Word: Highlight remains even after I’ve cleared it

May 13, 2011

Colette, a colleague of mine, had a problem with her Word 2007 document. She had highlighted some section headings for areas that she needed to finish, and those highlights showed up nicely in the Table of Contents (TOC) as a visual reminder.
Once she’d finished those sections, she removed the highlighting by selecting the highlighted text and pressing Delete.

However, the outline numbered heading was still highlighted: 

She then updated the TOC. But that heading ‘number’ (the Appendix number) remained highlighted in the TOC. She wanted to know why it was still there and how to fix it.

You will see this behavior with any numbered or bulleted list when you haven’t selected the paragraph mark at the time you cleared the highlighting. If you don’t have your paragraph marks showing, you have to select the entire paragraph (heading, list bullet, list number) and remove the highlighting.

If you do have your paragraph marks showing (and I recommend that you always have them turned on), then you can just select the paragraph mark (as shown below) and apply the ‘No Color’ highlighting. Even though the paragraph mark itself isn’t highlighted, that mark stores the highlighting inside it and this is what causes the auto number/bullet to remain highlighted.

Once you select the paragraph mark and clear the highlighting, it disappears from the auto number/bullet:

Now, update the TOC. Because my client’s template uses several ‘update field’ macros, sometimes right-clicking and selecting Update Field or pressing F9 just doesn’t update the TOC in our documents correctly, so I always show my colleagues this method as it always seems to work: Go to the References tab, then click Update Table in the Table of Contents group.

Make sure you select Update entire table, when asked:

And the highlighting will be gone!

[Links last checked May 2011]


  1. Thanks so much for that!

  2. Figured it out…The issue you are encountering pertains to “Field Shading” Depending on your version of Word, go to File/Options/Advanced/Show Document Content/ toggle the Field shading to Never. There are other options such as “Always” and the default “When Selecte”, which is why it is always showing in grey when you select any of the contents headings.

  3. Hi Nlym

    No, the issue I had wasn’t the grey field code shading (which I always have turned on) — it was the yellow highlighting showing in that grey-shaded TOC that was the oddity.


  4. Super frustrating but here’s the fix that’s always worked for me (even with .doc or .docx file):

    1. Double click the bulleted/numbered list item so they all highlight
    2. Ctrl + Spacebar (resets character formatting)
    3. Apply any needed formatting (font type, bold, etc.)

    This will keep the formatting on the paragraph (indents, header type, etc.) but will just allow you to change the format of the actual text that is highlighted – which is likely all you want.

    Hope that works for you!

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