Word 2004: ‘Clear Formatting’ does not remove highlighting

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
December 21st, 2004 • 6:38 am

Word has this highlighting tool that lets you change the background colour of the selected text. It can be used like a yellow highlighter to highlight portions of text that need to be edited/changed/etc.

This tool is available in the Formatting Palette, under “Font“. In other words, it is a character-level formatting tool.

Then why on earth does the “Clear Formatting” command (in the “Edit” menu) fails to remove the highlighting?

Because Microsoft says so.

Highlighting might be character-level formatting, but it doesn’t fall under the list of formatting options (bold, italics, underline, text colouring, character styles, etc.) that are stripped by the “Clear Formatting” command.

For that matter, the other commands that can normally be used to strip character-level formatting — i.e. the “Reset Character Formatting” command (shift-command-Z) or reapplying the “Default Paragraph Font” character style — don’t work either.

No, the only way to remove highlighting is described on a special page in Word’s Help:

Remove highlighting from text
1. Select the text you want to remove highlighting from.
2. On the Formatting Palette, under Font, click the arrow next to Highlight, and then click None.

Note: To remove all highlighting from a document in one pass, select the document by pressing z+A, click the arrow next to Highlight , and then click None.

Why colour highlighting has a special status in Word is not explained. It’s just the way it is. As always with Microsoft, take it or leave it. Interface consistency is a luxury.

5 Responses to “Word 2004: ‘Clear Formatting’ does not remove highlighting”

  1. Henry Neugass says:

    How long has “highlighting” been an option? I’ve never seen it.

    Now, to be sure, I haven’t made any effort to seek out Word options, as the basic functions don’t work all that well, and it seems awfully risky to seek out additional ones.

    Here’s what likely happened: someone said, “I know, let’s add highlighting, that would look cool on the feature list.”

    We have strong reason to believe that Word –underneath the human interface– is largely a hodge-podge of spaghetti legacy code that no sensible programmer would attempt to modify. Some clever soul found a way of bolting on yet one more function. Amazing.

    There’s no consistency with respect to other formatting because MS simply has no motivation, nor a system in place, to seek consistency, and lots of contraindications for doing so.

    Lemon lollipops are delicious and make most children very happy.

    (I’m talking about lollipops in the paragraph to illustrate this point: I have decided that talking about them will make you readers happier, even if this mention is not consistent with the rest of this communication. It really does make a kind of sense, especially if I’m running out of ideas on my original point. )

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Highlighting has been with us for ages. Either Word 6 or Word 98, I’d say.

    It’s sort of useful because MS has never been able to come up with an adequate, light-weight, cross-platform annotating tool – which highlighting is, in its own, very limited way.

    Regardless of when it was added, it shouldn’t be out of the Redo/Undo loop, simple as that. But I suspect that, at the time it was added, it was a “hack” of some kind, and it’s just stayed that way ever since. When it comes to Microsoft, there’s no such thing as fine-tuning.

  3. Henry Neugass says:

    I think there is one other issue operating in this case: I’m guessing the MS view is very likely that most users use basic Word functions and possibly ONLY one or two other “special features”.

    I intend this term in the most general –and obviously somewhat ironic– sense, denoting any mechanism beyond a typewriter function, e.g. styles, page numbers, mail merge, grammar-checking, …, documents longer than 10 pages, or …highlighting. (In particular, their expectation of “undo” may be much lower than ours. They feel lucky it is able to reverse accidental text deletions. Undoing highlighting is likely far beyond…)

    If you and I kept within this expectation, we would never be having this or similar conversations! But I estimate 99% of Word users fit in this category. They simply don’t detect any of the inconsistencies we’re discussing.

    Thus the folks at MS are doing an admirable job supporting their users, statistically speaking, a level of accomplishment of which any organization should be proud. It would be perverse for an MS employee to spend any energy at all on the other 1% — not a career-enchancing choice.

    Where is Robert Pirsig when we need him?

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    I’m really not sure about the 1% figure. I am sure we are a minority — but how small? I’m not convinced we’re that small. Of course little old me will never have the means to gather hard data on this. But when I look at people around me, they all have their own set of needs, and a degree of awareness of the fact that Word is more than a simple electronic typewriter. With all the automatic stuff that’s turned on by default, they don’t have much choice anyway.

  5. Henry Neugass says:

    Clearly “1%” is a guess on my part. Yes, a lot of civilians around here have Word, but I think they have no idea of its capabilities. Even in this high-tech neighborhood, part of Silicon Valley, the general level of computer knowledge is quite low. In general, I think the strong preference is keep the virtual access panel to all the complex controls closed and locked and –as much as possible– to avoid or ignore the complexities.

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