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.