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Technology Tip: Use Paste Special to Clean-Up Text
by Dan Pinnington
July 2005

Moving text with the cut and paste commands, either from one application to another, or within the same application, is one of the most powerful features of Windows. It can also be one of the most frustrating features, especially when the pasted text doesn’t appear as you had expected or wanted.

In many programs you can control how Windows pastes data with the Paste Special command. This tip reviews how this command works in Microsoft Word. The steps outlined for Word are identical for pasting text in many other Windows programs.

At one time or another, all Word users will have had problems pasting data. Many lawyers will have experienced this when moving text from WordPerfect to Word, or vice versa. Often the alignment and spacing of pasted text make it very difficult to read.

Here’s how you can use the Paste Special command to control the format of pasted text. First, highlight the text that you want to copy, click Edit, then Copy (or Ctrl+C if you prefer using this keyboard shortcut). This puts the highlighted data into the Clipboard. The Clipboard is just a temporary place for holding text that is being moved or copied from one location to another.

Next, click on the location you want to paste the text you are copying. Then, click on the Edit menu, and select Paste Special (not Paste, which would be your usual selection). This opens the Paste Special dialog box. It gives you several different options for the format of text you are pasting. The “Unformatted text” option is the one that will clean up your pasted text. Select it, and then click OK to paste the data.

The Unformatted text option will paste bare, unformatted text only. All other formatting information will be stripped out, including bold, underlining, italics, indents, bullets etc. If the text you are pasting had various fonts or complex formatting, you will have to manually change fonts and recreate all this formatting. Although doing this can be time-consuming, it will sometimes be easier than trying to fix a document that has problems due to formats that did not convert properly, in particular when moving text from WordPerfect to Word.

Remember that you can use the Paste Special Unformatted text option to paste text copied from a PDF file. Select the text within the PDF with the Select Text tool, or with a Ctrl+A. Note also that in the text pasted from a PDF file with the Unformatted text option will have a hard return at the end of every line. You will have to manually remove these returns. In later versions of Acrobat you can use the File|Save As command to save a PDF file in another format, including Word. In many cases this will let you avoid having to manually clean up hard returns.

Many Windows programs have a Paste Special command, and some have other format options that will help you. Excel for example, has about a dozen different options for reformatting pasted text. Next time you need to clean up text, remember the Paste Special command.

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Dan Pinnington (dan.Pinnington@lawpro.ca) works for the Lawyers' Professional Indemnity Company (www.lawpro.ca) to help the 20,000 practising lawyers in Ontario avoid malpractice claims. He writes the Tech Tips Column in Law Practice Magazine and is on the ABA TECHSHOW Board. He speaks and writes frequently on a variety of risk management and legal technology topics. Through practicePRO (www.practicepro.ca) he provides Ontario lawyers with practical how-to resources aimed at helping them avoid malpractice claims and succeed in the practice of law.