Using Styles in Word

Hard to believe that I never did an article on what is probably the most important topic in Microsoft Word - how to properly use Styles.  I have a whole chapter or more in the books on how to use them, but never really had much content on this site about it. So I'm getting started on fixing that oversight with this page right here.

What Are Styles?

A style is a defined collection of formatting that you can apply to text. So for example: Word's default Heading 1 style is Cambria text, 14 point, Bold in Accent 1 color and has some specific spacing attributes.  The "Subtitle" style is 12 point Cambria, Italics, expanded by .75 points, etc.

Even if you're not using styles...you're using styles. A default style ("Normal" generally) is applied to all text when you first create a Word document.

You can create a style with any set of formatting you want. Want to have the occasional paragraph that's centered, bold-faced, 11 point Times New Roman? No problem, just create a style for it.

When you apply a style to a piece of text the text takes on the attributes defined in that style. That's really powerful for a couple of reasons:

  1. It means that all of your text formatted with that style is consistent. You don't have to worry about accidentally formatting the paragraph on page 27 with 12 point instead of 11 or forgetting the italics. If you apply the same style, the text should all be consistent.
  2. If you need to change the format of that text you need only modify the style and all of the text formatted with that style will automatically change. Need to make those headings Arial font instead of Cambria?  Just modify the style and it's done - no need to page through a long document manually changing fonts (and hoping you don't miss any)

Video: Apply styles in Word 2010 

Styles vs. Direct Formatting

Styles are what we refer to as "Indirect Formatting" because you apply the formatting to the style and then apply the style to the text, rather than applying the formatting directly to the text. Direct formatting, unfortunately, is what most people tend to do. They select some text and click "Bold", "14 point", "Calibri".  Of course that's three steps everytime you want to format some text that way and it's easy for your text to get inconsistent. Not to mention the headache you'll have if you ever decide it should be "13 point" instead and have to manually page through your entire document fixing that.

IMPORTANT: The vast majority of "broken" documents I receive - documents where the formatting is badly mangled and the client wants me to fix them - are the result of improperly applied direct formatting. If the author had just used styles in the first place most of the problems would have been avoided.

How Can I Clean Up Wayward Direct Formatting?

Word actually provides you with a couple of fairly useful tools for getting your documents back in order if you've used direct formatting and broken them. The best start is to select the wayward text and click the "Clear Formatting" button on the toolbar or Ribbon.  You can find that button nestled right there among all of the formatting commands like Bold and Italic - usually at the top right of that group.

That button will strip out all direct formatting from the selected text and reset the style on the text to "Normal".  Now your text will look pretty plain...and that gives you the opportunity to apply the correct style to the text. In most cases this fixes the text.

If your entire document is a wreck, press CTRL+A to select all, then click Clear Formatting. Now the whole document is plain text and you can page through it and apply the correct styles where you need them.

How Do I Modify a Style?

To modify a style simply find the style on the styles gallery (on the ribbon), right-click it and select "Modify". You'll get a dialog box that looks like this...and you can make any changes you like.

Customizing a Style in WordAmong the common things you can modify are the typeface (Times New Roman, Arial, etc.), the font size (12, 14, 18, etc.) effects like bold, italic or underline and much more.

Just below where the typeface controls are you'll see controls that let you apply justification to the style (right, left, center, etc.), adjust line spacing (single, double, etc.), indents and more.

For more advanced controls click the "Format" button at the bottom left corner of the dialog box and you will find a long list of other things you can customize about your style.

Remember that by default any changes you apply to the style will immediately apply to all text in this document that is formatted with that style. That's a good thing - means that you can easily, and instantly, control the format of your document.

Click OK when you're done and your changes are saved.

Paragraph Spacing

One thing that styles can help you get under control is your paragraph spacing. Too many people create space between paragraphs as if they're using an old typewriter - they press RETURN/ENTER to manually insert blank lines. That's an ineelegant solution though and can lead to inconsistent spacing and other paragraph problems.

When you modify your style you'll find settings that let you control how much space appears between paragraphs. Simply increase the paragraph spacing in the style and you'll never need to manually add space between paragraphs (or find that you've forgotten to add space when you print that 40 page document) again.

More to come...soon...

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