Ask Penny: I copied and pasted and now it’s a hot mess!

Posted By on Jan 26, 2015 in CraftHack

Ask Penny

Today we want to welcome back Penny Shima Glanz, our resident tech expert! Today she’s tackling a topic that’s probably familiar to any of you who like to write blog posts in a different format (Google Docs, MS Word, 750 Words, etc.) and then paste them into your blog. What happens when it doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to? Read on for Penny’s expert advice.

This scenario happens all the time: a client spent hours writing and formatting a new blog post (in WordPress for example) and when they copy and paste it into where they want to publish it, nothing looks as they expect and they hope I can fix it.

I can, and so can you.

There are generally two ways things go wrong: either the formatting is weird or the text becomes garbled and gibberish.


To give you an example: the nice easy formatting that happens when you press the bold button is a bunch of instructions that happen behind the scenes to make it look bold to you. While there are a few standard ways to do it, not every application does it in the same way. When you copy and paste a formatted document, not only does your text get copied, but all of those special bits of code that make it look right need to get copied, pasted, and maybe translated along the way!

What about those weird characters where you thought you had quotes? That happens quite a bit with smart characters, for example, the m and n dashes. Depending on how the application stores text, they might be specially formatted and fall outside of what WordPress considers text.

Do not lose hope. If you know what to expect, it is easier to work with it and not fight against it.

My first (and strongest) suggestion is to leave the formatting to the very last. I know when I’m writing a post, there’s a ton of editing that needs to happen before I get there. I add notes if I need to remember to format something special. We have a tendency to get caught up in formatting and sometimes forget about the content. This lets me focus on the important part, and also eliminate a potential issue later in my work flow.

Second, many of the weird characters are caused by smart quotes, these are the apostrophes, quotes, and even the em dash. For example, these are characters that take quotation marks from a plain boring ” to a fancier “. This is part of character encoding, I’ll explain why in a future column if there’s interest. The easiest thing to do to prevent this from happening is to turn off smart quotes in your word processing program (it’s in the settings). I know that’s not ideal for everyone, so just be prepared to read through your pasted text and manually correct it to the appropriate punctuation.

If you have a very long document there’s another way to prevent this problem, though it takes a few steps and I’ll explain in general how to do it. I suggest this only if you have some familiarity with HTML. Save your formatted document as HTML. Then open that source file in a plain text editor (I am partial to TextWrangler on Mac and Notepad++ for Windows) and look for the tag toward the top. Copy everything between it and the closing tag and then paste it into your post editor in the text window (not the visual one). Then you can go to the visual editor to clean up your formatting.

Thanks so much, Penny! Do you have any questions about the tech side of running a business? Ask them in the comments and Penny will be back next month with an answer!

Penny Shima Glanz is a computer scientist with a passion for information management and how we interact with technology. She started PennyWise Consulting, LLC to help solo and small businesses figure out how to make the most of their technology needs and budgets. When not wrangling technology she can be found knitting, snuggling with her cats and reading, or out on a muddy trail run at sunrise.

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