Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 8 Issue 4
April 2014
Microsoft Word: When I Type, It Replaces (and Forward-Deletes) My Existing Text!

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The problem
Has this ever happened to you? You're editing a document in Microsoft Word, and all of a sudden, instead of inserting the new text you're typing, with every keystroke you're deleting and replacing your existing text! Here's how it might look:

Imagine your Word document contains the following sentence:
   This is my |interesting text.

You then place your text cursor (the vertical blinking line or "insertion point") right before the word "interesting" and type "wonderful" Your intention is to insert this word. Normally, you'd get this:
   This is my wonderful|interesting text.

However, in this crazy-making situation, you get this instead:
   This is my wonderful|ng text.

The 9-character word "wonderful" has replaced the first 9 characters of "interesting," leaving you with "wonderfulng" which is probably not what you wanted.

The explanation: Insert mode (good) vs. Overtype mode (bad)
If you are experiencing this odd behavior in Microsoft Word, this means that you have accidentally switched from "Insert mode" (the default) to "Overtype mode." Word's help system describes Overtype as a mode where you "replace existing characters as you type."

Overtyping (also known as overstrike or typeover) made sense decades ago when all text was monospaced, i.e., every character you typed had the same width. For example, you could construct a crude table using spaces to perfectly line up the columns, and later you might use Overtype mode to "type over" parts of that table to update it without inserting or shifting any text to the right.

Modern computers and word processors typically use proportional-spaced fonts, where narrow letters use less space than wider ones. Here's the difference:

Monospaced font Courier, different letters all have the same width:

Proportional-spaced font Verdana, different letters have different widths
(However, even in proportional-spaced fonts, the digit characters 0-9 are usually monospaced so that tables of figures line up properly.)

Here are ways you can turn off Overtype mode:

Quick fix #1 in Microsoft Word for Windows (any version): Tap the "insert" key on the keyboard

How it can happen: If you have a full-size Windows keyboard, tapping the "Insert" key once toggles between Insert mode and Overtype mode.

How to fix it: If you find yourself in Overtype mode, just tap the Insert key on your keyboard once more, and you'll probably be back in Insert mode. Type a few characters at the start of an existing paragraph to be sure.

If you have a Windows laptop and you can't find an "insert" key, look for the "INS" key. Depending on your keyboard, you may also have to hold down a "modifier" key (like "FN" or "Mode") first.

Quick fix #2 in Microsoft Word (Windows or Macintosh, any version): Close and reopen
First, you may want to use the Undo command (if available) to restore your text to what it was before you started overtyping. You'll probably have to invoke the Undo command multiple times, once for each keystroke.

Then, close all Word documents (saving your changes as appropriate), close the Word program itself, then reopen your document. (If you're not sure whether you've closed Word, you could certainly Restart your computer.) That will get you out of Overtype mode and back to Insert mode.

Quick fix #3 in Microsoft Word for Windows (any version): Turn off the "Overtype mode" option

To turn Overtype mode off, you open Word's Options, look for "Edit" or "Advanced Editing" (the details will depend on which version of Word you have), and then uncheck the "Overtype mode" option.

Quick fix #4 in Microsoft Word 2004 for Macintosh: Click "OVR" in the Status Bar

How it can happen: If you have Microsoft Word's "Status Bar" turned on at the bottom of your document window (it's an option under View), you might have accidentally single-clicked on the "OVR" button, which is another way to toggle between Insert mode and Overtype mode.

When Overtype mode is off (so text you type inserts), you'll see "OVR" in the Status bar preceded by a white circle.

When Overtype mode is on, you'll see "OVR" in the Status bar preceded by a green circle.

How to fix it: Click once on the "OVR" button in the Status bar, and when you see its little circle change from green to white, you'll be back in Insert mode. Type a few characters at the start of an existing paragraph to be sure.

Quick fix #5 in Microsoft Word for Macintosh (any version): Turn off "Overtype mode" in Preferences

To turn Overtype mode off, open Word's Preferences, look for "Edit" or "Advanced Editing" (the details will depend on which version of Word you have), and then uncheck the "Overtype mode" option.

Additional things you should know about Overtype mode
Here are some subtle things about Overtype mode:
  • When Overtype mode becomes active in one open Word document window, it immediately becomes active in every other open Word window as well. Similarly, turning Overtype mode off in any open Word window will also turn it off in all open Word windows.
  • Closing and reopening will only turn Overtype mode off if you close the program (and thus every open Word window) before reopening.
  • Overtyping does not replace text beyond the end of a paragraph, and does not remove paragraph breaks or section breaks, so your potential "damage" is limited. However, it does remove line breaks, page breaks, and column breaks.
  • If Overtype mode was active when you saved changes to your document, that fact is not stored in the document. So, if Overtype mode is turned off in a later editing session, reopening that document will not turn it back on.
  • Copy and Paste always inserts text, even if Overtype mode is on. AutoText always inserts as well.
Preventing Overtype mode on Windows
If you have a Windows computer, here are the simplest ways I've found to avoid accidentally tapping the "Insert" key and ending up in Overtype mode:

Method #1: Take a screwdriver and gently pry the "Insert" key off your keyboard; on a Windows laptop look for the "INS" key. However, only do this if that key has no other function, or if it has another function and you don't need it. (Don't throw that key away! Instead, attach it to the side of your keyboard with scotch tape in case you need it again in the future. If you have a laptop, make sure you can still close the lid without damaging your screen.)

Method #2: Customize Word to remove the "Insert" key as the shortcut for Overtype mode:
  • Open Word's Customize Keyboard dialog (the details will depend on which version of Word you have).
  • On the left under "Categories," scroll down and click "All Commands."
  • On the right, under "Commands," scroll down and click "Overtype."
  • Under "Current keys," click to select "Insert," then click "Remove."
  • Click "Close" to save your changes.
This should disable the "Insert" key.

Where to go from here
  • Find your version of Word (common versions on Windows are 2003, 2007, 2010, and 2013; on Macintosh are 2004, 2008, and 2011), then google this (replace "20xx" with your version): Word 20xx turn off overtype mode
  • Save your important documents as you work and make backup copies of them. You never know when something might go wrong, like Overtype mode.
  • - More about the Insert key
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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.