How to use Styles in Microsoft Word (and why you should)

by Dr Bob Rich

Word is the most commonly used word processor program, and yet many people have difficulties with its basic features. A very experienced writer in a group I belong to complained that he hates having to put a leading tab for each paragraph, and this is one of the reasons he hates Word.

When I am editing, I often need to rap my client gently on the knuckles for doing just that. It is asking for errors of omission. And actually, Word has a simple-to-use tool for having a first-line indent where you want one, and not where you don’t. This tool is its collection of Styles.

Rather than type up a mini-instruction manual in a group, I thought I’d make it more generally available through a post.

Every version of Word has a Format menu up the top. It has a ‘Font…’ entry. Study the changes it can make. They will apply to highlighted text, or the next thing you write beyond the location of the cursor.

Below this is ‘Paragraph…’ which applies to the current paragraph (regardless of where the cursor is in it), or to a selection containing multiple paragraphs. One of the items there is ‘Special’, which refers to first-line indent. There, you can specify how far in from the left edge this paragraph or set of paragraphs is indented.

Instead of doing things in bits and pieces like this, you can – no, no, no, you should, or even must – rely on a very elegant tool of Word and other modern word processors: the ‘Style’ feature.

Every paragraph is in a particular Style. For plain text this will be ‘Normal’ or ‘Body text’. A great thing is to have a Style specified for special uses like headings, subheadings and chapter titles. You can even make up your own Style.

So, click on ‘Style…’; you will get a dialog box with a list of style names on the left. The Style your current paragraph is using will be highlighted. The font, font size, paragraph alignment and other relevant facts of this Style are displayed in the main part.

Three important buttons are ‘New…’, ‘Modify…’ and ‘Organizer…’.


Clicking on this thingummy allows you to – surprise – create a new style. You can give it whatever name you want, and initially it will be a identical twin of the one you are starting from. Then you can modify it, so hold your breath and read on!


Guess what, this means changing the formatting of the Style. Directly from this box, you can alter:

  • The font you are using.
  • Font size.
  • Whether you want everything written in this Style to be plain text, or bold, or italics, or both bold and italics.
  • The next whatsit in my version of Word is mysterious: labelled ‘Automatic’. Clicking on it reveals the secret: you can specify a particular colour for your letters.
  • The line below refers to paragraph formatting, allowing:
    • positioning the paragraph left-aligned, centred, or justified (left-aligned with the right margin forced to be straight)
    • definition of the spacing between lines; you can have single, 1.5 or double spacing
    • definition of the amount of spacing between paragraphs
    • choice of paragraph indentation: you can shove the entire paragraph farther from or closer to the left margin

Now comes the deep and hidden secret. A tab at the bottom is ‘Format…’. Clicking it allows changes to all these, and many more. Selecting Font or Paragraph allows all the manipulations you can now impose locally, but they will apply whenever you are writing in this Style.

Two other useful features you can access are Language and Shortcut Key. So, if you are using different versions of English from time to time, you can have one Style in English US, another otherwise identical Style English UK, etc. The shortcut key allows you to specify a quick way of changing Styles. For example, I have specified Control+Shift+d for a dot-point list.

Heading styles are particularly useful for, guess what, headings. You can use them to construct an automatic table of contents. In ‘Outline View’ (accessed at the bottom of the screen). You can count the number of words in a section/ chapter, move them around, and inspect features like the number of spaces before a heading.

So there you have it. No more leading tabs!

Finally, there is:


(I do wish American English would stop its addiction to Z!)

This allows you to copy one or more Styles from one document to another. This can be useful if someone sends you a document that looks yuk. Copy the Styles from one of yours, and it will look the same.

If you would like to be a contributor to ‘Wibble’,
please visit Creating content collaboratively.

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in collaboration, Communication, Computers and Internet, Education, Tech tips and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to How to use Styles in Microsoft Word (and why you should)

  1. I learned something new today! Thanks, Dr Bob! One can never have enough style. :)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I use Word often and found this very informative, thank you :-) For those new to word it is a great help.. It took me years ago a lot of clicking here and there to see what this and that . thingummy. to find out what it did..
    So thank you :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you for featuring me again, Colin.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeff Cann says:

    Word is the bane of a self-published author. I can get Excel to hop up on it’s hind legs and jump through a hoop. Word, forget it. When I was publishing on createspace, I simply couldn’t figure it out. Finally my wife took over and did a really fine job.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: How to use Styles in Microsoft Word (and why you should) | Bobbing Around

  6. I’ve learned of this a couple of months ago – pretty neat. I’m sure it saves time in the long run. However, I don’t mind working the way I have until now. *shrug*

    Liked by 1 person

    • peNdantry says:

      I’ve used Word’s ‘styles’ for years, and can vouch for he fact that it does indeed save time (and frustration!) – and not just in the long run. IMO it’s well worth the minimal time investment to learn how to use this technique.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Joan Edwards says:

    Thank you for sharng these tips about Word Styles. Great information, Bob Rich.
    Thanks for publishing on your blog, Colin.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. rajkkhoja says:

    Very useful Post. I like

    Liked by 1 person

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