Five tips for using creative Word formatting

You can take advantage of a few less obvious formatting features to add polish and design interest to your Word documents. Here are some simple but effective tricks that can make a big difference.

You can have a lot more fun designing documents today than you used to. Even if you're writing something very dry, you can easily incorporate simple-but-elegant design elements to give your words, charts, and illustrations a polished look. And if you've got a little more freedom in your design, you can add splashes of color, shades boxes with textures, and artistic borders to liven things up and keep your readers awake and engaged.

1: Think color

Everybody appreciates a little color, even if they love dealing with facts and figures all day long. Depending on the nature of the document you're creating, you can add touches of color as table borders, column dividers, or as the background for sidebars or headings. When you use a background color for a section or text box, remember that your readers may struggle to read the text if there's not a good contrast -- and if they have to do that too long, they'll move on to something else. So try to reserve background colors for small amounts of text, such as headings or table titles.

2: Think columns

There's no hard and fast rule that says all business correspondence has to be formatted as a single column on the page. No matter what kind of document you're creating, the idea is to present your information in such a way that others understand it -- and to look as good as possible while you do so. Changing the format of your page by modifying the column settings can give a whole new look to the same old information, and Word will flow the text automatically for you. Click the Page Layout tab and click Columns in the Page Setup area to display the Columns List. Click More Columns to display the Columns dialog box (Figure A) and click the column style you want to use. In the Apply To field, choose whether you want to apply from the current point forward or to the whole document.

Figure A

Change the number of columns in your document to give it a new look.

3: Think templates

Word comes with a number of templates ready-made for you to use and adapt for your projects. You can view these templates by clicking the File tab, clicking New, and clicking Sample Templates in the Available Templates area. Scroll through the list until you find a style you like. As you'll see, there's a variety of styles and designs. When you find one you want to use, click it, leave Documents selected in the Preview Panel on the right, and click Create. The document opens in your Word window, and you can modify the page to fit your own needs.

4: Choose a theme

Word 2007 and Word 2010 both showcase themes as easy ways to assign a simple design with colors, fonts, and effects already in place. When you create a new document, the Office theme is selected by default. But you can change the theme by clicking the Page Layout tab and clicking Themes on the far left end of the Ribbon. Just click the theme you want to apply (Figure B).

Figure B

Themes in Word let you click once and choose colors, fonts, and effects.

5: Give your text an instant makeover with Quick Styles

Quick Styles are sets of fonts that go together to give the text in your document a designer look. The fonts available as Quick Styles in a document depend on the theme you've selected. If you've used Word styles to format your text -- for example, assigning the Heading 2 style to titles, the Normal style to body text, and so on -- you can change your text to a completely new look by simply choosing a new Quick Style set.

On the Home tab, click Change Styles in the Styles group and point to Style Set. A list of available Quick Style sets appears. Hover the mouse over the set you'd like to see, and the text in your document changes to give you a preview of that style. Click the one you want to keep and Word makes the change for you.