Writing with styles in Microsoft Word

Styles in Word

Are you one of those who change the text appearance by clicking on bold and underline buttons? Or are you one of those who press Enter, Enter, Enter until leaving the text where you want, but deep down inside you know there is a better way to do it?

In this article you will learn to use styles, number pages, generate tables of content and more, to make your Word documents more professional.

In this article we explain:

Styles in Word

Styles are one of the most powerful features of a word processor. Despite that, perhaps it is one of the most underused by beginner users. If you are a novice at Word, by using styles you will be able to make an important jump ahead.

Getting started with styles

The most important styles are the heading styles. In addition to providing appearance for text, they allow you to define the document structure. That is, you can indicate what part of your document is normal text, what part is a heading, what is a subheading, etc.

Styles in Word

Assigning a heading style is very easy. Place the cursor in a paragraph containing a title (without selecting any text) and then click on the heading style that you want to apply.

Pay attention to the styles like “Title”, “Heading 1”, “Heading 2”, “Heading 3”, etc. They are not simply different looks, they indicate the level.

That is, you should assign the “Title” style to the global title for the entire document. Use the “Heading 1” style for titles corresponding to main sections. Use the “Heading 2” style for sub- headings, corresponding to sub-sections inside a main section. Use “Heading 3” for sub-sub-headings; use “Heading 4” for sub-sub-sub-headings, etc.

Do you see? This is how we tell Word how our document is structured.

For the time being, do not worry about appearance (fonts, colours, etc.), at this point the most important thing is that you assign the styles properly based on the structure.

You may find it useful to show the “navigation pane”.

Navigation pabe

Do you see now how the headings appear in this pane? Let us try now to change the appearance:

  1. Go to “Home” tab.
  2. In “Styles”, click on “Change Styles”.
  3. A dropdown menu opens. Click on “Style set”.
  4. Try to choose a style set to see how it looks, for example, the “Elegant” one.

The appearance of the entire document has changed automatically and consistently.

Style set

Try again, and choose another style set this time, for example “Fancy”.

You can also change the colour palette:

  1. Go to “Home” tab.
  2. In “Styles”, click on “Change styles”.
  3. A dropdown menu opens. This time, click on “Colours”.
  4. Pick up any combination of colours from those that appear in the menu and you will see how the colours of your entire document change.
Changing style colors

Paragraph styles and character styles

Let us pay attention to the styles pane. If you do not have it visible:

  1. Go to “Home” tab.
  2. In “Styles”, click on the tiny icon at the bottom right corner.
Styles pane

See the list of styles and how every style has an icon at its right, with an “a” or with a paragraph symbol (“¶”).

The styles which have an “a” symbol are character styles. They allow you to configure the text appearance, such as the font, the colour, etc.

The styles having a “¶” symbol are paragraph styles. Besides text appearance, these styles provide additional options which affect an entire paragraph, such as how much space you want before and after the paragraph, the text alignment, etc.

The styles with both symbols at the same time, that is, “¶a”, are named linked styles, and they are styles which can be used both for entire paragraphs and for parts of text inside a paragraph. That is, if you select a part of text and then you apply a linked style, it will be the same as applying a character style. But if you place the cursor inside a paragraph, without selecting anything, or you select an entire paragraph, the linked style will be applied as a paragraph style.

You have already tried to apply paragraph styles when you did it with the headings, so let us try with character styles:

  1. Place the cursor inside a paragraph and select some text, for example a couple of words.
  2. Click on a character style, for example “Intense Emphasis”.

The text is now emphasised.

Try with “Strong” character style too.

Now you might be asking yourself... why should I do this instead of just selecting text and clicking on buttons for bold, italics, colour, etc., as I did before?

Well, if you are creating a document quickly with only one page, you might not see the advantages. But when you have to prepare a longer document, it is better that you get used to using only styles. In this way, if you want to change the appearance of the text in bold, or the emphasised text of the entire document at once, you will only have to change the style.

Customizing styles

Well, you already know what character styles and paragraph styles are. You have also defined the document structure with heading styles. Now is the moment to leave your document looking good, just as you like it.

