Sure, you can create documents in Microsoft Word without making use of styles. You can also go grocery shopping without a basket, travel across town without transportation, or do laundry without detergent. But chances are that you wouldn’t work harder than necessary, spend extra time without added benefit, or embark on a task that’s likely to have inferior results if tools are available to improve the experience. That same philosophy is a good one to apply when it comes to creating documents.
Styles are integrated into many features, and they’re always in your documents whether you make use of them or not. So, trust me—you don’t want to be the guy with holes in your shoes and a bus pass in your pocket, wearing dirty clothes despite the full detergent box on the washing machine, and balancing boxes on your head while walking past a row of carts in the grocery store. It’s time to talk about tips, tools, and best practices for maximizing the power of styles in your Word documents.
Creating Effective Style Sets
In Word today, the term style sets has two definitions. It refers to Quick Style Sets that you can save from the styles in the Styles gallery, but it also still refers to what it always has—designing styles in your document to work together. Creating a style without giving any thought to how it will be used or how it will interact with other styles is quite likely to do more harm than good. To enable styles to do their job properly, create or customize document styles as a set.
Considering Built-In vs. Custom Styles
Built-in styles are those that are available to a new Word document by default, before any custom styles have been created. A new, default Word 2010 document contains a whopping 264 styles before you even get started (273 in Word 2011), between those actually stored in the document and those that are added as you use applicable features (such as a header or a footnote).
As you can imagine, the number of built-in styles alone is a good reason to use them when they will work for your needs. After all, why add more styles to a document when you can just edit the existing ones? You’ll get along best with Word when you don’t add anything to a document that doesn’t need to be there.
So, should you always use built-in styles rather than create your own? Of course not. There will be times when creating your own styles makes sense. The best practice is to first consider whether you can modify built-in styles for your needs, particularly when it comes to paragraph and character styles.
- Because many built-in paragraph styles have additional properties for working with Word features, as discussed earlier, there’s an important added benefit to sticking with them. Common built-in paragraph styles are also named intuitively, such as Body Text, Heading 1–9, Header, Footer, or Footnote Text.
And then there’s the issue of Normal style, which is applied to text by default. If the majority of your document is regular text, why do the extra work of applying a style to every paragraph when it already uses one? Normal style is designed to use document defaults, so it’s simple to update and can save you a lot of work when put to its intended use.
- Word provides more character styles than you probably need, such as the styles with names that are more evocative of perfume marketing than document formatting (Intense Reference or Subtle Reference, for example).
Some character styles that might seem to be named nonintuitively—such as Strong for bold, or Emphasis for italics—take on those less direct names to make them more easily editable. For example, if you wanted to change all instances of bolded text in your document to underlined, the name Strong would still make sense if you changed the formatting contained in that style to be underline instead of bold. If that character style were named Bold, however, and you changed the formatting to underline, that would hardly be logical for other users of your document. Also remember that many character styles, such as Hyperlink, Page Number, and Footnote Reference, are required by Word features.
- Despite the 143 table styles, I usually create my own custom table styles rather than editing built-in styles. This is because most of the built-in table styles contain more formatting than I would include in a table style, and it’s more work to undo existing formatting in these styles than to create my own, clean table styles.
- There are so few list styles that it often makes sense to create your own. Of course, if an existing list contains much of the formatting you need, there’s certainly more sense in customizing it than in creating your own. The goal of all styles, after all, is to save you work.
There’s a funky little bug associated with list styles in both Word 2010 and Word 2011 that you might run across when using the Manage Styles dialog box (Style dialog box in Word 2011). In fact, it’s a bug that’s been around for several versions of Word for Windows and has recently returned to Word for Mac.
If the styles Heading 1–9 are used in your document, when you scroll through the style list on the Edit tab of the Manage Styles dialog box (or, in Word 2011, the All Styles list in the Styles dialog box), stay away from the list style named Article/Section unless you mean to use it. If you just scroll over the style, it will automatically be applied to the heading styles in your document—even if you cancel out of the dialog box. If you aren’t aware of this when it happens, it might seem like the evil is at work and even make you wary of the document. But have no fear—it’s a harmless little bug. Just undo the last action (Ctrl+Z in Word 2010 and Command+Z in Word 2011) after you close the dialog box to remove that list formatting from your styles.
Benefits of Using Character Styles
As discussed earlier, some character styles are necessary because they work with Word features, such as the Footnote Reference or Page Number style. But if you just want to bold occasional words, for example, why use a character style rather than direct formatting?
