The Hermit Hermit's Free Library  MS-Word

A description of styles and a list of their many benefits followed by explanations of how to apply styles, modify styles, and create new ones. Shows how styles and templates are used to set default formatting like typeface, etc. 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?

A surprising number of users are unaware of, or under-utilize MS-Word's Styles. Styles is one of the most useful features of every word processing program worth its salt.

If you don't use Styles, or want to know more about them, read on!

A style is a saved and named collection of character and paragraph formats which can be applied to text as a group.

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

This article talks about the first and most common style category: paragraph and character styles.

All text in word processing documents 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 what style is applied to any document text: simply position the insertion point in the text and look at the style gallery (see illustrations below). The button corresponding to the active style will be highlighted.

Screen-shot of the style gallery in MS-Word

Advantages of Formatting with Styles

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

Multiple formats

Suppose there were specific paragraphs in a document that you wanted to format like this:

Applying the formats with direct formatting is six times as much work as it takes to apply them using one style.


When a style is modified, every place that style was used changes automatically, without any action on your part. So, if you decide to change one of a style's formats, you just edit the style and when you save it the format changes everywhere the style was used.


If you want to use a style in other documents, just add it to a template with a click and it will appear in the style gallery of all documents (new and old) based on that template.


When used across many documents, styles ensure that formatting is identical everywhere.

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:

  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:

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"

Screen-shot of MS-Word showing how to create a new style

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

Screen-shot of MS-Word showing dialog box to name a new style

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

Screen-shot of MS-Word showing results of having added a new style

Modify a Style

To modify an existing style, use the same steps 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. A screen-shot in MS-Word that shows the MS-Word Style Gallery with a newly created style

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, you're only one click away from that goal.

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

However, with one extra mouse click you can save the new or modified style to the document template. When you do this, the change becomes the default for all 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 (A graphic showing the MS-Word show/hide button) on the Home tab of the Ribbon
  3. Select the empty paragraph symbol (A graphic of the Paragraph mark in MS-Word) 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 becomes the default in all new documents.

To learn more about templates and how to work with them, see Working with Templates. A screen-shot of the MS-Word Modify Style dialog box

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.

Keeping Styles Under Control in Options

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, just turn this option off using either one of these 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