Microsoft Word Styles

RussFormatting, Microsoft Word, Structure & Layout, Styles9 Comments

I know from my years of using Word, and working with documents and templates, that when using Word many people immediately after starting the program, just see the blinking cursor (and I’m not substituting a swear word there) and begin typing – they have no idea about Microsoft Word Styles.

As such, when they get to the end of the paragraph, they hit enter and carry on again.

When they need some text to stand-out, they select it with the mouse, click on the bold button, increase the font size, maybe centralize it, and hit enter again.

And this continues throughout the ‘document’.

Well, that’s not a great way to do things.

You see (and you will see), that Word likes things done in a certain way, and when you do things the way that you think is right – I say think is right, because where Word styles are concerned, Word won’t stop you, not at this stage. Of course, you could argue somehow that because you haven’t been stopped, then what you’re doing is correct.


…it is…

…and it isn’t.

You see, what you’re doing here is using Microsoft Word styles (and that’s what Word forces you to use – you can’t not use a style in Word, it’s impossible).

But, you’re actually using a combination of Word styles… albeit unknowingly.

Let me explain…

Microsoft Word Styles – Paragraph Styles

When you first start typing at the blinking cursor (not swearing again), you’re actually using the most common Microsoft Word style called Normal style…

Word shows you it in the Styles panel above your document), it’s surrounded by the nice blue border.

Microsoft Word Styles - the Normal style on the Home tab, Style Ribbon

And you’ll keep on using the Normal style until you change it.

We call this Word style a paragraph style because when you apply it to your text, it affects the entire paragraph.

Microsoft Word Styles – Character Styles

However, when you select a word, or a group of words, and click on Bold, or on italic, or change the font size, what you’re doing here is applying what is termed a character style — the style chosen just affect the individual characters that you’ve selected.

Character styles on Home Tab

Of course, if you wanted to (and there’s nothing to stop you when using Word styles) you could select the entire document or book and then click on Bold, or italic and it will still apply those character styles to the whole selection, but that’s by-the-by; the key aspect is what they’re actually intended for.

So yes, you can write your entire document using the Normal [paragraph] style (and I’ve seen it done); and yes, you can get away with just formatting whole swathes of text using just character styles (I’ve seen that done also)…

…but, guess what?

Do you think that’s the correct way to do it?

That the way this super-powerful, word-processing, powerhouse, is meant to be used?

Of course it isn’t.

So, where Word styles are concerned, what are we looking at?

Well, if you click on the drop-down arrow at the right-end of the styles ribbon panel:

Word styles drop-down arrow

You’ll see:

Word's Default Styles in its Blank Template

Each of these little boxes is a Microsoft Word Style; or more specifically, in the ribbon here, it’s more than likely a paragraph style (I say more than likely, but there are variations to this rule, but I won’t go into them here) and they’re there to help you with your document.

They’re there to be used.

I count 16 of them.

Word has more styles.

Many, many, many more; they’re just not on show.

Create Your Own Microsoft Word Styles

Underneath Intense Quote, you see ‘Create a Style’; so though there are built-in Word styles, you can actually create as many of your own styles as you like. The only reservation here is you can’t change Word’s built-in style names – your style name must be unique.

But, a word to the wise here, if there is an existing Microsoft Word style it’s usually a good idea to use their style; or at the very least, use their style as the basis for your own.

It works nicer that way.

And, ultimately, the whole reason we’ve got this is to make our lives easier. As you well know, Word can, and will, mess you up; but, it’s far less likely to do so if you abide by its rules and play nice – especially where Word styles is concerned.

I learned this the hard way, and believe me, if you don’t do it like this, you will suffer.

That is the way it works.

So, now we’ve identified that we’ve got 16 different paragraph styles in this document, our report, our book, will we use them all?

Quite possibly.

But, it all depends on what you’re creating.

For example, if you’re writing a novel, then the chances are you’re going to use far fewer Word styles than if you’re going to be writing a ‘How to…’, or a procedural document.

Not always of course, but as a ball-park rule…

Always Keep Microsoft Word Styles Simple

Two things are definite though…

  1. The more Microsoft Word styles you use, the greater the risk of you ‘losing control’ of your document or book.
  2. You need to use more than just the 1 (Normal) style

With the former, if you are using dozens of styles, then your document is too complicated and you’re not helping your readers – keep it simple.

With the latter, if you just use the one style, you risk a formatting nightmare; especially if you go further than a novel-type layout.

In the template I use for my 1-Click Book Creation apps, I primarily use the following styles:

1-Click Book Creation's Stylesheet

If you count them, there are 27. However, I never use the ‘Normal’ style itself in my document, and I have a ‘Graphic’ style, which I use for all my in-line graphics.

