Microsoft Office Formatting Frustrations: Copy and Paste, Part 1

Come on. It is copying and pasting. How hard can this be, really? Well, honestly, quite hard and time consuming even for pros and power-users of Office. Is this a design flaw, a user error, or is copying and pasting really just a more difficult thing than we realize? Who knows? I do I do! It’s all of the above!

Earlier today, one of the designers at Pluralsight (a brilliant and talented designer, by the way, skilled across a wide variety of tools and platforms) had trouble copying and pasting some text into a PowerPoint text box, and asked me for some help. But we before we dive into the specifics about his copy and paste situation, you need to understand how PowerPoint’s default text boxes behave, formatting-wise.

The Default Text Box in PowerPoint

Every presentation template in PowerPoint, even the “blank” presentation template, has a pre-formatted text box associated with that template or theme. I’m not going to get too technical with this, but every time you add a new text box to PowerPoint, PowerPoint will draw that text box according to those design specifications saved with that theme. Yes, you can change how the default text box is formatted per presentation or per template! Just draw a text box, format it as you would like it to appear, then right-click on the text box, and choose the option, “Set as the Default Text Box.” Right-click on text box and choose set as default text boxNow, every time you draw a new text box, the new formatting options will be the default.

Pasting into a Text Box

Now that we understand where those formatting options come from for a text box, now understand that every time you paste text into a text box (not a placeholder…that is different) PowerPoint, by default, will reformat the pasted text to look like whatever text should look like according to the default theme rather than the default text box. So, if you are copying and pasting between different PowerPoint presentations, yes, the text will update to reflect and respect the design of the destination template or theme. If you find this confusing, that’s because it is. If you think it’s a little stupid, well yeah, it is a little bit!

The Frustration My Designer Experienced

Simply put, our designer was prettying up some slides in PowerPoint and wanted to copy text from one PowerPoint text box in one presentation and paste them into his own new presentation, in a text box that he had created and reformatted a bit (I believe he changed the font size and style). The problem was that when he pasted the text into the new presentation’s text box, the text did not look the way he wanted it to look. The text did not look like the text he had just written and formatted, nor did it look like the text from the original PowerPoint deck. He was confused and naturally frustrated by this.

The next natural thing my designer friend did was try and adjust the paste options. And if you have ever pasted anything in PowerPoint or other Office program, you might have noticed this: The Paste Options button.Paste Options

That little clipboard popup is your friend, trust me. If you click on that button or press the Ctrl key, you will see all options related to the content you’ve pasted. My designer friend switched back and forth between the first two choices: “Use Destination Theme”, and “Keep Source Formatting” neither of which gave him exactly what he had wanted. The other options he didn’t even bother to try. “Paste as Picture,” clearly didn’t seem like something he would want to do. And then the last option “Keep Text Only” didn’t seem right either. He therefore assumed what he wanted didn’t exist, and then asked me if I knew of a workaround.

Paste Options Explained

What my designer friend didn’t realize is that the solution was staring him in the face under a really bad name, “Keep Text Only.” Granted, I can’t fault Microsoft for this as I can’t think of better short title for what this option does either (“Leave it alone, biatch”?). So here are the paste options for pasting text into a text box:

Use Destination Theme

This option will change how your text looks to match how text should look according to your default destination’s theme (just as the title suggests)–not your default text box. This option, most people don’t have too much trouble with, unless they’ve already gone through and changed how the text box was formatted and then tried to paste text into the text box after the fact.

Keep Source Formatting

This option keeps text looking the way it did from the original PowerPoint slide that you are copying from (again, just as the title suggests). This is the least frustrating of options to choose from. This options works just as you would expect it to. Yay!


This option does not always appear, depending on what it is you are copying and pasting. But, if you are pasting text that can be pasted as a picture, PowerPoint will convert the text to a picture (png, I believe) that looks exactly like the text from the source file. The thing is, it’s a picture. So the text itself cannot be edited as text, but it can be edited just like any old picture. The frustration I have with this option is that PowerPoint seems to slap this picture into the center of the slide, not where you had your text box. Oh well. Pictures are easy to move.

Keep Text Only

With this option, you are pasting text and ignoring the template or destination theme options AND any formatting that the original file contained. So, if you’ve gone through and reformatted text inside your text box or set your default text box to something very different from your presentation’s theme, then this is the option you will want to choose most often.

To demonstrate this and the other paste options, check out the animated gif below: