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Working with Word Styles

An introduction to the application of styles as the best way to manage and control layout and format all in sorts of Word documents.

Last updated on 2018-08-01 by David Wallis.


Styles are the most efficient way of setting the format and layout of a document. And when you set your document using styles you can make changes to its appearance in a fraction of the time it would take you to make them any other way.

In this piece my intention is to enthuse you in the use of styles in the hope that you’ll exploit them as you write your letters, proposals, reports and so. Pick one skill to master in Word, then I strongly recommend that it be in the application of styles.

Practice Document

If you want to follow this article hands-on in Word on your computer, we need a document on which to work. Let’s quickly prepare a short one that has a main heading, and two sub-headings, each with a few paragraphs of text following it:

  1. Start a new, blank Word document
  2. Type “Main Heading” and press Enter
  3. Type “First Sub Heading” and press Enter
  4. Type =rand(2) and press Enter
  5. Type “Second Sub Heading” and press Enter
  6. Type =rand(3,2) and press Enter.

Now you have a document to experiment upon:

Word Document

Introduction to Styles

Every paragraph in a document has a style assigned to it. If you didn’t make the assignment yourself, then Word made it for you.

One way to appreciate the styles in a document is by viewing the Word ribbon's Styles section on the Home tab:

Word Ribbon Styles

If Word is packing the ribbon with styles that have no part in your document, the the keyboard shortbut Shift+Ctrl+Alt+S will display the Styles pane:

Display Styles pane

Click Options… at the bottom right-hand corner of the pane to display the Style Pane Options dialog box. Select “In use”from the Select styles to show drop-down list.

Back in your document, as you move the insertion pointer through the headings and body text of the new document you’ve just written, you’ll note that everything in it is set in the Normal style. Normal is the style for which Word opted because we didn’t instruct it otherwise.

Using Styles to Reformat a Document

Now we’re going to reformat our document using styles picked from the ribbon:

  1. Click to insert the editing cursor anywhere within “Main Heading”
  2. Click Heading 1 style in the ribbon, or use the Ctrl+Alt+1 keyboard shortcut
  3. Click to insert the editing cursor anywhere within “First Sub Heading”
  4. Click Heading 2 style in the ribbon, or use the Ctrl+Alt+2 keyboard shortcut
  5. Click to insert the editing cursor anywhere within “Second Sub Heading”
  6. Click Heading 2 style in the ribbon, or use the Ctrl+Alt+2 keyboard shortcut.

Now your document looks something like this:

Applied Word Styles

The typeface, point size and colour of the heading and sub headings, and of the body text, have all been determined by the current properties of the assigned styles.

Understandng Style Properties

To investigate the properties of a style, let’s start with the Normal style of the body text in our document:

  1. Click to insert the editing cursor anywhere within one of the paragraphs of text
  2. Right click on the Normal style in Styles section on the ribbon to display the Modify Style dialog box —

Normal Style Dialog Box

Here I learn that the typeface for my Normal style is “Baskerville Old Face”, set at 11 points and coloured “Automatic”.

Remodeling Styles

To change the properties of a style you edit them in the Modify Style dialog box illustrated above. Change any of the settings and then click OK to close the dialog box and have Word change the format of your document according to the allocation of that particular style.

Keeping a Track of Styles

On DMW’s Managing Styles I describe a couple of ways to monitor the styles in your document, one of which looks like this:

Word draft document view

Keyboard Shortcuts

These are shortcuts that you might find useful:

Ctrl+Alt+1 sets to Heading 1 style the paragraph in which you’ placed the editing cursor.

Ctrl+Alt+2 sets to Heading 2 style the paragraph in which you’ placed the editing cursor.

Shift+Ctrl+N sets to the Normal style the paragraph in which you’ placed the editing cursor.

Alt+H E removes any manually-set formatting from the selected text, returning everything to the Normal style.

F4 repeats your previous action, including that of Shift+Ctrl+N and Alt+H E.

More on Styles

Follow this link to DMW’s page of techniques for removing unwanted characters and spaces from a document.

This one for techiniques in managing white space after headings and between paragraphs.

Managing Styles illustrates how to kee a track of the styles you’ve applied to your document.

There’s a lot more to say about styles and their application to efficient creation and editing of documents. I intend to add this web site pages on the subject. These are some of the topics I have in mind:

When I publish on any of these I’ll include link to them here and in the side menu, under Word Tips at the top of each page

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“All my stories are webs of style and none seems at first blush to contain much kinetic matter … For me style is matter.”

Vladimir Nabokov, selected letters 1989.