In order to work with styles, we recommend using the styles pane, because it will be handier. If you do not have this pane visible, show it by clicking on the tiny icon at the bottom right corner of “Styles”.

In order to customize a style:

  1. Right click on the style that you want to modify. For example, on “Heading 1”.
  2. Click on “Modify”.

You will see how a window appears, where you will be able to adjust all the style options.

Modifying a style

For the time being, leave the “Only in this document” option checked, so the changes that you make will only affect the current document which you are working on. When you feel more comfortable with styles, you may want to check the “New documents based on this template” option in order to make the changes that you perform on styles to be available for new documents that you create later.

Try to make some changes. For example, try to set italics, or to change the colour of text, and click on “Ok”. Due to your having edited the “Heading 1” style, all your main headings will change automatically in the whole document.

If you click on the “Format” button, new sections will open in order to customize the style even more (font, paragraph borders, etc).

Try to make some changes in order to get used to the different options.

A matter of space

Resist the temptation to press Enter just to space the text

If you had not used styles until now, probably you pressed Enter key several times placing blank lines in order to leave more space where you wanted, or in order to get parts of text displaced to the next page. But you know that that is a tedious way to do it. If you modify the text later, it will get disarranged again and again.

As you already know how to use styles, then you can customize your styles in order to leave the space that you want. For example, if you want to leave more space above a heading:

  1. Go to the Styles pane.
  2. Right click on the heading style that you want to change. For example, “Heading 1”.
  3. Click on “Modify”.
  4. Click on the “Format” button and click on “Paragraph”.
  5. Now you are in the paragraph options window. In the “Spacing” section, you can adjust the space that you want to leave above the heading, by setting the value for the “Before” option.
Style paragraph options

Try to change the “Normal” style too, and in paragraph format play with “Spacing → After” in order to leave more or less space between two paragraphs. Or change the “Line spacing” in order to leave more or less space between two lines of a same paragraph.

The concept is that if you want to change the appearance of something, assign a style to it and then change the style options.

Page breaks

If at a specific part of the document you want the following text to start on a new page, do not press Enter until going to the next page. Do this instead:

  1. Place the cursor where you want to start a new page.
  2. Go to “Insert” tab.
  3. Click on “Page break”.

If instead you want every main section to always start on a new page:

  1. Assign the “Heading 1” style to the headings of the main sections.
  2. Go to the styles pane and right click on “Heading 1”.
  3. Click on “Modify”.
  4. Click on the “Format” button and click on “Paragraph”.
  5. Click on the “Line and Page Breaks” tab.
  6. Check the “Page break before” option.

Now, before every paragraph which has the “Heading 1” style assigned, a page break will be inserted automatically. That is, every main section will start on a new page.

Line and page breaks

Note that you will use “Heading 2”, “Heading 3”, and so on for sub-sections, and you will not have checked the page break options for those styles.

How do I prevent a title appearing alone at the end of a page?

Before using styles, surely you have found yourself in a situation where a heading was just at the end of a page, and the text corresponding to that section started on the next page.

With styles this is solved automatically. The heading styles already come with the corresponding option enabled, but we will explain it so you know that option:

  1. Go to the style pane and right click on a heading style, for example “Heading 1”.
  2. Click on “Modify”.
  3. Click on the “Format” button and click on “Paragraph”.
  4. Click on the “Line and Page Breaks” tab.
  5. Ensure that the “Keep with next” option is checked.

What the “Keep with next” paragraph option does is to ensure that the paragraph is always on the same page as the paragraph that follows it.

Numbered headings

In the sections above you have learnt what styles are and now you have acquired the good habit of assigning styles to the different parts of your text, so you have not only given an appearance to your document, but you have also given it a structure too. It is the moment to get a reward for your effort.

You may need the headings of your document to be numbered, for example: “1. Introduction”, “2. Annual report”, “2.1. First-quarter results”, “2.2. Second-quarter results”, etc.

Well, thanks to styles this will be done automatically:

  1. Assign heading styles, that is, “Heading 1”, “Heading 2”, “Heading 3”, “Heading 4”, etc., as appropriate in your document, as we told you at the beginning of this article.
  2. Go to the “Home” tab and click on the “Multilevel list” button. Important: Do not use the “Numbering” button which is next to it, ensure that you use the “Multilevel list” one.
  3. A dropdown menu will appear with different list styles. Select the one that says “1 Heading 1”, “1.1 Heading 2”, “1.1.1 Heading 3”., etc.

