Google Apps

Google Docs gets custom text and header styling at last

Google Docs has a new feature that will allow you to create custom styles and headings that you can use any time you want.

In the Big Book of Reasons Google Docs Can't Replace Word For Most People, there must be a sizable chapter on templates. Google Docs has templates, but they seem intended for specific projects, not for pushing out documents that meet a standardized style for headings, body text, subtitles, and so on. To use them is to have to bookmark a favorite template and open it, separate from the standard Create->Document process of Docs.

But custom paragraph and title styles have finally arrived in Docs, and so the Big Book of Reasons grows yet smaller.

So let's say that the standard for a "Heading 1" is to have it set at 36-point in Arial Black. Go ahead and write a headline in that style, select the text, then click the styles toolbar menu (just to the right of the buttons in the gray toolbar, usually reading "Normal text"). Click the arrow that appears as you hover over "Heading 1" or another style, then choose "Update (style) to match selection." It's not the best wording, but it should stand out from the alternate option, to "Apply (style)."

Do that a few times for the different headings you need, or for the standard "Normal text" you'd like to set. Ready to lock those into place as your default? Click and mouse down over the drop-down style box, and look down at the bottom. Under the "Options" heading, you'll have a few options.

When your headings and text styles are in place, click "Save as my default styles," and you'll get a reassuring confirmation message. Now any time you're working in a document and want to call up your specialized headings, head back to that options list and choose "Use my default styles." "Styles" is a bit of a misnomer, as there's only really the default style to save or use, but this should still be more convenient than creating, saving, and loading custom templates every time you want to create a new document that fits your purposes.

But wait; what if you need to create an extra heading style, on top of the standard three given in the drop-down list? Select the text style you want to set as a headline, click the "Format" menu in Google Docs, and mouse down to "Paragraph styles." Choose one of the six headers offered, and do the same "Update (heading) to match selection" move you can do in the text. Now that heading is in the drop-down menu.

So here's one bellwether feature announcing Google Docs' climb into the realm of Word-style ubiquity: a little feature, tucked away in a menu, so that it takes some trial and error to pick up, but it is there.

About

Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.

4 comments
lytspeed
lytspeed

Kevin, I'm a fan of your work and have read many of your articles on LifeHacker. But I have to point out that there is a big difference between Heading styles and Headers.  Headers are the bits that you can put at the top or bottom of a document page, while Headings are styles you can apply to set off different sections of a document.  The title of this article indicates that custom Header styling is now available, not Heading styles.

I found this page while searching to see if Google has added the "different first page" feature in Docs, but they haven't. It's still not possible (as far as I know) to have a document with a header that doesn't appear on the first page, but does appear on subsequent pages. I was hoping that the new Google Docs Addons would have that feature, but I haven't seen it yet.

TNT
TNT

A lot of my writing includes Greek words from old manuscripts, and Google Docs does not permit me to load a Greek typeface for use. For these projects I simply cannot use Google Docs, which is a shame because I love the app otherwise.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I am one of those people who prefer Word to Google Docs - but I am an editor so I use all the word processing features found in Word. This addition of custom styles is a big step toward changing my preferences. What features found in Word do you want to see incorporated into Google Docs?

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

This one is a gimme for editors like us who port from one format to the other. I need to know which is a soft or hard return, whether there are one or two space between a word, and which of those spaces is non-breaking. Is that a smart quote or flat quote? Let me toggle on diacritical marks so I know what I'm saving, copying and posting to other text fields and documents.