Excel, Office, Word

The great UNDO

Multi-level undo commands are in most of the Office applications, along with matching multi-level Redo’s to reinstate accidentally undone actions. Some Office apps limit the number of undo levels, however Word provides almost unlimited undo’s for the current editing session (while the document’s open).

The Undo command can be found in the Ribbon or upon the Quick Access Toolbar in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access. The handiest way however is to use [Ctrl]+[Z], a shortcut by the way that is pretty much ubiquitous now.

You can also use [Ctrl]+[Z] or the undo button for multiple undo’s.
[Ctrl]+[Y] works similarly for redo’s.

Restoring a single ‘lost’ action

Say you’ve been through various edits and revisions but have a ‘lightbulb moment’ that one of the earlier deletions was actually worth keeping. Alas?  Not quite; here’s a way to get it back:

Undo undoes the last action; clicking the little arrow to the right displays a drop-list of undone actions. Select any of these to undo all actions from that point onwards.

There’s no way to undo a particular action without undoing subsequent actions.  However, you can resurrect text you previously deleted or changed without losing the changes inbetween. It just required a little ingenuity and twisted thinking.

Warning: this will completely screw up your day unless you pay close attention and follow the instructions meticulously. Even so, an Act of God (or Microsoft) my still leave you wailing and gnashing your teeth.

Heads up: What is about to occur may freak you out, read ahead first so that you have an idea of how you are about to destroy all your recent work (you did back up, right?) capture that lost bit, restore the destroyed actions and paste the retrieved morsel from the clipboard (which exists in a separate memory space to where Undo’s and Redo’s are stored).

First copy everything (use [Ctrl]+[A], [C]), open a new document ([Ctrl]+[N]) and paste ([Ctrl]+[A]) everything in case you have a SNAFU episode, then:

  1. Use Undo and Redo to navigate back in time to where what you want is intact.
  2. Make your selection and Copy it to the clipboard (don’t use Cut, or all else after that may be lost!).
  3. Redo all the way back to restore your document back to your ‘lightbulb moment’.
  4. Go to your insertion point / selection-to-overwrite and paste in the saved nugget.

If this is oft-occurring then turn on ‘Track Changes‘ to store deleted or changed text. You can then view all changes in a document and restore deleted text individually.

The Fine Print

It is imperative in step 2 above to copy the text and not to cut it, because cutting text empties the Redo queue and all is lost.

Note: Other actions may trash the redo list.

  • In Excel 2003, the simple act of saving your document empties the list.
  • In Excel 2003 and 2007, running a macro will produce the same result.

Word is smarter about this and will let you save a document or run a macro without interfering with the redo list.

There are also certain actions which, in themselves, are not undoable. In Office 2007, for example, anything you do via the Office button is not undoable.

So now you know how to redo the undo but not to attempt the undoable!

OK, about the Undoable

What constitutes an undoable “action” is not entirely predictable, especially in Word.  Often it’s applied commands (Word treats a block of text as an “action”, so when you click the undo button, you may find that a whole paragraph disappears).

Individual undoable actions in Word include:

  • Reformatting an element.
  • Any auto-correct action (such as a straight quote being converted to a curly apostrophe or Word auto-correcting a double-capital).
  • Any series of actions you perform within a dialog box, such as altering multiple elements via the Font dialog.
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