Whether you want company correspondence to have a certain look or need your dissertation to follow MLA styling, you can easily spend hours formatting Microsoft Word documents. But there’s a faster way: click within a paragraph and apply a style. Using styles is more efficient than setting attributes by hand. Styles also ensure consistent formatting and make document-wide changes a snap.
The elements of style
Everything you type in Word has a style attached to it—usually the default Normal style (12-point Times New Roman with single line spacing and left alignment).
affect individual characters, words, or sentences; they can include the font type and color, as well as modifications such as bold and italic. You might use a character style to make sure your company logo is always red and in a proprietary font.
include character formatting but also affect line spacing, tabs, alignment, list numbering, and indentation. You might use a paragraph style to make sure block quotes in a term paper appear double-spaced and indented an inch.
Word comes with preset styles for everything from headers to hyperlinks. These live in your Normal template, on which Word bases all new documents unless you specify otherwise. If you use Microsoft’s $239
), you can find the Normal template in
your user folder
/Documents/Microsoft User Data.
Check out these styles in the Formatting Palette (View: Formatting Palette) by clicking on the triangle next to Styles and then choosing All Styles from the List pop-up menu (see top screenshot). Make sure to set it back to Available Styles when you’re done or your menus might get out of hand. To get an even better look at styles, select Format: Style. When the Style dialog box appears, select All Styles from the List menu.
Apply a Style
You can apply a style by using the Formatting toolbar (View: Toolbars: Formatting) or the Formatting Palette. To use the toolbar, select the text and then select a style from the Style pop-up menu. To save time, press Command-shift-S to highlight the Style menu. Use the up- and down-arrow keys to scroll through the available styles, and press return to select one. The Formatting Palette provides more information, but it takes up more screen space. To apply a style using it, select your text and click on a style in the Styles list.
Use the Keyboard
You can also apply some of Word’s most commonly used styles with keyboard shortcuts. To apply the Normal style, select the text and press Command-shift-N. To apply any of the first three heading styles, select some text and press Command-option-1, -2, or -3. To apply the List Bullet style, select the text and press Command-shift-L.
Create your own
To make your own style, first format a paragraph the way you want. Select Format: Font to reveal the Font dialog box and set options for font, size, color, and so on. Then select Format: Paragraph and choose alignment, indentation, and spacing. (You can also use the Formatting Palette.) When everything is just right, click anywhere in the paragraph and then click on the New Style button in the Formatting Palette (or select Format: Style and then click on New).
The New Style dialog box that appears will include all your settings (see bottom screenshot). If you want to refine the style further, click on the Format pop-up menu, select an option such as Font or Tabs, and tweak the settings. Give the style a name—for example, Body Text or Main Heading. For styles you use often, start names with a number—for example, 1Body or 2Header—so they will appear at the top of the list. Also consider bypassing menus altogether; click on Format and choose Shortcut Key to assign the style a keyboard shortcut.
A Matched Set
If you’re creating a set of related styles—one for body text, another for headings, another for quotes—you can save yourself a lot of time by basing new styles on an existing one. This speeds up the creation of styles and ensures that they will remain consistent—if you change the original style, styles based on it will update. (This can be a
thing too, if you forget that you based all your styles on Normal and change its font from Times New Roman to Chalkboard.)
Select Format: Style, click on New, choose the base style from the Style Based On pop-up menu, and then modify the settings as necessary. By default, Word stores styles you create this way in the current document, and once you close that document you won’t be able to access them. If you plan to use the style often, save it in your Normal template instead by selecting the Add To Template option at the bottom of the New Style dialog box. This way, you’ll be able to use the style in any new document.
Occasionally, you’ll want to modify a style—say, when you get tired of using a certain font, or when your boss tells you to spice up your headings. Click anywhere in a styled paragraph, and then select Format: Style and click on Modify. In the Modify Style window that appears, make your changes and then click on OK to save them. This is also a fast way to make formatting changes to your entire document. Modify the appropriate style and the change cascades through your document, leaving text formatted in other styles untouched.
Keep in mind that sometimes it’s not a good idea to modify Word’s preset styles, because you’ll confuse people who expect these styles to look the usual way when they edit your documents. Check with your boss or workgroup before making changes, to ensure that you won’t affect other users.
Share and share alike
Say you’re writing this year’s budget report. You want it to look like last year’s, but you also want to start with a fresh, blank file. No problem—Word lets you copy styles to and from your Normal template and other documents. This is a good way to copy styles from other documents or to share custom styles with colleagues.
Select Format: Style and then click on Organizer. Click on the Styles tab if it’s not already selected. You’ll see two lists: the one on the left is for your current document (the header will read In
), the one on the right is for the Normal template. Select any style from the current document’s list and then click on the Copy button to copy it to your Normal template. The style will now show up in your Formatting toolbar or palette whenever you open Word. Select a style in the Normal template’s list and copy in the other direction to add one of your styles to another document.
Three style problems solved
I created some styles, but they don’t appear in my new documents. How can I get them to show up in all my documents? When you create a style, it’s stored
in the current document. To reuse it in any new document, you must save it in your Normal template (Word bases new documents on this by default). After creating a style, make sure you select the Add To Template option at the bottom of the New Style dialog box. When you close the document, you might see a dialog box asking if you want to save the changes in your Normal template. Click on Save or you’ll lose the style.
My paragraph style suddenly began using a different font. What happened? You don’t have to go to the Modify Style window (by selecting Format: Style and clicking on Modify) to change a style. Word also lets you do it on-the-fly. Unfortunately, this is easy to do unwittingly. For example, if you create a header style using 18-point bold Arial, and you change it in your document to 24-point italic Skia, Word will update the attributes of the selected text
as well as
the header style, if you’ve selected the Automatically Update option in the New Style or Modify Style dialog box. Automatic updating can be very convenient, but if you don’t want to change your styles in this way, make sure you haven’t selected that option.
The Formatting toolbar’s Style pop-up menu seems to include a million styles. Can I limit it to the ones I use? If this menu has gotten out of hand, you’ve probably clicked on the List menu in the Formatting Palette, selected All Styles to see all of Word’s preset styles, and then forgotten to set the option back to Available Styles. Weed out the excess styles by opening the Formatting Palette (View: Formatting Palette), clicking on the triangle next to Styles, and choosing Available Styles from the List pop-up menu.
Kirk McElhearn is the author of many books, including
How to Do Everything with Mac OS X Tiger
(McGraw-Hill Osborne, 2005).
Word comes with many useful preset styles.Don’t waste time formatting and reformatting text by hand. Create a style with all your settings and you can apply them with just one click. To make the style available whenever you create a new document, select the Add To Template option.