So, that’s 25 main styles (plus a couple more which aren’t visible).

8 of them are Heading styles (I also use 2 more for other purposes, which aren’t showing there)

7 of them are body-type ‘font styles’ (I also have another one defined, but it’s not visible in that list).

But, what I’ve designed here are purely for:

1 style, 1 purpose

As an example, I have a body-type paragraph style called ‘FirstPara’. It’s not shown in the list above, but is named accordingly as it always follows a heading – it’s the first paragraph after a heading.

The paragraph following FirstPara is called ‘Body’ (this is one of Word’s own built-in styles), and the only difference is ‘Body’ style has a first-line indent.

I could use one style for both and manually indent the first line, but I really don’t want to because, if I’m creating a print book and need to convert to an ebook, say for Kindle, then it’s far easier and more stable for me to modify a style, than it is to manually remove all the individual character formats I’ve added.

Check out the video for this:

Similarly, I use Indent 1 text, Indent 2 text, etc., for that very same reason.

It keeps it simple for me, makes it easy to tweak should it be necessary, and gives me enormous flexibility when I need to modify a document or layout that needs to look different.

Bullets & Numbering

The only places I deviate from Word’s built-in styles is where bullets and numbering are concerned. I just don’t like Word’s system.

I’ve spent ages setting them up for clients and all, but I don’t like the way they work, the way their dependency relies on other levels, etc. It works for a time, but I’m yet to see Word not ‘forget’ this at some point and then all numbers screw up.

So I create my own. Both bullets and numbers have 4 levels, and the text alignment here aligns with that of the ‘Indented’ text (above).
It keeps it neat.

All of these are paragraph styles, I rarely create my own character styles (though I’ve been known to link a few with macros if I’m editing or something).

Section Styles

A third type of style is a section style. Unlike the previous 2 (paragraph and character), section styles are more to do with the way your page displays is, e.g. to insert a landscape page between portrait pages, to change single-column text to multiple-column text, and so on.

You can, and will, still use paragraph and character styles in your sections, but just bear in mind that you can do things differently within sections of your document.

Sections is another one of the things that confuses and frustrates people when using Word; and, in my view, mastering Word styles and section breaks are the 2 significant steps you can take to mastering Word.

Everything else pretty much revolves around them.

We’ll talk about sections later (I’ve now written this post, click here)


Microsoft Word Styles (pdf)

9 Comments on “Microsoft Word Styles”

  1. You must be looking over my shoulder! I was a Wordperfect user and resented being “forced” into using Word for certain things. Frustrated with the formatting challenges, I avoided the subject instead of embracing it and plunging in to learn. Your message really hits home and is the encouragement I need to buckle down and learn how to properly use Styles. Thank you, Russ.

  2. You’re welcome Linda. Always try and stick with Word’s styles/names where possible, just modify the actual characteristics of the style itself. Then, once your document/template is configured exactly how you want it, you can save that as a new name and use that template as required.

    One thing I do when working with client templates is, after creating a new template, I will save a read-only copy as well as a working copy.
    That way, if corruption does eventually creep in (and post-2007 versions, Word is far stabler), I can either port the styles from the read-only template in, to clean it up; or, I can just copy and paste an entire template.

  3. I’ve been using Word and Pages a lot and have gotten to know a lot of these tools and they come in very handy. I’ve been using Word for eons (Pages just recently) and have never taken advantage of these easy ways to make my work look more professional.

    1. That’s great Kimberly. You probably know far more about Pages than I do, but with Word, styles are THE cornerstone of its productivity and success: learn them, and you’re 95% of the way there. What’s more, once you’ve created and established a ‘style set’, then you can re-use it again and again, making it a massive time-saver: I’ve been using the same core set for about 17 years now 🙂

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  5. Yet another great tutorial. Thanks again Russ. The type of method and person you describe as using Word at the beginning is me all over. So this is a game changer for me. And like most, I just avoided learning how to use Word properly because – where do you start – and the fear of really stuffing things up even more. Thanks for turning the complicated into easier.

  6. That’s exactly it Peter, it is complex (and daunting) for some.

    I remember trying to learn from a book I’d bought after getting set-up for the very first time (in 1994), and it was nigh on impossible…create a new document, save it, and so on – no problem; but getting anywhere near where I wanted to be, was a long way off (about 3 years).

    However, with the resources available now, it’s got the potential to be much quicker; regardless, it still needs to be simplified.

    I’m pleased they’re helping.

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