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?

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.

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?

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.

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”.

this is confusing, don’t worry. You’ll see styles in action in this article.

Style controls

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.

Figure A

Use the Styles drop down box to see the styles available in your document.

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.

Figure B

The Styles and Formatting sidebar gives you quick
access to formatting options.

Applying a style

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.

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.

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.

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

Figure C

Different style types get different icons.

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.

Figure D

Since it is a paragraph style, the Heading 1 style is applied to the entire

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

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.).

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.

these examples, I’ve enabled the Styles and Formatting sidebar and I’m leaving
it docked at the right-hand side of my screen.

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.

Figure E

The New Style box has a ton of options from which to choose.

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.

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.

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.

Figure F

The Modify Style window is eerily similar to the New Style box.

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

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

  • 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.

Figure G

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

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.


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.