How to use built-in design settings to quickly format an Office document

You can spend a long time formatting a Word or Excel document to get just the look you want, or you can create a custom style set and click an option. You'll choose the latter once you give it a try.

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Image: fizkes, iStockphoto/Getty Images

Most of us spend at least a little time formatting a document before it's done. It can take a bit of time and doing it for each new document is tedious, especially if you're applying the same set of formats. Creating and applying a template is one possibility, but users find them a bit difficult to apply unless they receive adequate training. As an alternative to a template, you can create a custom theme—or style set. New documents can be formatted with a simple click. Nothing could be simpler.

In this article, I'll show you how to use built-in design settings to quickly format an entire document with a quick click. Although the article focuses on Word, you can also apply and customize themes in Excel and PowerPoint.

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I'm using Office 365 on a Windows 10 64 system, but most of the features will work in earlier (ribbon) versions. You can work with your own document or download the demonstration .docx file to follow along. This article isn't applicable to the online version.

What's already at work

By clicking anywhere in a document, you can learn what style is in use. Figure A shows that the paragraph text is styled with Normal (don't confuse the default Normal style with the default template of the same name). Now, click the Design tab and view the Document Formatting thumbnails. As you can see in Figure B, the default theme is to the far left. The theme contains formatting for the entire document, not just a font or paragraph.

Figure A

wordquickdesign-a.jpg

Styles and themes are at work, even though you don't know it.

Figure B

wordquickdesign-b.jpg

Word assigns a default theme.

To see how themes work, choose another one. For example, Figure C shows the result of selecting the Centered theme—doing so changes a great deal and took far less effort than modifying all the styles in play. With one click, you changed headings and line spacing options. As you hover over the thumbnails, Live Preview will update the document, making it easy to choose one quickly. In addition, there are more themes available: Click the Themes dropdown and choose a theme from the dropdown gallery.

Figure C

wordquickdesign-c.jpg

Use a theme to re-style the entire document with one quick click.

After applying a theme, you can make changes using the Colors, Fonts, and Paragraph Spacing options in the same group, as shown in Figure D. The changes have a huge impact but require only a little effort on your part. The Centered thumbnail is still selected and includes the modifications in the display.

Figure D

wordquickdesign-d.jpg

With a few extra clicks, we customized a built-in theme.

Set as default

With a few clicks, we've completely changed the document's looks and mood. You can continue to take this route, applying a built-in theme and then changing the color, font, and line spacing. If these changes represent the styles you want to apply to most all new documents in the future, you should set it as the default. To do so, simply click the Set as Default option in the Document Formatting group. This will apply the customized theme formatting to all new documents. This is much easier than creating and applying a template, but doing so might be a bit drastic, so there's another option: Style sets.

Custom style set

If you plan to use the customized theme frequently but not often enough to set it as a default, you can create a style set—this allows you to save a new theme that comprises all of the changes you made. Then, you can apply it with a single click instead of selecting a theme and customizing it. Let's create a custom style set based on the customized theme we created earlier.

  1. Click the More button for the theme gallery and choose Save as a New Style Set (Figure E).
  2. In the resulting dialog, enter a name, Centered Plus, for the new style set, and click OK.

Figure E

wordquickdesign-e.jpg

Save the customized theme as a new style set.

At this point, the pre-defined Centered theme is still intact and you have a new "theme" that you can apply to get all the attributes of Centered, plus the modified color, font, and line spacing settings. To do so, choose Centered Plus from the gallery (Figure F).

Figure F

wordquickdesign-f.jpg

  Choose the new style set or custom theme.

Save the modified theme

In the last section, you created a new style set, or theme, based on modifications made to the pre-defined Centered theme. You now have two Center themes: The original Centered and the modified one you named Centered Plus. You could save the modifications to Centered instead of creating a theme based on Centered as we just did, though I don't recommend you do so because Centered (out of the box) will be lost to you—but, to be comprehensive, you should know that you can. To do so, choose Save Current Theme from the Theme dropdown. In the resulting dialog, click Save without changing the theme's name (which I don't recommend). If you change the theme's name, the custom theme will be listed in the list of custom themes from the Themes dropdown.

SEE: 30 things you should never do in Microsoft Office (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Save time

Customizing themes makes more sense than starting from scratch with each document, and it's easier than creating and implementing a template. Find a theme that's close to what you want, modify the few things you must, and then apply the custom style set or theme. You can create several custom style sets to suit your needs.

If you use custom style sets, please help other readers by sharing some of your tips in the comments section. 

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at susansalesharkins@gmail.com.

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By Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.