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We have several hundred Word documents in which we need to change some formatting. They're all based on a vanilla I know it's possible to programmatically change a document's source .dot template using a VBScript macro, so my thinking was: Create a template with the styles we want, point all the .doc files at that .dot using this macro to set some global styles, and then fine-tune each document as necessary.

Will this work?

I just read that .dot files are only used when the Word document is first created, and that changes to a .dot file after a .doc has been created won't affect that document. If this is true, why do Word documents continue to look for their originating .dot whenever they're opened?

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@Adam 's answer is correct AFAIK. Going forward, you might want to take a look at LibreOffice. It will read and write almost all MS Office files. But, if you convert the files to the internal format (OASIS), you can then use one of the best things about LO writer - styles. You can assign styles to paragraphs, pages, and even characters in such a way that when you modify the style, everything using that style (or another style based on it) will automatically be changed. This allows you to modify all subtitles or standard paragraphs with one action. Then you can save a copy in Word format. – Joe Jul 18 '12 at 17:41
LO writer also has extensive macro support for automating such tasks. And, not to forget - it's free. – Joe Jul 18 '12 at 17:43

Nope, I'm afraid they normally just act like templates only (as the name suggests). The template gives the defaults that are used when first creating a document from that template.

The reason they don't act like style sheets is because that's not how most people want their documents to behave. Imagine if you create a document based on a normal.dotx and send that to someone else whose normal.dotx on their machine contains very different page and style formatting. If the document inherited the new formatting then your specially crafted document would most likely look wrecked.

There is however an exception, you can set an option under the Developer Tab -> Document Template to Automatically update document styles. This will update all formatting from the template whenever it's changed, however you'll find most people keep this option off for the same reason as described above.

In your case if you can find a way to automate changing the document's template, quickly turning this option on and off then it should update all styles based on the new template (while not having any adverse effects in the future if the template is changed).

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