" with them.
What about copying text from one document to another?
Maybe the myth came about from people copying text from one document to another.
Let’s say I send you a document. If my document defines Body Text to be Arial 11pt, and you copy some text from my document into one of your documents, the text will take on your definition of Body Text (perhaps Times New Roman 12pt). So the text appears to "change".
But that’s what’s supposed to happen: your document is respecting your definition of the Body Text style.
But, what if I use a custom style, with a weird name? Your document doesn't have a style with that name. So, when you copy from my document to your document, my style will come along with my text.
Imagine someone who doesn't understand this mechanism. It would be easy to reach the conclusion that there are "problems" with built-in styles.
Truth: Page breaks can be affected by the printer you use
Tip: Avoid empty paragraphs and avoid hard page breaks
Avoid empty paragraphs. Don't press Enter to create space between paragraphs.
Avoid hard page breaks. Control text flow using styles and paragraph formatting.
Here’s the scenario. You create a document at work. At the office, you have a big, fancy, laser printer. Word knows you have a big, fancy, laser printer, and it knows that you can get away with really tiny margins and type very close to the edge of the paper.
You email the document to yourself to work on it at home on the weekend. At home you have a small, colour inkjet printer. Word at home knows you have a small, colour inkjet printer, and it knows that this printer can’t print very close to the edge of the paper. So it moves some text from the bottom of page 1 to the top of page 2.
But … you’re never going to print out this document at home. You’re going to send it back to the office on Monday morning. And you’d like to see what the document will look like at the office.
What to do?
Simple: tell Word you have a big, fancy, laser printer at home. Word’s not bright enough to scour your house looking at model numbers on printers. If you tell it you have a big, fancy, laser printer, it will believe you.
To set up a new printer, choose Start > Control Panel > Printers and Faxes (or some similar commands, depending on your version of Windows). Choose the printer you have at work. Once you’ve done that, in Word, File > Print. Tell Word you’re using the big, fancy, laser printer. Then click Close, to avoid actually printing the document.
The bottoms of my pages don't print on the MVP Word FAQ site.
Why does the appearance (or layout) of my document change when I open it on a different machine? on the MVP Word FAQ site.