High heel

All you need is a little style to make a document look fresh and professional.

I received a good response from my article earlier this week on creating a Table of Contents using MS Word. I talked a little about MS Word styles in that article, but didn’t go into a lot of detail, so I thought I’d write more about them in today’s blog post.

Styles are an easy way to create unique, consistent headings in your writing. I didn’t know much about them until about a year ago, but I’ve quickly incorporated styles into my routine because they’re just so darn useful. So let’s review the basics, shall we?

Getting Started

Once you’ve launched Word, the Styles panel can be found on the right side of the standard toolbar. To activate a style, you simply need to place your cursor within a block of text, and then click the style thumbnail on the toolbar.

Styles toolbar

The location of styles on the toolbar.

Word is automatically programmed with several ‘style sets’ which you can choose from. The style sets incorporate many different colors and decorations, so there is tons of variety when selecting a ‘look’ for your document.

To activate a particular style set in your document, click the Change Styles button to the right of the style toolbar. Point to Style Set with your mouse on the menu, then click the style set of your choosing.

Change styles

Here I’ve selected the Distinctive style set.

To get you started, here’s an example of headings using the Distinctive style set. As you can see, the various headings in the documents are formatted quite differently. The text color, size, and spacing of the text have also been automatically programmed into each level of headings. All I needed to do was activate each heading by clicking the corresponding thumbnail on the toolbar.

Distinctive style set

A sample of headings using the Distinctive style set.

Why Use Styles?

So why should you use styles in your writing? Reason #1: they’re super easy to use. Reason #2: they make your document look more streamlined and consistent. Reason #3: using styles makes creating a Table of Contents a breeze.

You probably already bold/increase the font size on your headings, but using a style to do this is so much easier since it’s just a click of a button. Imagine that you are working on a 10 page essay with 2 sub-headings per page. Now imagine that you wanted each of these headings to be font size 20, bold, and centred. It would take quite a long time to make all of these changes by hand on each individual heading. Using styles, you can apply simple formatting changes across a group of headings without any extra work. It’s a win-win situation!

Another reason why styles are often useful is because they automatically program spaces in between sections of your document. This way, you can avoid any empty returns, which are created by hitting the ENTER button too many times in your document. Empty returns have the potential to create pesky formatting issues in your work. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can find and eliminate these extra spaces by clicking the Pilcrow button just to the left of the Styles toolbar. The Pilcrow button displays paragraph marks, and is a fun little trick to use when checking the formatting in your document. In case you’ve never tried it before, the Pilcrow button looks like this: Pilcrow symbol

Pilcrow view

Clicking the Pilcrow button displays paragraph marks in your work.

Customizing Styles

The default Word styles offer a ton of variety, but what if you’re looking for a bit more customization? Not a problem, since you can easily program Word styles so that they appear exactly as you want them. All you need to do is right-click on the style you wish to change, and then click Modify.

Modify styles

Modifying a particular style.

In the dialog box that appears, you can customize the font, size, color, indent, and spacing of each individual style. If you’re looking for even more customization options, you can click Format at the bottom left corner of the dialog box, and a drop-down menu appears. Using this menu, you can modify even more elements of a particular style, including the border, tabs, and text effects.

Format styles

There are lots of customization options to explore.

Try It For Yourself

MS Word styles can be a fun way to add creative flair to any document, whether for personal or professional use. Using styles, you can make your document look clean and streamlined, or colorful and funky– the choice is up to you!

As I continue to experiment with styles, I’ll be sure to add any more tips to the blog, and please feel free to share your own in the comments below.