Word Tips: Paste Special, File Formats Explained

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Last week I gave you some useful Windows tips; this week I thought I'd continue the tips theme, and move to Microsoft Word.

Uncover the Joys of the 'Paste Special' Command

Most users know how to use the Cut/Copy and Paste commands. They've been around since the early days of word processing, and they're universal across almost every Windows application and Windows itself. A lightning refresher: Select some text, press Ctrl-X to cut or Ctrl-C to copy, put your cursor somewhere else, then press Ctrl-V to paste. What could be simpler?

Actually, when you're copying from a Web page, things get a little complicated. That's because although it looks like you're copying a chunk of ordinary text, you're also getting the HTML code embedded beneath that text.

Consequently, when you go to paste your Web-sourced content into a word processor, blog tool, desktop publishing program, or the like, you may end up with text with odd fonts, sizes, and/or formatting. And you may have a hard time fixing that text--especially the line spacing, indent, etc. That embedded HTML code (which can be extensive) will sometimes conflict with or override the settings you apply in your word processor or other app.

What you need is way to paste just the words you copied, just raw, unadulterated, code-free text. Thankfully, you can, thanks to the Paste Special command.

Most word processors, e-mail clients, and blog tools offer this option--or something like it. (It sometimes goes by the name "Paste as Text.") Just look under the Edit menu and you should see it right under the standard Paste command. (Prefer a keyboard shortcut? In many programs, it's Ctrl-Shift-V.)

Of course, Microsoft Word 2007 and 2010 lack the traditional Edit menu, so you'll have to look elsewhere. The Paste option lives on the left edge of the Home tab, but don't just click that clipboard icon; click the bottom half of the button, the one with the down arrow. That'll produce a handful of Paste options, one of which is Paste Special (represented by a clipboard with a bold letter A).

Once you get in the habit of using Paste Special, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.

What Are All Those Different Document Formats?

If you use Microsoft Word (or a similar word processor), you probably know well enough how to save a document. You click Save, choose a folder, give the document a name, and then click Save, OK, or whatever.

What you may not know is how to choose a different format for that document, or why you'd want to.

By default, Microsoft Word uses its own, proprietary document format. In the old days, that was the .doc format, but as of Word 2007 (and continuining with Word 2010), it's .docx.

Other word processors have their own standards as well. OpenOffice Writer, for example, uses the OpenDocument, or ODF, format. Kingsoft Writer uses a format called WPS. And so on.

Fortunately, these and other programs can save documents in multiple formats, thereby making them easier to access in, well, other programs. That's why, in Microsoft Word, if you click the Save as type pull-down in the Save dialog, you'll see a wealth of choices. Below I've identified some of the more popular ones, and in what circumstances you might use them.

Rich Text Format RTF might best be described as a "universal word-processing format," as it's supported by just about every word processor. However, unlike plain text, it retains basic formatting information, like font sizes and styles.

PDF Adobe's Portable Document Format also has universal appeal, as it can be opened using any number of viewers (including, most commonly, Adobe Reader). You'd use PDF to produce your document in a read-only format, meaning it couldn't easily be edited. It's also a good way to distribute documents online, as most browsers can view PDFs without the need to download them fist.

Plain Text Just like it sounds, this format saves only the raw text--no formatting, no hidden codes, just your words. You might use this to export text that needs to be imported into another program, like a blog tool or text editor--something that won't like all of Word's underlying extras.

Word 97-2003 Document So you've got Word 2010, but your parents are still plugging along with Word 97. The latter can't open documents created by the former (not without a converter, anyway), but at least Word lets you save files using the older formats. Some kinds of formatting may get lost in translation, but this should work for most kinds of documents.

Word can also save files as Web pages, XML documents, templates, and more. Needless to say, if you need to learn about those formats, a little Google searching should reveal all.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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