Using Microsoft Word Styles

Learning about Word styles is one of the best things you can do to improve productivity. Here are a few tips that help you understand styles. 

Words styles exist in every document, whether you know it or not. When you open a Blank Document, the paragraph mark you see is formatted with the Normal style. Every style is stored in the template (including the Normal style). When you create a new file and choose "Blank Document," you load the Normal template (otherwise known as NORMAL.DOT). Every document that uses NORMAL.DOT contains styles called Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. You always see these three built-in styles (although others hide in the background too).

Use Built-in Styles

Applying styles is easy. Place your cursor in a paragraph, and choose a style from the style box on the Formatting toolbar. Your text changes to whatever formatting was defined in the style.

When you apply a paragraph style, the formatting affects the entire paragraph. It doesn’t matter how big or small the paragraph is. The information on how to format the style is stored in the paragraph marker, so you should turn on Paragraph Marks (choose Tools, Options, View and click Paragraph Marks).

Because the formatting information is stored in the paragraph marker, if you copy a piece of text and you don’t copy the paragraph marker with it, you lose the formatting or style that was stored in that paragraph. Yes, this can be annoying, but it helps to know why it’s happening anyway.
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Create Your Own Styles

Applying styles is okay, but not very creative. The built in styles are basically ugly, so at some point, you’ll want to move on. Adding new styles is easy. Getting your styles to be saved in the template isn’t so easy. To create a style:

  1. Make sure your cursor is in the paragraph that you want formatted with the new style.
  2. Choose Format, Style. Click New and type a name, or click Modify to change the style that is highlighted in the style list.
  3. Make your formatting changes. Note that if you want the style to be saved in the template, be sure to click the Add to Template box.

When you save a document, unless you go through the Style dialog and check the Add to Template check box, your new style is only available in that document. It is not saved into the template unless you tell it be to in the Style dialog box.

If you can’t remember how a style is set up, click the help button on the Standard toolbar and then click on text in your document, Word gives you the style and formatting information about the text. (For Word Perfect users, this is the closest you get to "reveal codes."
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Understand Character vs. Paragraph Styles

Word has two types of styles: paragraph styles and character styles. Character style are used when you want to format a section of text without formatting the whole paragraph. For example, if you want computer menu commands in a manual to stand out from the surrounding text, you could set up a character styles so that they are formatted in a monospaced font.

To apply a character style, you highlight the text choose the style from the Style list box on the Formatting toolbar.

You create character styles much like you create paragraph styles.

  1. Choose Format, Style, click New or Modify.
  2. Make sure that the drop-down Style Type box is set to Character.
  3. Make your formatting changes.
  4. Be sure to add a check mark to Add to Template if you want the style to be included in the template.

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Two Cool Style Controls

Two style controls in Style dialog box can save you a lot of time: Based On and Style for Following Paragraph.

Any style can be based on another style. For example, if your Normal style is set to Times 11 point, another style based on Normal also is set to Times 11 point unless you change it. If you redefine the Normal style, other styles that are based on Normal change too.

If you don’t want a certain style to change, select the style from the list, and change the Based On box to (no style).

By using Based On, you can create an inheritance hierarchy of styles. You can create a style that is based on another style, which is based on yet another style (up to nine levels). If you change a style in the hierarchy, you cause a ripple affect on the ones below it. For example, suppose you create a style called Report Text that is 11 point Arial. Then you create a style based on Report Text called Report Text Italic. This style inherits the attributes of Report Text and adds italic. The next style you create is based on Report Text Italic, but you make it centered. This style is called Report Text Italic Center and has all the attributes of Report Text and Report Text Italic, but adds centering. If you go back and change the font of the original Report Text style, to Times, this font change affects Report Text Italic (which is now Times Italic) and Report Text Italic Center (which is now Times centered italic text).

Style for Following Paragraph is another powerful feature in the Style dialog box. You can set the style that follows the style you are creating or modifying. By default, the following style is the style you are creating or editing. You can set the style to any name in the style list, however. If your document is constructed logically, this feature can be powerful. In many documents, the Normal style always follows a heading, or a caption always follows a photograph. As with the Based On command, you can set up a hierarchy. For example, in a document with different indention levels, you could set it up so Normal-Level l follows Heading 1 and Normal-Level 2 follows Heading 2.
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Remove Local Formatting

When you work with styles, it can be difficult to tell whether you applied formatting with a style or using the formatting commands (called "local" formatting). Any local formatting you apply overrides the formatting set up in the style. Sometimes you can end up with text that doesn’t look as you expected (such as a Heading 1, that doesn’t look quite "right"). To remove all local font formatting, highlight the paragraph and type Ctrl+spacebar. If the spacing has been adjusted manually, it too overrides the style. To remove this local paragraph spacing, highlight the paragraph and type Ctrl+Q.
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About Susan Daffron

Susan Daffron is the author the Alpine Grove Romantic Comedies and multiple award-winning nonfiction books, including several about pets and animal rescue. Check out all her books on her Amazon Author page.