Understanding Styles in Microsoft Word
To use styles, I believe it's helpful for one to understand their purpose,
which is to provide standardization of formatting through a document or a group
of documents. There are other benefits to using styles in Microsoft Word,
though, and you'll learn about them here.
If you already understand styles and would like to visit our extreme
What is a Style?
A style is nothing more than a specific set of formats that are saved "as a
set", which is called a "Style". For instance, when you read a paperback book,
virtually every chapter's title looks the same. Perhaps it is Times New Roman,
Bold, 18-pt, and centered. When you read a textbook, each Tip may have the same
border around it, and each exercise may have the same red font used as its
heading. Styles help us do this. They're so easy to use, but not quite as easy
One of the biggest problems with using styles is that people create this
gorgeous template with styles, and then copy information from the web or other
external documents, and now there are 20 more styles in your document. It's
difficult to restrict this from happening, particularly if you're not the only
user of the template. See
for more information.
Another problem is often caused because we use the default Heading 1 style
and alter it to suit us. Then someone else comes along who isn't aware of
styles, and they decide to italicize it. Rather than changing the style, they
manually italicize each Heading 1. Someone who knows what they're doing comes
along and doesn't get the same result when they apply the Heading 1 style. Doh!
When and if you create styles in a template, do a final review to ensure
absolutely that all the styles have been properly created and/or changed.
Outline numbered styles can be tricky. See
this article for more information.
Styles have a setting to Automatically update. I wish they didn't. See
for more information.
What Styles to Use?
I prefer to use the built-in styles whenever possible. Using, for instance,
the Body Text style, I can alter it. This does not affect all documents, it only
affects the active document or—if you save it as a
template—documents from this template. However, you can create your own
custom styles. See this article.
When I develop a template for a manual, I generally include the following
- Headings 1, 2, and 3 (sometimes 4 and 5, but more than 5 is a bit
ridiculous and should be used only for the most technical of manuals)
- Body Text
- List Bullet and List Bullet 2 (for 2 different levels of bullets)
- List Number and List Number 2 (for 2 different levels of numbering)
- Note (or Tip; I usually put a border on this)
- Graphic (provides great spacing)
- Header and Footer styles and page number styles are auto-created when you
use headers and footers, and I don't usually alter them.
- TOC styles are auto-created when you insert a Table of Contents and I
often add spacing before the TOC1 style.
Components of a Style
There are two types of styles: Paragraph and Character.
A paragraph style has
more format possibilities than a character style. For instance, a paragraph style could be bold and also
Above we show the dialog for modifying the Heading 1 style.
We have the Name, which I hope is self-explanatory. The
Style type in this case is Paragraph.
Style based on tell us that Heading 1 is based on the
Normal style. Now, suppose we change the Normal Style to be red? Since you can
see that the Heading 1 style has no special font color designated, it would
indeed take on the red font we apply to the Normal style. I prefer to base my
styles on No Style, which is a choice in the drop-down. This way, each of my
styles is independent. While I may understand that styles are based on other
styles, other users of my templates may not (and it happens to be rare that I
personally use a template I have created).
Style for the following paragraph denotes what style a
new paragraph defaults to when you hit Enter while you're in a paragraph that
uses Heading 1. For Heading styles, I will generally make the Style for
following paragraph be Body Text. However, if you're using outline numbered
styles, you might want it to default to Heading 2. Alternative, when I create
my Graphic style, I like the following paragraph to default to be the Caption
style because I always put Figure titles below my graphics.
For List Bullet and List Number, the likely following
paragraph would be another List Bullet or List Number, so I leave them to be
the same style.
I rarely use Add to template unless I am working on a
document that was created from a template, and realize I forgot to italicize
the font or something, but this does add the style to the template as well as
the document on which you are working. If your document is not based on a
template, you'll want to avoid this setting.
I rarely use Automatically update. The only styles I
use that have this checked are the Table of Contents (TOC) styles. If you
change a paragraph to which TOC1 is applied to become italicized, all
paragraphs with TOC1 applied to them will become italicized when this option
A character style might be any text that is bolded. For
instance, suppose we always want our company name to appear in bold red font,
regardless of the formatting of the paragraph in which that text resides. We
can create a character style for it. I've called it MyCharStyle in the graphic
Unfortunately, when I apply the MyCharStyle style to some of the words in a
paragraph where the style is already bold, it unbolds it, as you can see below,
so be careful what font attributes you choose when creating your own character
The following attributes cannot be built into Character styles: Tabs, paragraph
spacing, paragraph alignment, paragraph indents, bullets, numbering.