5 Ways to Strip the Formatting When You Copy & Paste Text

Copying and pasting are probably some of the most common functions you perform on your computer. We’ve shown how a clipboard manager improves these functions, but copy-pasting brings another common annoyance: special formatting. You’ve surely experienced this: you’ll copy some text (perhaps a heading from a website) and want to paste it into a Word document, but it keeps its color, size, and other features when you do.

We’re going to take a look at ways to alleviate this issue. They range from bare-bones to automated; go for whichever works for you!

Let Notepad Intervene

Windows Notepad and its alternatives are about as basic as a computer program can get. Because of this, they don’t carry the capacity for special formatting like dedicated word processors (such as Microsoft Word or the free LibreOffice Writer) do.

Our simplest solution is to paste any text that you want to strip of formatting into Notepad first, then copy it again. Once you grab Notepad’s version, you’ll have only the text and won’t have to worry about any colors or alternative fonts sticking around. Try using Launchy or pinning Notepad to your taskbar to be sure you can access it whenever you need to paste something.

01-Notepad-Strip-Formatting

Use Office’s Special Paste

A lot of pasting occurs into Microsoft Office products, and if you’re typing a paper, coming up with a slideshow, or preparing a graphic in Publisher, the extras are probably unwanted. Thankfully, with an extra click, you can skip the formatting when you paste in Office.

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02-Office-Paste-Options

You have a few ways of clearing text formatting. First, once you paste, a small pop-up will appear and give you three options:

  • Keep Source Formatting will preserve the text as you copied it. (Shortcut: Press CTRL + K, to select this after pasting).
  • Merge Formatting will force the text you’re pasting to match the text around it. (Shortcut: Press CTRL + M, to choose this after pasting).
  • Keep Text Only will only take the text and give it no other formatting. (Shortcut: Press CTRL+ T, to do this quickly after pasting).

When this bubble appears, you can even choose which option to set as default. If you’d like, you can also accomplish this using the Paste Special option under Paste on the left side of the Home ribbon. It’s effectively the same option, though it gains more functionality if you’re pasting more than just text.

03-Office-Paste-Special

Try a Dedicated Program

The above two solutions require you to manually ensure your text is stripped of its formatting, but for those who like to automate, PureText for Windows is a free tool that essentially does the copy-paste-copy in Notepad for you. Grab either the 32-bit or the 64-bit download and unzip it (PureText doesn’t need to be installed). You won’t know it’s working other than a small PT icon running in your system tray. Right-clicking the icon will let you open the few program options.

04-PureText-Options

By default, the shortcut is Windows + V, which is probably fine if you haven’t set your own keyboard shortcut on that combination. If you need something different, PureText lets you set it to pretty much anything you want.

The only other options let you automatically paste the text that the program converts (which you obviously want enabled to streamline the process), play a sound upon pasting (this is annoying and you’ll want to shut it off), and run the program at startup. If you’ll be using PureText regularly, this is a good idea; just remember that too many startup programs can backfire.

Utilize Browser Extensions

In addition to PureText, which works across Windows, you can install a dedicated browser extension in either Chrome or Firefox, if you prefer.

For Firefox, Copy Plain Text 2 will do the trick. After installing it, you’ll have a new Copy As Plain Text option on your right-click menu that lets you grab anything in your browser without the formatting. If you prefer keyboard shortcuts, the extension also makes CTRL + Shift + U perform the copy.

A few tweaks can be made, including removing extra space and changing special characters to regular text (such as ® to r). If you want to go all-in, Copy Plain Text 2 can also override the standard copy command completely. Be careful with this, though!

05-Firefox-Paste-Formatting-Extension

Chrome users will want to take advantage of Copy as plain text, a counterpart to the Firefox extension. It’s slim and only allows you to copy plain text by right-clicking and choosing the new option; you won’t find any keyboard shorcuts with this one, which may be a deal-breaker.

Remember Keyboard Shortcuts

Frankly, browser extensions are a heavy-handed solution for this problem, as Chrome and Firefox already include shortcuts for pasting regular text out of the box. In both browsers, simply press CTRL + Shift + V to paste text without the extras, no matter where you copied it from!

06-Chrome-Keyboard-Shortcut-Formatting-Strip

Elsewhere in Windows, the shortcut CTRL + Space will clear formatting from selected text. It’s not a universal shortcut (it isn’t working in MarkdownPad, the program I use for writing), but it will work in Office.

What About Mac and Linux?

You can still easily strip the formatting using a different OS.

In Mac OS X:

  • You can use Shift + Option + Command + V to paste without formatting (or with whatever format the pasted text is placed into). The Chrome shortcut from Windows is the same: Command + Shift + Option + V, and you can install the extensions if you want.
  • Using TextEdit, the Mac equivalent to Notepad, you can copy and paste text as in the first method outlined above. You may need to choose Format > Make Plain Text (Command + Shift + T); to keep formatting out by default, go to Preferences and under Format, choose Plain Text.
  • Install a clipboard manager, such as the free Flycut, which allows you to paste unstyled text.
  • If you’d like to force pasted text to be unstyled system-wide, head to System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts > Application Shortcuts and click the plus sign below to add a shortcut. For the Application box, select All Applications, and in the Menu Title box, type Paste and Match Style. Finally, in the Keyboard Shortcut box, type Command + V and you’ll see the key combination in the box. Click Add, and you’re all set!

07-Paste-Key

For Linux:

  • In recent versions of Linux, you can use CTRL + Shift + V to paste text without formatting.
  • Like Windows, you can paste into a text editor (try Gedit if you need one) to strip the formatting before pasting elsewhere.
  • The above browser extensions will work in Linux as well.

You’re a Pasting Wizard

As we’ve seen, it doesn’t really matter whether you copy the text without the formatting or if you wait until pasting it to strip it. Whichever methods work best for you (there’s a lot of them!) will do just fine, and you’ll save time instead of having to manually format everything.

If you’re on Windows, the best combo is probably to install PureText and use that universal shortcut whenever you need a plain paste. Barring that, Chrome and Firefox’s shortcut and special pasting in Office on special occasions should mean you’re taken care of.

Want to take your copy-pasting even further? Check out ten alternative clipboard managers for increased functionality.

What’s your favorite way to strip out text formatting? Are any of these methods new to you? Paste a comment below and let me know!

Image Credit: Clipboard Key via Shutterstock

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