Word: Add/remove highlighting with the keyboard

February 23, 2009

Microsoft Word has a toolbar icon Highlighter toolbar icon for applying and removing color highlighting, just like using a real highlighter. It’s fine when you only have the occasional highlighting to do, but what if you’re doing a lot of adding/removing highlighting from text? You need a quicker way, right?

Word 2003

In Word 2003 you have to assign your own keystroke combination for highlighting. And that’s not as intuitive or as easy as you’d think because they left Highlight off the Format list! Here’s how you do it:

  1. Go to Tools > Customize on the Word menu, and select the Commands tab (1).
  2. Click the Keyboard button (2). You must do this now otherwise you can’t see the Highlight command.
    Tools > Customize > Commands tab
  3. On the Customize Keyboard window, select All Commands from the Categories list on the left (3).
  4. In the Commands list on the right, scroll down to Highlight and select it (4).
    Tools > Customize > Keyboard
  5. Put your cursor in the Press new shortcut key field (5) and press the key combination you want to assign to color highlighting. Suggestion: Use Ctrl+Alt+H, the same as Word 2007. That way, when you move to Word 2007 you won’t have to reassign the keys or remember something different.
  6. If this key combination is available, [unassigned] displays (6).
  7. Save this key combination in the template (7).Tools > Customize > Keyboard (2)
  8. Click Assign (8).
  9. Click Close on each open window.

Word 2007

In Word 2007, someone realized that a key combination for turning highlighting on and off would be a good idea, so they included one — Ctrl+Alt+H. Simple.

Using the highlighting shortcut key

  • Adding highlighting: Select the text you want to highlight, then press Ctrl+Alt+H.
  • Removing highlighting: Select the highlighted text, then press Ctrl+Alt+H.

Changing the highlight color

The default highlight color is yellow, but you can change it. Once changed, the new color applies whenever you press the shortcut key combination.

  1. Click on the drop-down arrow next to the toolbar icon Highlighter toolbar icon.
  2. Click the color you want.
  3. Click the toolbar icon to turn off the ‘sticky’ highlighter. This is necessary when you have a shortcut key assigned to the highlighting function — for some reason, the function is ‘sticky’ as soon as you select a new color.
  4. Continue using the shortcut key to turn highlighting on and off.

(Thanks to Tony Jollans on the Microsoft Office Word Discussion Group who alerted me to this solution: http://tinyurl.com/7xbmg8)


  1. […] tool to add highlighting, then to remove it after you’ve checked the term/citation. (See Add/remove highlighting with the keyboard for a quicker way than the toolbar […]

  2. Thank you very much! Very useful and you made it really easy to understand!

  3. I have done all the tips and still can not get highlight off once it is on.

  4. Hi Ken

    Two things to check:
    1. If you’re in Word 2003, go back to the Customize Keyboard screen (see step 7 above), and make sure that Ctrl+Alt+H is listed in the ‘Current keys’ box. If it isn’t, then you’ll need to reassign it.
    2. Make sure you select the highlighted text again before you press Ctrl+Alt+H to turn it off. You cannot turn it off without selecting the highlighted bit.


  5. […] Add/remove highlighting […]

  6. Thank you very much, working perfectly in MS Word 2003 – both highlighting and removing existing highlight.

  7. I have an e-mail where someone highlighted text – I cannot remove the highlight in outlook so I paste it into word and it will not allow me to remove the highlight no matter what I do. I can highlight it another color but if I select the text and choose no color… nothing happens. I’ve tried changing it to another color and then back but its like it thinks the yellow is white. White is not an option to highlight with either. I had to paste the text into wordpad where the highlight did not carry and copy again to send the text in an e-mail without highlight. I’m baffled as to why word won’t let me do it though, and I’m the 3rd person who tried.

  8. I’m wondering if perhaps the email was created by someone using Word or HTML or RTF as their editing preference, but your editing environment in Outlook is set to plain text??

    Your solution of copying the offending paragraph to WordPad or another plain text editor is a good one — that’ll get rid of the formatting not supported by the application you copy it in to.

  9. VERY helpful :) Just what I was looking for

    Thank you

  10. very well explined!!!

  11. I am having a serious issue with highlighting in two different versions of Word (2003 and 2007) with two different operating systems (Vista and Windows 7). It’s the same issue in both cases: I open a document (.doc) from my Dropbox folder (which is full of highlights) but I can only see a few of the highlights. There are three different colours of highlights in the document and I can see a few occurrences of each colour throughout the document but not all of them and I don’t know what to do. I can see the highlights fine when I open the document on my iPod Touch and the other people I’m sharing the file with can also see the highlights fine. Please help!!

  12. I’ve no idea why this would be the case, but have you tried turning the ‘show highlight’ check box off, saving the setting, then turning it on again? (Word 2003 – Tools > Options > View tab; Word 2007 — Word Options)

  13. […] Two posts had more than 5000 views in 2010 that weren’t on the 10,000+ all time views (Word: Add/remove highlighting with the keyboard [posted Feb 2009] and Word 2007: Citation and bibliography styles [posted Jan […]

  14. Hi, is there any way to do this for text colour, not highlighting, on Word 2007? Thanks.

  15. like this: http://word.tips.net/T000258_Adding_a_Little_Color.html
    but for Word 2007.

  16. So you want text to be a specific color? or the text’s background to be a color (similar to highlighting)?


  17. Please help me, I am going crazy!!

    I am using Word 2010 and reviewing another person’s document and using tracked changes to keep track of my changes to their document.

    I have yellow hightlighted some of my revisions to alert me that I need to go back and further review them, but when I later remove the yellow hightlight it also removes the colored tracked change. I need to keep the colored tracked changes to show the other party.

    How do I do this?


  18. I just tested what I think you were dong in Word 2010, and I don’t get the same issues.

    If I have Track Changes on and the ‘Track Formatting’ option selected when I add the yellow highlight, I get a formatting change balloon telling me that I’ve added highlight formatting; equally, if I have ‘Track Formatting’ selected when I remove the highlight, I get another formatting balloon re highlighting. If I change text, I get the change bar for that, but adding or removing highlighting doesn’t affect anything to do with that text.

    If I have Track Changes on and the ‘Track Formatting’ option turned off and add or remove my highlight, it behaves as adding/removing a highlight normally would without Track Changes.

    If I have Track Changes on and the ‘Track Formatting’ option turned off, my text changes are tracked. I can add/remove highlighting without it affecting the tracked change at all.

    It all works as I expect it to.

    Can you give me more information as to what Track Change settings you’re using and the sequence of steps you do that leads to the result you’re getting?


  19. THANK YOU for this post. I’ve been lamenting for YEARS that MS Word 2003 left highlighting off the keyboard shortcut list — you showed me where to find it! So grateful.

  20. I have Window Vista and have tried everything suggested above–with no success–the red underlining continues sometimes putting an extended sidebar with textboxes and lines alongside. These latter go away with the cancel icon, but Ctrl+Alt+H have not removed the red underlining. Any further suggestions will be welcome.


  21. Hi Marian

    Neither of your issues are related to highlighting so the solution above on’t help at all.

    Red squiggly underlining indicates spelling errors. Balloons with text in the extended margins are either comments or track changes. Straight red lines connecting to those balloons in the margin are linked to the comment/track changes balloons. Straight red lines through text are deletions done with track changes turned on.

    You can either accept all track changes to get rid of them, OR show the document in Final mode to hide them from view.

    Take a look at these blog posts to help you determine what they are and how to turn them off and/or accept them:




  22. I’m so glad they finally added this. I had been manually adding this shortcut for years. And guess what combination I had come up with all those years ago? Ctrl+Alt+H. Maybe I should charge them a finder’s fee…;)

  23. Thank you so much. I tried everything to eliminate the highlighting in my document but nothing was working. I believe I tried everything, and I also tried other sites suggestions which did not work. Thank you so much!

  24. I am using Word 2003, when I click on a word (to make a change for example)the whole word is selected. Have I changed a setting somewhere??

  25. Hi Greg

    Yes. You may have hit some keys that turned it on. You can turn it off by going to Tools > Options > Edit tab, then unchecking the When selecting, automatically select entire word check box.


  26. Thank you

  27. That CTRL-ALT-H solution is very good, I did not know it.

    I have another suggestion however.

    If you’re using Word 2007, you have a very practical midway between all mouse and all keyboard for highlighting. Every time you select a word with your mouse (by left clicking twice over it), a small half lit window appears just above the clicked word (actually, slightly north east of it). This window will fully appear if you move your mouse in that direction. It can also be fully activated if you right click once on the selected word.

    Well, what about that window? It contains a number of very useful editing functions, that you don’t have to go get from the toolbar at the other end of your screen.

    Among these functions, highlighting. Just click on the icon. You’re done. It’s simple and fast. I use it all the time, when I have some intense highlighting to do (evaluating documents for example). I often find it even faster than the CTRL-ALT-H solution.


  29. Is there a way I can custom the highlight colour to match the colours offered by the font colour? I am trying to highlight words so they match aspects of a graphic, and the colours are not in the options presented by the highlight function. .

  30. Hi Alice

    As far as I am aware, you’re limited to the 15 colours in the highlight palette.

    However, you might be able to get what you want by using the ‘fill’ colour for the background of the selected text. The ‘fill’ icon is the tipping paint tin one on the Home tab > Paragraph group in Word 2007/2010 and is called ‘Shading’ in the tooltip. You get the full range of colours with that option. Just select the text you want shaded, then pick a colour from the Theme Colors palette. Note: The font remains the same colour as the original text unless you change it manually.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: