One of the most common tasks in Microsoft Word is copying and pasting text in documents. While most users know how to paste text in documents, not many know how to change Word’s paste behavior so that the pasted text appears the way they want it to look. As a result, they end up having to reformat the pasted text, which can be frustrating and time-consuming.

You can avoid having to reformat pasted text two ways. You can change Word’s paste behavior on a case-by-case basis or at the default level.

Changing the Paste Behavior on a Case-by-Case Basis

When you paste text, Word will follow one of three formatting rules:

  • Keep Source Formatting. Word preserves all of the copied text’s formatting when you paste it into your document.
  • Merge Formatting. Word changes the copied text’s formatting (e.g., font, font size) so that it matches the text in your document but keeps certain elements such as bulleted lists and links.
  • Keep Text Only. Word removes all of the formatting from the text you are pasting.

By default, Word follows the Keep Source Formatting rule. You can easily change that behavior while pasting text. After you have copied the text you want to insert in your document, you need to click the arrow under the toolbar’s “Paste” button instead of the button itself. This will bring up four “Paste Options” icons, as Figure 1 shows. These icons represent the rules. Hovering your cursor over each icon will display the rule it represents. For instance, “Merge Formatting” appears if you hover your cursor over the second icon. If you click that icon, Word will paste the text using the Merge Formatting rule rather than the default Keep Source Formatting rule.

Changing the Default Behavior

If you find that you often change Word’s paste behavior while pasting text, you can change the default rules that Word follows in specific situations. That way, you can simply paste text into your documents without having to manually change the paste behavior, which saves time.

To change the default rules, open a Word document, click the arrow under the “Paste” button, and choose “Set Default Paste”. In the “Word Options” box that appears, scroll down to the “Cut, copy, and paste” section. As Figure 2 shows, you can set which rule you want Word to automatically follow when you are:

  • Pasting text within the same document
  • Pasting text between documents
  • Pasting text from other programs

In each case, you can choose to use one of the three basic rules. For example, if you always want to have the formatting merged when you are pasting between documents, you would change the “Pasting between documents” option from “Keep Source Formatting (Default)” to “Merge Formatting”.

There is another situation covered in the “Cut, copy, and paste” section: pasting between documents when style definitions conflict. Sometimes the style definitions (i.e., the predefined styles shown in the toolbar, such as “Normal” and “Heading 1”) in the source file (the document in which you copied the text) conflicts with the style definitions in the destination file (the document in which you are pasting the text). In this situation, there is a fourth rule from which to choose — Use Destination Styles. When selected, Word will use the style definitions in the destination file if such a conflict occurs.

The “Cut, copy, and paste” section also includes other copy and paste options, as Figure 2 shows. One of them is “Use smart cut and paste”. If you leave this option selected (the default), Word will automatically perform tasks such as adjusting the sentence and word spacing in the pasted text. Clicking the “Settings” button next to the “Use smart cut and paste” option will reveal some of the other tasks you can have Word automatically do.

The changes that you make in the “Cut, copy, and paste” section of the “Word Options” box will apply to the current document as well as any documents you create or edit in the future.