If you've used Microsoft Word for any length of time, you're probably familiar with text formatting and making your documents look generally presentable. It's also likely that, unless you've learned to use styles, you've spent significant time manually formatting your documents. Also, have you ever gotten completely done with a document, but the boss or someone else didn't like a particularly formatting option you opted to use?
With styles, making changes to your document's formatting options takes seconds, even if you need to change, for example, paragraph indentation for all of the bullet points in your particular document. If you don't use styles, making those kinds of mass change requires that you individually visit each bullet point to change the indentation.
Styles also enable some of Word's other functionality, such as tables of contents and indexes. These Word features take the sting out of creating and maintaining these ever-changing document pointers.
What are styles?
A style in Word defines what a particular section of a document will look like. When, for example, I write an article for TechRepublic, I use styles so that I can provide TechRepublic editors with a document that is consistent with all of the other documents they receive from other authors. In these documents, the title uses one style (called "Heading 1" in Word), while other headings, such as the "What are styles?" heading in this section, use other heading styles. The style defines the look and characteristics of a paragraph or section of text. The font, font size, font attributes (bold, italics, underline, etc.), indentation, tab stops, among other things, are defined in each style. By creating appropriate styles, you can very quickly apply consistent formatting to your text.
One more thing – if you think you've never used styles, that's not quite correct. Regardless of what you type into your document, Word still assigns a style to your text. By default, Word uses the "Normal" style, which is 12-point Times New Roman text with no pre-defined tab stops and with indentation at 0". When you make a change to the text—by applying boldface to the text, for example, Word automatically creates a new style for you. To continue this example, the style that Word would create if you apply bold to a particular section of text is named "Normal + Bold".
If this is confusing, don't worry. You'll see styles in action in this article.
Word comes with a bunch of default styles and has a couple of ways that you can adjust the style of your text. The easiest way to assign a style is to use the Styles drop down box from the Formatting toolbar.
|Use the Styles drop down box to see the styles available in your document.|
Besides this quick drop down list, Word also provides you with a Styles and Formatting sidebar accessible in a couple of different ways. First, you can click the Styles and Formatting button in the leftmost position of the formatting toolbar. You can see this button in Figure A. Or, if you're more comfortable with menus, go to Format | Styles and Formatting to open this sidebar. See Figure B.
|The Styles and Formatting sidebar gives you quick access to formatting options.|
Applying a style
Before I get into applying styles, I should remind you about how Word formats text. In Word, you can apply formatting, such as boldface, to single words or sections of text, or you can apply that formatting to a whole paragraph. A paragraph in Word isn't always like your traditional excerpt from a book. In Word's case, a paragraph is created every single time you hit the Enter key on your keyboard. If you are showing paragraph markers (the paragraph symbol on the standard toolbar will be highlighted if you are), you will be a paragraph symbol everywhere you hit the Enter key.
Now, you can apply styles to individual characters, or to an entire paragraph. Many of Word's pre-built styles (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.) are based on paragraphs (that is, the style defines attributes that are applicable only to whole paragraphs, such as line spacing). So, if you choose that style and you have not selected any text, the style will be applied to the entire paragraph in which your insertion point is currently located. If, on the other hand, your style is character-based, it will only be applied to your current selection. If you have nothing selected, the style will be applied to the current word.
From the Styles and Formatting sidebar, you can easily tell which styles are paragraph styles and which are character styles. The styles that are associated with a paragraph have a little paragraph symbol next to them while the character styles do not.
There are also two other style types that I will mention but that will not be covered in this article. The list and table styles may also be present in the sidebar and are denoted by a bullet point icon and a table icon, respectively. Figure C gives you a look at the various types of styles as they may appear in your Styles and Formatting sidebar.
|Different style types get different icons.|
To apply one of the styles to your text, position your insertion point (the blinking vertical line in your document) in the paragraph or word you want affected, or specifically select the text you want affected, then choose the desired style from either the drop-down box or from the Styles and Formatting sidebar. Figure D shows you what happened when, in a sample document, I applied the Heading 1 style while my insertion point was placed within the affected paragraph.
|Since it is a paragraph style, the Heading 1 style is applied to the entire paragraph.|
If you want to apply a style to multiple paragraphs, you'll need to select the range to which you want the style applied first.
