MS-Word 2007/10/13

This article describes styles and lists their many benefits. It explains how to apply styles, modify them, and create new styles. It describes how you can use styles and templates to change things like the default typeface. It also includes a link to an exercise which covers all aspects of working with styles and explains how to set up Word options to make styles work smoothly.

Formatting with Styles

What Are Styles?

Although fewer than one out of a hundred users know how to use them, styles are one of the most useful and important features of every word processing program. If you're not using styles, you're practically still in the age of typewriters.

A style is a saved and named collection of character and paragraph formats which can be applied to text all together, simultaneously.

There are actually five types of styles in MS-Word:

  • Paragraph, character, and linked styles appear in the Styles Gallery
  • Table styles appear in the Table Tools Design tab
  • List styles appear in the Bullets and Multilevel Lists menus (Paragraph group of the Home tab).

This discussion deals with just the first, most common category of styles: paragraph and character.

All text in a word processing document uses a style. If no particular style is chosen by the user, the default style is applied automatically. The default style in MS-Word is named Normal.

It's easy to see which style is applied to text: position the insertion point in the text and look at the style gallery. The active style's button will be highlighted there.

Advantages of Formatting with Styles

There are many, many advantages to using Styles. Most of them boil down to these characteristics:

  • Styles can include multiple formats
  • Styles help achieve standardization
  • Styles are dynamic
  • Styles are reusable
  • Built-in Heading styles make document organization a snap

Multiple formats. Suppose there are certain paragraphs in a document that you want to format the following way:

  • Times Roman typeface
  • 11 points
  • Italics
  • Left and Right margins indented
  • Hanging Indent
  • Single line spacing
If you apply those formats using direct formatting, you've done six times as much work as it would take to apply them using one style.

Standardization. If you needed the same set of formats in the example above for other paragraphs in your document, not only would a style make it easier to apply them, it would also ensure that the formats would be exactly the same in both locations.

Dynamic. Dynamic means that when you modify a style, all text using that style changes automatically to reflect changes to the style. So, if you decide to changes one or more of the formats in the example, you need only update the style in one central place and the job is done. There is no need to track down all individual instances in the document.

Reusable. If you decide you'd like to use a custom style in other documents, add it to a template with just one check and the style will be available in the style gallery of all new (and old) documents based on that template.

Built-in Headings. Built-in Heading styles tap into the power of features like Outline view and the Headings view of the Find (Search) taskpane. Once your document is organized into sections beneath Headings, you can rapidly re-organize topics visually using the Promote/Demote, and Send Up/Down Outline tools. This method of moving text around makes Cut and Paste look like bear skins and knives.

Applying Styles

Applying a style works exactly the way direct formatting does (but without all the problems):

  1. Select the text to be formatted
  2. In the Styles Gallery, click on desired style

That's all there is to it. To make things even easier:

  • Most styles (paragraph styles) can be applied to a paragraph without selecting the paragraph - just click once in the paragraph and then click on the style in the Style Gallery

  • If you need to apply the same style to pre-entered parts of text that are separated from each other (like headings), use the F4 Repeat key after the first application.

Creating Custom Styles

Creating a custom style is as easy as 1-2-3. Oh, ok. 1-2-3-4.

  1. Apply direct formatting to text to create a model for the new style
  2. Right-click the model text and click on "Styles" in the shortcut menu
  3. Click on "Save Selection as a New Style"
  4. Type in a name for the style and click on Ok

See example in figures below:

Figure 1: Steps 1 - 2 - 3
1) Apply Times Roman, 11pt italics, increased left/right indent, and hanging indent to model text with direct formatting
2) Right-click model and click "Styles"
3) Click on "Save Selection as New Style"

Figure 2: Step 4  Type in name for the new style and click on Ok

Figure 3: a_New_Style appears in Style Gallery - apply it to other paragraphs

Modify a Style

To modify an existing style, use the same steps used to create a new style except:


Step 3
Instead of clicking on "Save Selection as a New Style", click on "Update [name of style] to Match Selection", as shown in the figure at right.

As soon as you update the style, all text formatted with the style is updated to match the changes.

Use Styles to Change Document Defaults

Have you ever wished that every new document you started used a typeface different from the one Microsoft designated as the default? Once you know how to modify a style, it's easy to do.

By default, when you add or change a style in a document, the modification is limited to that document.

However, with one extra step you can save the new or modified style to the document template. When you do this, the change becomes the default for all new documents based on that template.

Here's how to change the default typeface for all your new documents:

  1. Open a new document in Word
  2. Turn on Formatting Symbols with the Show/Hide button () on the Home tab of the Ribbon
  3. Select the empty paragraph symbol () in the document
  4. Select a different typeface in the Font group
  5. Right-click the selected paragraph symbol
  6. Click on "Styles"
  7. Click on "Update Normal Style to Match Selection"
  8. Right-click on the Normal Style button in the Style Gallery
  9. Click on "Modify"
  10. In the Modify Style dialog box, click in the radio button that says "New documents based on this template"
  11. Click "Ok"

The typeface that you chose is the new default for all new documents.

To learn more about templates and how to work with them, see Working with Templates.

Built-in Heading Styles

When you use the built-in heading styles (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.), to format section headings in a document, you're not only adding formatting, you're organizing the document and giving it structure.

The structure provided by the built-in headings opens the door to the powerful Outline view and it's superb organizational tools: Promote/Demote, Move Up/Move Down.

Keep Your Styles Under Control

In an effort to get more users to actually use styles, Microsoft created an option to have Word create a new style each time that you apply some direct formatting.

Its heart was in the right place, but because we will always use some direct formatting here and there on an ad hoc basis, this option ends up cluttering up the Style Gallery with unnecessary and unneeded styles which just make it harder to find the styles we actually use.

If you notice Word adding new styles without you asking it to do so, you'll probably want to turn this option off. Use either of the following methods:

Method 1

  1. On the File menu, click on Options
  2. Click on Advanced
  3. In the Editing section of Advanced Options, un-check "Keep track of formatting"
  4. Click on Ok

Method 2

  1. Launch the Styles Pane from Home tab Styles Group (launcher, lower, right-hand corner)
  2. Click on Options
  3. Un-check all three options beneath "Select formatting to show as styles"
  4. Click on Ok

Bruce Miller, 2000, 2005, 2014

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