Word 2011: Pasting plain text and underlying formatting

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft, Pages
June 14th, 2012 • 8:26 am

Here is another one of the thousands of ways that Microsoft Word manages to annoy the user by not doing what is expected and what makes sense based on the user’s actions.

Take this following situation:


I am in the middle of a sentence that is in italics and I want to insert some plain text that I have in the Clipboard. I’ve made sure it’s plain text by typing it out in a plain text editor (BBEdit) and copying it there.

As you can see, the current cursor is slanted, to indicate that the current underlying formatting is italics. So I press command-I to change the underlying formatting to roman. This causes Word to change the cursor to a straight I-beam:


And now let’s see what happens when I paste my Clipboard, which is a phrase in plain text:


The inserted plain text is in italics! In other words, Word has completely ignored my last user action, which was to change the underlying formatting at the insertion point from italics to roman.

The same thing happens with any other kind of underlying formatting, such as font face, bold, font colour, etc. It is intensely annoying, because Word gives visual feedback (the cursor change) that indicates that it has taken the change in the underlying formatting at the insertion point into account, and then promptly ignores the change and reverts to the underlying formatting of the surrounding text anyway.

By comparison, Pages ’09 does not change the cursor when you switch between italics and roman. The insertion point I-beam stays straight all the time. You can only determine whether you are in italics or in roman by monitoring the status of the italics button in the Format Bar. But at least when the Format Bar’s italics button says you are in roman, and you paste a plain text Clipboard, the pasted text is in roman.

Both Word 2011 and Pages ’09 fail to remember the formatting change if you apply the change to the current cursor location, move the insertion point elsewhere, and then move it back to the location where you made the change. But I guess that behaviour makes sense, because there is no trace of the change. (You didn’t insert anything before moving away and then back.) If I, as a user, make a formatting change, then move away without inserting text, I guess the word processor has reasonable grounds to assume that I have changed my mind about what I wanted to do (even though that is not necessarily the case).

But when I change the formatting and then proceed to paste a plain text Clipboard immediately, there is absolutely no excuse. And so Word 2011 is, once again, a miserable failure.

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