The Format Painter (Word, all recent versions)

September 24, 2009 at 7:21 pm

The Format Painter is a handy tool in Word that makes it easy to copy formatting from one paragraph to another (or to multiple paragraphs). I use it on a fairly regular basis to get a “misbehaving” paragraph — one where the indentation, tabs, and/or numbering simply won’t cooperate — to take on the characteristics of other, similar paragraphs in a document that are formatted the way I intended.

A crucial point to keep in mind when using the Format Painter is that it duplicates all of the formatting attributes that have been applied to a paragraph. In other words, it applies the types of formatting that are found — and configured — in the Paragraph dialog: justification, outline level (if any), indentation, before and after spacing, line spacing, widow/orphan control, keep with next, keep text together, etc. For example, if you use the Format Painter to copy from a paragraph has double spacing, 6 points after spacing, a first-line indent of half an inch, and left justification, the “painted” paragraph will take on double spacing, 6 points after spacing, a first-line indent of half an inch, and left justification. You can’t use this feature to replicate only some of the formatting attributes of a paragraph (for example, just the double-spacing and 6 points after spacing without the first-line indent and left justification).

Note that any automatic numbering that you’ve applied to a paragraph will carry over to the painted paragraph, as well. Sometimes the results can be funky, however; indents occasionally change and numbering that is intended to continue in sequence occasionally restart at 1. But more often than not, the Format Painter fixes those types of problems. (If it doesn’t, try the other method of copying paragraph formatting that I mention toward the end of this post. That method is pretty reliable.)

Although the Format Painter frequently is used to copy “direct” or “manual” formatting between paragraphs, it can be used to copy a style, as well.

Here’s how it works: Position the cursor anywhere within the model paragraph (the one with the formatting you like), then navigate to the Format Painter icon, which looks, appropriately enough, like a paintbrush. In Word 2007, it is located at the very left side of the Home tab, at the bottom of the Clipboard group. In earlier versions of Word, it is on the Standard Toolbar, to the right of the clipboard (Paste) icon. If you want to copy the formatting to just one paragraph, click the paintbrush once; if you want to copy the formatting to more than one paragraph, double-click it.

Next, click anywhere within the first paragraph to which you wish to apply the formatting. It should take on the attributes of the original paragraph. Keep going through the document and clicking the other paragraphs that you want to take on the formatting of the “good” paragraph. When you’ve finished, turn off the feature by clicking the paintbrush icon again. (That final step isn’t necessary if you’re copying formatting to just one paragraph.) And that’s it!

Every once in a while, the Format Painter doesn’t work. But in my experience, it succeeds 90% to 95% of the time, and it is a really useful — and quick — way to whip those disobedient paragraphs into shape.

Alternatively, you can copy formatting between paragraphs by displaying the non-printing characters, then selecting, copying, and pasting the paragraph symbol (pilcrow) — which, as I discussed in an early post, contains the formatting codes for the immediately preceding paragraph — from one paragraph to another (or to several different paragraphs). That typically works even better than the Format Painter, and (for me) it has the added advantage that it doesn’t require use of the mouse. (Remember, you can use the key combination Ctrl Shift * [asterisk] to toggle the non-printing characters on and off.)

WordPerfect has a feature called QuickFormat that is similar to the Format Painter, but I tend to use it only rarely. I’ll write about QuickFormat in a subsequent post.

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