Microsoft's tiny Word improvement is a big productivity boost

Microsoft is at last making it much easier to copy and paste plain text with a keyboard shortcut.

Microsoft, Word, Apple, Mac, software

It confounds me why this took so long, but Microsoft is at last making it easier to paste plain text with a keyboard shortcut; support for this is now available to Microsoft 365 Insiders in the Beta Channel.

Small change, big difference

While in no way at the scale of Microsoft’s recent decision to officially permit Windows 11 on Apple Silicon Macs, the move is still significant. Sometimes the smallest improvements have huge impacts and if you’ve ever had to paste unformatted text in Word on a Mac or in Windows, you’ll be cheering this one.

Any student, researcher, or knowledge worker will already have encountered the tedium when text copied from one document to the one you are working on brings all its formatting with it  — font, text preferences, everything. When it happens, you can hit the A/eraser button to lose that formatting in the document if you know that’s what it does.

However, if you don't know about that tool and decide to get your copy in shape manually, you’ll find you need to change font, size, text color, line spacing and everything else or you’ll encounter all kinds of inconsistencies in the final document.

Another way to avoid this hassle is to use Control-Click as you paste and then choose Paste Special and Unformatted Text in the contextual menu once it appears.

It's not especially fluid

For most users, the need to take these steps just doesn’t feel at all smooth or fluid; in fact, it kind of gets in the way. You just want to paste text format-free without much additional thought.

Soon all you’ll need to remember when copying and pasting text into a document will be to use Command-Shift-V (Mac), or Control-Shift-V (Windows) to do so without formatting.

You can already use the same sequence to paste format free in Teams or Word on the web.

If Clippy invented copy & paste

Once upon a time Microsoft infested Word with a not especially helpful assistant called Clippy. That little mascot soon developed a reputation for getting in the way of productivity. Clippy isn’t there anymore, but it has taken Microsoft several more years to see the light when it comes to copy and paste.

Why did it take so long? In a blog, Microsoft explained: “Word has been a product since 1983 (Word turns 40 this year!). This long-standing legacy creates a precedent for established user expectations. While the engineering team continues to work on new features for improved user experiences with refreshed and more advanced technology, we don’t always have the opportunity to revise pre-existing behavior.”

The explanation continues to stress that “in the case of keyboard shortcuts, the industry standard has diverged from Word’s initial implementation of these features.”

Some might say this seems to be another way of saying that despite Word’s huge marketshare, Microsoft was unable to make the world work in its image, though that kind of argument has big (and these days unnecessary) shades of 1988 to it.

In any case, Microsoft has at last taken steps to solve this problem.

I assume it will generate small flickers of applause (or at least a couple of satisfied sighs) at computers across the planet once people learn of this change. I’m mildly pleased myself. It’s almost as good as ‘Undo Send’ in Outlook on Macs, or the recent move to make Outlook for Mac free.

There are other changes coming

There are other shortcut changes coming.

Paste Text Only

  • Windows: Ctrl-Shift-V
  • Mac: Cmd-Shift-V

Copy Format Painter

  • Windows: Ctrl-Alt-C
  • Mac: Cmd-Option-C

Paste Format Painter

  • Windows: Ctrl-Alt-V
  • Mac: Cmd-Option-V

Paste Special

  • Windows: Alt-H-V-S
  • Mac: None (?!)

Copyright Symbol

  • Windows: ( -C- ) or Insert>Symbol-©
  • Mac: ( + C + ) or Insert > Ω Symbol > ©

Microsoft says you can restore these shortcuts to their original settings.

These changes are only available to Insiders running Word for Mac version 16.67.1113.0 or later. On Windows, you need to be running version 16.0.15831.20174 or later.

I expect it to be tested for a while before it becomes a universal setting.

But, for me at least, the removal of this tiny point of friction is another illustration that frustrating user interfaces for frequently done tasks can have a big negative consequence on productivity. As I’ve said before, there’s no excuse for poor software design; this improvement should have appeared decades ago.

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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