The Case of the Sticky Background
Updated: Aug 1
I'm not sure when I began to chafe at the white background in MS Word documents. I think it was when dark mode began spreading like wildfire, appearing in one program after another. Dark mode had aesthetic appeal; it looked cool, and creative designers did wonderful things with it. Those who spent hours together at the screen appreciated it for a more practical reason: the dark background soothed the eye. After a few hours of staring at text against a white background, one sometimes felt like a nomad in the desert squinting at the sun.
As someone who spent hours daily in MS Word, it was logical to ask: can the background in an MS Word document be changed? It turned out that it can. I soon had three macros, each one changing the background to a different color: light gray, light sepia, and light olive green. A black background seemed excessive for copyediting. I had shortcuts to these macros on my Quick Access Toolbar (QAT), so that these backgrounds were just a click away. They worked like a toggle switch: click once to darken the background, and click again to remove it. Life was good!
However, I noticed after some time that the backgrounds were behaving unpredictably: sometimes the background would change to the light olive green setting without any intervention on my part. I would then have to click the icon on the QAT to restore the previous background. Over time, this occurred often enough to become an annoyance. I couldn't figure out why it was happening. The last straw was when one of these autonomous background changes messed up a client's table formatting: he had used shaded backgrounds for some cells, and my backgrounds interfered with the table backgrounds. It was then that I decided to boot the backgrounds out.
However, the backgrounds behaved like uninvited guests: they refused to leave when ordered to and arrived whenever they pleased. I searched the Net for solutions and tried them all, but nothing worked. I concluded that the light olive green background had somehow wormed its way into my MS Word configuration file, normal.dotm, and become the default background there. I tried fixing the background in that file, but failed. I now realize that this theory could have been tested by restoring my old backups of normal.dotm one by one, starting from the recent backups, until I found the backup that did not produce this behavior. This procedure did not occur to me then, otherwise I would have tried it. However, the downside of this procedure is that I'd have to re-create my recent customizations. I could also have forced Word to create a new configuration file by moving normal.dotm out of the Templates folder, but that would have meant having to restore all my customizations. I had them all saved, but it would still be a laborious exercise.
It was then that I found the solution on a Web page. I had to scroll past dozens of solutions I'd tried before, until I found a new idea posted by a user. It the simplest possible solution, requiring just disabling a Word setting. Since then, backgrounds in my Word documents have behaved: I haven't seen that light olive green background again. I know it's lurking in the background (if you'll pardon the pun!) because if I enable the setting, the light olive green color reappears immediately in the document. I also see it in the document previews in Gmail. It's in there, but my setting keeps it out.
And before I forget, what's the magical setting? In Word 2019, I went to
File-->Options-->Advanced. Next, I scrolled down to the "Show Document Content" section, and unchecked the first option in the section: "Show background colors and images in Print Layout view".
I was back to squinting at the desert sun, but document corruption is the worse evil.