How to change formats using Replace or by modifying a style in Microsoft Word

Estimated read time 5 min read


Notebook with Microsoft Word logo. Word processor developed by Microsoft.
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If you’re working with a Microsoft Word document that doesn’t fit your organization’s conventions, you have two choices. A quick one-time solution is to use Word’s Replace feature to find and modify formats. Or, you can change the style. Your choice might depend on your own skill set. You might know how to do one or the other but not both. However, neither solution is superior, but one might get the job done while the other doesn’t.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you two ways to make quick work of a formatting chore by using Replace or modifying a style. Specifically, we’ll add more space above all headings styled with the built-in Heading 2 style. This is a simple example, and both techniques will work with more complex formatting requirements.

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I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but you can use earlier versions of Word. Word for the web doesn’t support either of these solutions. Feel free to follow along in this demonstration file.

How to use replace to reformat in Word

Now let’s suppose that you’ve received a Word document comprised of many pages. Throughout the document, someone has used the built-in styles, Heading 2 and Heading 3. You want to increase the space above each occurrence of Heading 2 text. If this is a one-time fix, Word’s replace feature can get the job done quickly.

Before we do anything, let’s check a heading to see what the current setting is for the space above the text:

1. Select any occurrence of Heading 2 text (Figure A) in the demonstration document.

Figure A

The space above the heading is 2 pt.
The space above the heading is 2 pt.

2. Click the Paragraph group’s dialog launcher.

3. The Before setting is 2 pt.

4. You could change this right now for this specific occurrence, but click Cancel instead.

In document formatting, there are 72 points in an inch, so 2 points is barely noticeable. You must discern how much space you want to add. Let’s take the easy route and add one line instead of trying to work with points. Specifically, let’s add one paragraph mark before every Heading 2 heading as follows:

1. Press Ctrl + H or choose Replace in the Editing group on the Home tab, and click the Replace tab if necessary.

2. In the resulting dialog, click inside the Find What control, and remove any text if any.

3. Click the More button to open more options.

4. Click the No Formatting option to remove any formatting from a previous replace task.

5. Click the Format button at the bottom of the dialog and choose Style from the resulting list.

6. In the resulting dialog, browse down until you see Heading 2, and select it.

7. Click OK. Below the Find What control, you should see Heading 2 listed.

8. Click inside the Replace With control, and remove any previous text.

9. Enter ^p^& into the Replace With control, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Add a paragraph mark before Heading 2 text.
Add a paragraph mark before Heading 2 text.

10. Click Replace All, and then, close the dialog.

As you can see in Figure C, the change is dramatic—perhaps too dramatic. However, this is an easy fix, and you don’t have to stop with this simple example. Usually, you enter text in the Find What control, but this time you specified a style, Heading 2. The ^p code inserts a paragraph return and ^& inserts the found text. In this case, that’s the Heading 2 text. Replace can handle more than text.

Figure C

The paragraph mark adds a great deal of space before the headings.
The paragraph mark adds a great deal of space before the headings.

If replace doesn’t work for you, use the Special button at the bottom of the dialog to enter the paragraph mark, ^p, code for you. Occasionally, Word doesn’t interpret codes typed from the keyboard. In addition, make sure there’s no space character before the first code, between the two codes or after the last code.

When using replace, it’s a good idea to check both controls first because Word remembers the last replace task. Clear both controls, and use the No Formatting option to clear any formatting.

Before you continue to the next section, press Ctrl + Z or the Undo button to remove the paragraph marks inserted by replace. Now, let’s look at changing the Heading 2 style for the current document.

How to modify the style to reformat in Word

The replace method works quickly, if you know how to represent the style and the Replace With codes. Besides, you might now want to insert an entire paragraph mark, and you might prefer a bit less spacing. Modifying the style is probably best in this situation.

Let’s modify the Before setting for the Heading 2 style as follows:

1. Right-click Heading 2 in the Styles gallery and choose Modify.

2. In the resulting dialog, click Format at the bottom, and choose Paragraph.

3. Click the Indents and Spacing tab.

4. Change the Before setting from 2 to 15 (Figure D).

Figure D

Increase the Before setting to 15.
Increase the Before setting to 15.

5. Click OK twice.

As you can see in Figure E, there’s more spacing before the Heading 2 text, but it’s not as much as a full paragraph mark inserts. If you make the same change often, consider creating a template. Doing so will help you make this change even quicker.

Figure E

The spacing above the Heading 2 text is greater than it was, but it's a subtle change.
The spacing above the Heading 2 text is greater than it was, but it’s a subtle change.

Use either of these techniques to change formatting for any document. Both features are flexible, and you can change quite a bit, very quickly.


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