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Microsoft’s tiny Word improvement is a big productivity boost

I’m surprised this took so long, but Microsoft is finally making it easier to paste plain text with a keyboard shortcut; support for this is now available for Microsoft 365 Insiders in the beta channel.

Small change, big difference

While not in any way on the scale of Microsoft’s recent decision to officially allow Windows 11 on Apple Silicon Macs, the move is still significant. Sometimes the smallest improvements can make a huge impact, and if you’ve ever had to paste unformatted text into Word on a Mac or Windows, you’ll welcome it.

Any student, researcher, or knowledge worker will have already encountered the tedium when text copied from one document to the document you’re working on involves all the formatting – font, text preferences, everything. When this happens, you can hit the A/Eraser button to lose that formatting in the document if you know that’s what it’s doing.

However, if you don’t know about that tool and decide to shape your copy manually, you’ll find yourself having to change the font, size, text color, line spacing, and everything else or else you’ll run into all sorts of inconsistencies in the final document.

Another way to avoid this hassle is to control-click while you paste, then choose Paste Special and Unformatted Text from the context menu once it appears.

It’s not particularly runny

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

Soon, when copying and pasting text, all you have to do is remember to use Command-Shift-V (Mac) or Control-Shift-V (Windows) to do it without formatting.

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

If Clippy invented copy and paste

Once upon a time, Microsoft Word was plagued with a not particularly helpful assistant named Clippy. That little mascot quickly gained a reputation for getting in the way of productivity. Clippy is gone, but it still took Microsoft several years to see the light when it comes to copying and pasting.

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 sets a precedent for established user expectations. While the engineering team continues to work on new features for enhanced user experiences with refreshed and more advanced technology, we don’t always have the ability to review pre-existing behaviors.”

The explanation continues to emphasize that “in the case of keyboard shortcuts, the industry standard differs from the original implementation of these functions in Word.”

Some might argue that this seems to be another way of saying that despite Word’s huge market share, Microsoft was unable to make the world work in its image, although those kinds of arguments are big (and nowadays unnecessary) shades of 1988 to it.

In any case, Microsoft has finally taken steps to fix this problem.

I imagine it will generate applause (or at least a few satisfied sighs) from computers all over the planet once people hear of this change. I am slightly satisfied myself. It’s almost as good as “Undo Send” in Outlook on Macs, or the recent step to take Outlook for Mac free.

Other changes are coming

Other shortcut changes are 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-HVS
  • Mac: No (?!)

Symbol of copyright

  • 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 with Word for Mac version 16.67.1113.0 or later. On Windows, you must use version 16.0.15831.20174 or later.

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

But to me, removing this little point of friction is at least another illustration that frustrating user interfaces for frequently performed tasks can have major negative impacts on productivity. As I’ve said before, there’s no excuse for bad software design; this improvement should have appeared decades ago.

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