How To Automatically Update Repeated Text In A Microsoft Word Document

Microsoft Word LogoRecently I had the task of ammending some details in various Word documents which spanned over several pages. One thing I noticed is that a lot of the details I had to ammend were mere repetitions of each other, and it seemed unneccesarily laborious in the “tech” age to have to update the same piece of information time & time again throughout the document… Not to mention the added room for error by doing so.

So me being me, I decided to look for a way to alter the document so that once I’d updated the information in 1 location it would update it wherever it happens to repeat within the document… Makes sense right?

Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly) Word makes this task quite a lot more difficult, or rather more long-winded than it should be, especially considering how many people probably require such a feature in their documents. But the bottom line is that it can be done, and here’s how…

Method 1 (which I class as the rubbish method)

This method uses something called “Bookmarks” and the reason I don’t like it is because you have to actually click on the instances of repeated text to get them to update… Basically you may as well just use the copy & paste function instead. Since however it is technically a method of automatically updating repeated text throughout a document I figured I’d include it just in case anybody finds use for it, but if you’re looking for a more robust solution then scroll straight down to method 2.

  1. Select whatever it is you want to repeat throughout the document. It can be a block of text, a list, a table, a paragraph etc (basically pretty much anything)…
  2. Insert a “Bookmark” for whatever it is you’ve just selected. You can do this by clicking on the “Insert” tab & then clicking “Bookmark“.
  3. Give your Bookmark a meaningful name & then click “Add” towards the right hand side. If the “Add” button isn’t enabled it may because you’ve used disallowed characters in the title of your bookmark – the title can’t include special characters or spaces… Just tweak the name until it becomes available. Once you’ve succesfully added it, click “OK“.
  4. Locate the place in the document where you wish to re-use the said text & then include it as a Cross Reference. You can do this by clicking the “References” tab & then clicking “Cross-reference“. Be sure to choose “Bookmark” from the “Reference type” dropdown box & then you should see the Bookmark you just created appear in the text box. Select it and click “Insert“.

That’s it – job done. To update the text simply make the neccessary changes to the original (the one you created the Bookmark from in step 2), then right click on the other instances & click “Update Field“. To make things a little easier you can select all the text on the page using (CTRL+A) and then press (F9) to update all the instances throughout the document in one go.

I think you’ll agree that even with the (CTRL+A) / (F9) shortcut this is a pretty lame method… But at the same time some people may find it useful for their projects which is why I decided to include it as it does *technically* do the job. As mentioned above if you’re looking for a better, more robust method check out method 2 below.

Method 2 (in my eyes the much better method)

I feel that this method is much better since it will automatically update all the repeating instances on the page the second you finish making your edits. The downside of this method however is that as far as I can see you seem to be limited to a maximum of 15 different references per document using this method which kinda sucks but hey ho!

  1. First things first highlight the piece of text you wish to repeat through the document & then copy it to your clipboard (CTRL+C).
  2. Click on the “Insert” tab & click “Quick Part“. A dropdown list will appear – hover over “Document Property” & select one from the list. You can select any Document Property you like but remember which one you selected – you’ll realize why & how they work in just a moment.
  3. After clicking on the “Document Property” in the previous step you’ll notice that the text you had highlighted has been replaced with some other text in a box – simply erase whatever is in the box & then paste in the text you copied earlier (CTRL+V).
  4. Go to wherever you would like to repeat the text & click “Insert” -> “Quick Part” -> “Document Property” and choose the same Document Property you chose in step 3 (the one I told you to remember!).
  5. Providing both Document Properties are the same you should see the same text in both locations, and you’ll notice that as soon as you update any one of them and keyup (click out of the box) it will update automatically in each location… Like magic!

Basically Document Properties are just references, so if you add multiple “Author” properties throughout the document they will all show the same text, because they reference each other. This is why it doesn’t really matter which ones you use, as long as you make sure you match them up in the right places according to how you want to use them.

The only thing I didn’t like is that the Document Properties already have name tags assigned such as Company, Author etc which doesn’t look very professional when you’re using them for other things. For example I was using the “Author” Document Property to store a distance calculation which became a little confusing. Thankfully I discovered a way around this…

To edit the nametag of the Document Property follow the instructions below:

  1. You firstly need to enable the Developer tab. To do this click “File” -> “Options” -> “Customize Ribbon” then on the right hand side under “Main Tabs” make sure “Developer” is checked & click “OK“.
  2. Click on the Document Property box you wish to edit, then click the “Developer” tab & click “Properties“.
  3. Change the title of the box to whatever you wish, then once you’re done hit “OK” and you’ll notice the name tag of the box changes accordingly.

Note: Unfortunately changing the title of one Document Property box doesn’t change the title of all associated boxes, so you will have to repeat the process for each one. It’s a bit of a chore, but once it’s done it’s done and if you’re going to be updating the documents regularly it will be a massive timesaver in the long run.

Job done…

So that’s how to automatically update repeated text in a Microsoft Word document! I think you’ll probably agree that it’s definitely much more long-winded than it should be, but as mentioned above if you regularly update documents like I do then you’ll find taking 30 mins out to make the ammendments will save you a ton of time (and potential mistakes) down the line. I hope you found the post useful – let me know if you did!

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About the Author:
Born & raised in England, Dale is the founder of Living More Working Less & he has been making a living from his laptop ever since leaving his job as an electrician back in 2012. Now he shares what he's learned to help others do the same... [read more]