Creating your own styles
Applying styles is pretty easy and, once you start doing it, you'll find that they're incredibly useful (for one example, see the article I wrote regarding the automatic creation of a table of contents for your document. This process is 100% dependent on the use of styles.).
You will probably find that the styles built into Word eventually become too limiting for your needs. You can create just about any style you like and can also modify existing styles to suit your needs.
For these examples, I've enabled the Styles and Formatting sidebar and I'm leaving it docked at the right-hand side of my screen.
To create a new style from scratch, click the New Style button in the Styles and Formatting sidebar. The New Style window opens with a number of options, as shown below in Figure E.
|The New Style box has a ton of options from which to choose.|
I'll go through each of the options available here:
- Name: This is the style name that will appear in the Styles and Formatting sidebar and in the Styles drop-down box.
- Style type: I went over this before. The default style type is paragraph.
- Style based on: If you have a style that you like, but you want to make some modifications to it, you can base your new style on that other style. This loads that style's parameters into the New Style window for you.
- Style for following paragraph: This is particularly useful for heading-type styles. If you are using this style and press the Enter key on your keyboard, which style would you like to automatically assign to the subsequent paragraph? For heading styles, this options saves you the step of having to choose another style for the main text of a paragraph. Note that this option is not available for character styles.
- Formatting: From this section of the New Style window, you can choose your font, font size, font attributes, text color, justification (left, center, right or fully justified), space between lines, space between paragraphs and indentation.
- Add to template: If you want this style accessible to future documents that you create, choose this checkbox. If you don't, the style is only available in the current document.
- Automatically update: This option is generally considered dangerous unless you're an expert at using styles. By selecting this box, every time you make a formatting change in a paragraph that has an automatically updating style, all instances of that style throughout your document will be updated to reflect the formatting change. This can often result in unexpected changes being made to a document and is often the source of significant frustration.
- Format button: Styles let you change every aspect of your document's formatting. The Format button gives you access to all formatting options available within Word.
When you're done creating a new style, click the OK button. To apply the style to a section of your document, position your insertion point at the appropriate location in your document and choose the style.
Modifying an existing style is a similar process to creating a new style. In this case though, you don't use the New Style button. Instead, in the Styles and Formatting sidebar, position your mouse pointer over the style you want to modify. Don't click the button as this will apply the style to your document. A drop-down arrow will appear to the right-hand side of the style name. Click the drop-down arrow and, from the shortcut menu, choose Modify Style. See Figure F for a look at the Modify Style window. Figure G shows you the drop down menu.
|The Modify Style window is eerily similar to the New Style box.|
For obvious reasons (as in, the window is identical to the New Style box!), I'm not going to go over the contents of the Modify Style window.
Changing an applied style
Suppose you've gotten through your document and realize that, for half the document, you used one style for heading and for the other half, you used a different style that has the same formatting. While the document will look fine, you won't be able to take advantage of Word's functions that are style-dependent. Remember—just because the two styles look alike doesn't mean that Word will treat them the same way. All is not lost, though. Word gives you a really easy way to fix the problem.
- Decide which style you want to keep. If both are identical, it doesn't matter which one you keep.
- From the Styles and Formatting window, click the drop down box to the right of the style you don't want to keep.
|The drop down menu lets you perform style management functions.|
- Choose the option "Select All xx Instance(s)". This will select all of the text or paragraphs in your document to which you have applied this style.
- Choose the other style option that you decided to keep in the first step. Now, all of the selections will have the first style applied to them, keeping your document consistent.
- Delete the unused style.
Deleting a style
There might come a time when you want to delete a style from your list of options. To do so, from the Styles and Formatting sidebar, click the down arrow to the right of a style name and choose the Delete option. If you delete a style that is in use, Word will modify that text to use the Normal style.
Styles are likely one of the hardest concepts to learn in Word, but can be the most useful once you get the hang of them. In other articles in this series, I show you how you can harness the power of styles to perform advanced tasks in Word, such as creating a table of contents.