How to Use Linked Text to Update Word Documents

Update text across multiple docs

Laptop with document open on wooden table.

Bram Naus / Unsplash 

Updating the same text across multiple Word documents can be time-consuming, really time-consuming if you have lots of documents to edit. Fortunately, MS Word includes an extremely handy link function that can make this whole process really easy, but you have to prepare for it.

Instructions in this article apply to Word 2019, Word 2016, Word 2013, Word 2010, and Word for Office 365.

Understanding Linking

Linking is helpful if the text is the same in all the documents, and when the text needs to be updated, all the text needs to be updated. This is a very specific scenario, but one that can save you loads of time if you use it.

For example, if you have 20 Microsoft Word documents set up to print 20 different sheets of address labels, and each page has dozens of labels and think that you might ever need to update those addresses, you can avoid doing it manually by making a separate document that lists the 20 addresses. Link the 20 documents to the one page of addresses so that when you update an address there, any document linking to it will update, too.

Another example to help understand the concept of linking Word documents can be seen if you have several Word documents with your name typed in each, but you're getting married soon. Instead of having to return to each document later to change your last name, just put a link to a different document, and then when you update your last name there, your name will change in all the other documents!

This type of text linking is not the same as hyperlinks that open web pages or other files when clicked.

How to Insert a Text Link in Word

As you can see, it's a simple way to replace text across multiple Word documents at once. However, it's really only helpful if you insert the same block of text all over the place and the text will need to be updated at some point.

  1. In a new Microsoft Word document, enter the text you're going to link to from the other documents. Format it exactly as you want it to appear in all the documents. To borrow from the first example above, this document is where you'd type the 20 different addresses.

  2. Save the file to generate the link. It doesn't matter where you save it, but be sure you know where it's at.

    If you move the file containing the text, you have to re-insert an updated link to the text in all the linked documents, so it is best to consider this before you pick where to save it.

  3. Highlight the text you want to be linked so that it's selected.

  4. Right-click or tap-and-hold the selected text and then choose Copy from the menu. Another option is to use your keyboard: use Ctrl+C on a PC or Command+C on a Mac.

    Screenshot of Copy in right-click menu in Word
  5. From a different document or even the same one, place the cursor wherever you want the linked text to go. You can always change the location later, just like you can when moving any text.

  6. From the Home tab, select the Paste drop-down in the Edit group and choose Paste Special. The Paste Special dialog box will open.

    Screenshot of Paste Special in Paste drop-down
  7. Select the Paste link option.

    On the right side of that screen are several options, but Formatted Text (RTF) is the one that pastes the linked text exactly as it appears in the original document.

    Screenshot of Paste Special dialog box
  8. Repeat this process as many times as you need to in the same document or for each separate document you want to link to the original text.