That’s it. If you now try to insert a new heading in the middle of the document you will see how the numbering is updated automatically.

Numbered headings

Numbering pages

It is recommended that the pages of your document are numbered. Follow these steps:

  1. Go to the “Insert” tab.
  2. Click on “Footer” and pick up a footer style. Select for example the “Blank (Three columns)”.
  3. Now you will see the footer.
  4. Click on one of the boxes that say “Type text” inside the footer, in order to edit it.
  5. Now, under the “Insert” tab, click on “Page Number”.
  6. In the dropdown menu, select “Current position”.
  7. In the list of page number styles, select “Page X of Y → Bold numbers

If, for example, your document has 12 pages, you should have every page with something like “Page 1 of 12”, “Page 2 of 12” etc.

In order to leave the footer editing mode, just double click on any other part of the page.

If you want to edit the footer again, double click on it.

Numbering pages

Automatic table of contents

Generating automatic tables of contents is another reward of having assigned styles to the headings.

  1. Assign heading styles to the text of your document, as appropriate.
  2. Place the cursor where you want the table of contents to be inserted. Usually at the beginning of the document.
  3. Go to the “References” tab.
  4. Click on the “Table of contents” button and choose one table of contents theme, for example “Automatic Table 1”.

That’s it. You will see the table with the list of headings and the corresponding page numbers.

Table of contents

Updating the table of contents

If you continue modifying the text, before finishing off the document, you will have to update the table of contents so that it reflects all the changes:

  1. Place the cursor over the table of contents and click.
  2. You will see that an “Update table” button appears at the top of the table.
  3. Click on the “Update table” button and choose “Update entire table”.
  4. Click on “OK”.

Now you have the table synchronized with the current content of the document.

If you make more changes in the content later, remember to update the table of contents again.

Updating the table of contents

What a word processor is and what it is not

At some point, you may think about creating a brochure, a catalogue, a magazine, ... and you might feel tempted to use Word for that. Although you can use styles and insert images in Word, a word processor is not the proper tool to create documents with sophisticated designs. To do this, desktop publishing applications are used instead, such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress.

If you have a Microsoft Office license, then you may already have the Microsoft Publisher. Although it is not at the level of the other more professional desktop publishing software, you can use it instead of Word, and you will have more control over the design and the layout of the pages.

You could use Scribus too, which is totally free. And if you have enough with something simple, you could try the free edition of the Serif Page Plus.

And if what you need is professional graphic design for your documents at work or for your own business, do not hesitate to ask us about our blurbiness® Stylish Classic service.

Generating a PDF version of your Word document

If you are using Word 2010 or above, you can generate a PDF directly:

  1. Go to the “File” tab.
  2. Click on “Save as”.
  3. In “Save as type”, choose “PDF (*.pdf)”.

If you are using a Word version prior to 2010, in order to save as PDF directly from Word you would need to install additional add-ons, but do not worry, you do not need them. We recommend our article about [[creating PDFs]]. You will find it very easy to have a PDF version of your Word document regardless of the Microsoft Office version that you have.

Alternatives to Microsoft Word

If you have already got a Microsoft Office license, or you are obliged to use it due to your job, we hope that this article may have helped you.

But if you are not in the situation of having to use Microsoft Office, we recommend Open Office instead. It is totally free, very popular and the main competitor to Microsoft Office. You can install it both in Windows and in Mac and Linux.

Many of the options in Word are unnecessarily more annoying and more complex than are really needed, whereas with other applications, doing the same thing is easier. Therefore, if at some point you feel frustrated by using Word because it all seems too confusing, keep in mind that a good part of that will not be due to you.

With Open Office you will be able to open and save documents in Word and Excel format too. But we must warn you that if the Word or Excel documents are complex or contain macros, they might not work exactly in the same way when you open them in Open Office.

If you have doubts or suggestions about how to use styles in Word, feel free to leave your comments. And if you have found this article useful, we encourage you to share it in your social network using the buttons below.