Word: My process for copying content into a new template

October 9, 2018

Someone asked me the other day what my ‘best practice’ was for applying a new template to an existing Word document. Well, the answer is: ‘It depends’. And what it depends on is the complexity of the document.

If it’s a simple document in one section, with basic formatting, few—if any—cross-references, uses the same page layout throughout, has little (or no) document automation, etc., then just applying the new template may well be enough (assuming the style names in both are the same). You may have a few tweaks to do with the formatting (e.g. reapplying styles), but you should be done.

However, for a more complex document, like the ones I work on, it’s not so simple. My docs have cover and front matter pages, lots of document automation, outline numbered headings, potentially hundreds of cross-references, many section breaks for landscape and A3 pages, appendices, tables of contents/tables/figures, headers and footers populated with data from the cover page (we used to have odd/even headers/footers too, and various page numbering formats, but we got rid of those some time ago because they just added a lot of overhead for no real value), etc. It’s really the section breaks that will cause you grief, plus totally different cover pages and headers/footers. As for a simple document, the process will be much smoother if the style names in both docs are the same.

Oh, and before you ask, yes, I’ve tried every which way to simplify the process below, but each one just adds more time overhead to sorting out the document after I’ve pulled it over. The method that causes me the least grief is the one below.


  • Save often!
  • Make sure formatting marks are turned on so you can see the section breaks.
  • DO NOT copy section breaks. There lie dragons!!
  • You may still have some tweaking to do with applying the correct styles. You can either do this as you go (after each paste), or wait until the end and do it all in a separate pass. Alternatively, make a copy of the old doc, apply the new template to it and fix all the styles first, before copying across the content.

How I deal with putting a complex document onto a new corporate template:

  1. Start a new document based on the new template.
  2. If you want to preserve any existing comments or track changes from the old doc, make sure track changes is turned OFF in BOTH docs—the new AND the old.
  3. Manually complete all the cover page (and other front matter) information in the new doc.
  4. DO NOT copy across the old table of contents, list of tables, or list of figures. You’ll update these later (Step 13) with the new headings.
  5. Let’s assume the main body of the doc starts at section ‘1. Introduction’. Go to that heading in the new doc, then press Enter a couple of times to create some space.
  6. Go to the old doc and copy the content AFTER the ‘1. Introduction’ heading UP TO, BUT NOT INCLUDING, the first section break.
  7. Paste that content into the relevant place (the space you just created) in the new doc.
  8. Manually insert a section break start AND end for the next section in the new doc, and add some empty paragraphs between them. Change the page layout for the section as necessary (e.g. landscape orientation).
  9. Go back to the old doc and copy everything INSIDE the section break, but NOT the section break itself.
  10. Paste into the new doc in between the start and end section break marks you created in Step 8.
  11. Repeat steps 8 to 10 for ALL section breaks and their content.
  12. When you’ve finished, delete any headings and text from the original template that are not required.
  13. Go back to the table of contents in the new doc and update it. Repeat for the list of tables and figures too.
  14. If you have cross-references in your doc, switch to Print Preview mode, then back to Page Layout mode.
  15. Do a Find for ‘Error!’ to find any broken cross-references. Fix, based on the cross-reference information in the old doc.
  16. Zoom out to about 30% and do a visual check to make sure your headers/footers for each section are correct for the page layout.

That should be it!

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