Five tips for lightning-fast formatting in Word

No matter what kind of document you're working on, it will probably need some formatting. These shortcuts will help you zip through those tasks so you can concentrate on the content.

Even if you're a diehard mouse person, certain keyboard shortcuts are undeniably useful — especially when it comes to formatting. Here are five areas where you can save time using the keyboard instead of traipsing around the Ribbon or searching through menus for the options you need.

1: Apply styles

Not everyone uses styles to format their documents, which is really too bad — styles are almost always more efficient than manual formatting. But even if you're style-shy, you'll appreciate the instant formatting provided by these little shortcuts. They work on the current paragraph or multiple selected paragraphs:

  • Ctrl + Shift + N applies the Normal style.
  • Ctrl + Shift + L applies the List Bullet style.
  • Ctrl + Alt +1 applies the Heading 1 style.
  • Ctrl + Alt +2 applies the Heading 2 style.
  • Ctrl + Alt +3 applies the Heading 3 style.
  • Ctrl + Shift + S will open the Apply Styles dialog box, where you can choose any style available to the document. (In Word 2003, it will move the focus to the Style box on the Formatting toolbar.)

2: Adjust font size

Word offers two types of size adjustment, although it's a subtle distinction:

  • Ctrl + ] increases the size of selected text by 1 point; Ctrl + [ decreases the size of selected text by 1 point.
  • Ctrl + Shift + > increases the selected text to the next largest installed point size; Ctrl + Shift + < decreases the selected text to the next smallest installed point size.

So, for instance, the first shortcut would increase a selection of 12-point Calibri to 13 points. But the second shortcut would increase it to 14 points.

3: Modify line or paragraph spacing

These are handy if you're trying to add white space and/or improve readability in a document but you don't have a lot of time to spend tweaking the layout and design:

  • Ctrl + 0 (zero) applies or removes 12 points of space above the current paragraph.
  • Ctrl + 5 applies 1.5 line spacing to the current paragraph.
  • Ctrl + 2 double-spaces the lines in the current paragraph.

4: Transfer formatting

I always get some truculent feedback when I share this shortcut — apparently, the Format Painter feature has a militant and devoted following. But this trick offers something Format Painter doesn't: It remembers the formatting you copied until the end of your Word session. So if you think you may need to apply a particular set of formatting attributes at various times as you work, this trick is golden:

  • Ctrl + Shift + C copies the formatting of selected text.
  • Ctrl + Shift + V applies the copied formatting to a new selection.

5: Remove manually applied formatting

If you often work with documents created by other people, you've probably encountered more than your share of extraneous formatting. You may have even applied some dubious touches yourself, in the form of wild fonts or excessive italics. The fastest way to eliminate all the manual formatting from selected text and get back to the underlying styles is to use these shortcuts:

  • Ctrl + Spacebar removes character formatting, leaving just the formatting of the default character style.
  • Ctrl + Q removes paragraph formatting, leaving just the formatting of the paragraph style applied to the selected paragraph(s).

Other favorites?

Do keyboard shortcuts save you much time? Which ones do you find yourself using on a regular basis?


Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

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