The fact is that it’s often not necessary to use character styles in these cases, and doing so has no real benefits. Character styles used to offer different functionality from direct character formatting and could be retained more consistently when changes were made to underlying paragraph styles. However, in recent versions of Word, this has become a nonissue, because direct character formatting and character styles have similar retention behavior.
However, using character styles for that occasional bold word can be helpful in some cases, simply because those styles have a name and can be edited. For example, if you bold every instance of a client’s name throughout a long document and later decide that you want those to be underlined instead of bold, it’s much easier to make that change if you used a character style. If you used the Replace feature in that case to search for all bold text and replace with underline, you would also change any bold text that is part of the paragraph style, such as headings. However, if you have a character style for bold that you use in those cases, you can simply edit the style to make that change.
Making Effective Use of Base and Following Styles
There is more to consider when creating styles than what the formatting will look like when it’s applied in your document. If the styles are not intuitive and easy to use, it doesn’t much matter how they would look in the document. The more you consider ease of use, the more likely styles will be used properly in your documents, so the more likely your documents will look consistent and remain healthy in the long term.
Using Base Styles
Most styles have another style upon which they are based. A style that uses a base style contains all the formatting settings in the base style (other than those you specify not to include) as well as its own settings. Whenever a base style is changed, any styles based upon it change as well.
The advantage of using a base style is that it saves time when you’re editing document formatting and keeps styles consistent. For this reason, Normal style is usually considered the best base style for most of your styles.
- When you have a consistent base style, such as Normal, you simply change it to distribute the change automatically throughout the document styles.
For example, if your body text size is 12 points and you want to make it 10 points, simply make that change in the document defaults and it will update in Normal style. Any style based on Normal style (that doesn’t have font size defined in its style definition) will automatically change to reflect the new font size of its base style (Normal).
I’ve never found a reason to create a custom style to act as a base style. But if you prefer to create your own base style, there’s not likely to be any harm in it. However, to avoid unwanted chain reactions when you edit formatting, make sure that your base style does not have a base style of its own.
Keep in mind that base styles are designed to help simplify your work when you need to edit formatting. It’s not a good idea to create an entire set of styles without base styles. When you do this, you rob yourself of a key ease-of-use benefit of styles functionality.
- Character styles can use base styles. These styles are typically based on a character style named Default Paragraph Font, which essentially means that any properties not explicitly set in the character style will match the formatting of the underlying paragraph. The alternative to using a base style for character styles is the “(underlying properties)” option at the top of the Style Based On list, which refers to the font properties included in the document defaults. However, this option has the same effect as using Default Paragraph Font, so you gain nothing by taking the time to change this setting.
- All table styles have base styles. Table Normal is the default base style for table styles and the best to use, unless you have a specific reason to base one style on another. Similar to Normal paragraph style, Table Normal is based on default table formatting (that is, no borders or shading, cells top aligned, left and right cell margins of 0.08 inches [1.9 millimeters]). All other built-in table styles are based on Table Normal.
- All list styles are based on the style named No List. However, unlike other style types, list styles do not give you the option to change the base style. When you create custom list styles, they are automatically based on No List.
The default base styles for character, table, and list styles—that is, Default Paragraph Font, Table Normal, and No List, respectively—are the only three built-in styles in Word that can’t be customized.
You may occasionally want to base one style on another. For example, you might want to base a subheading style on the heading style, so that a change to the properties of the heading style (such as font) would be updated automatically in the related subheading style. But tread carefully here, because basing one style on another is the quickest route to the “circular based on list” error, discussed in the following sidebar.
Using Style for the Following Paragraph
This paragraph style feature is one of my favorites, and it amazes me how often it’s ignored. Style for the following paragraph means the style you get when you press Enter (Return) to start a new paragraph.
By default for most styles, when you press Enter, you get the same style as you used in the preceding paragraph. (Some styles, such as Heading 1–9, are followed by Normal style by default.) However, when you create or edit styles, you can change the Style For Following Paragraph setting as appropriate to simplify workflow.
You can customize this setting when you create a style through the Create New Style From Formatting (New Style) dialog box, or change this setting for any paragraph style through the Modify Style dialog box. To do the latter:
The page heading example given earlier is the most common use for this feature. Another good example appears in the template I’m using to write this book, which was created by Microsoft Press. When I apply the style that’s a placeholder for a numbered figure that will appear in the chapter and then press Enter, I get the figure caption style. That’s a nice timesaver when there are a lot of captioned figures. It’s also a perfect use for this feature because those styles are always used together and always in the same order.
As with any feature, take the time to customize the style for the following paragraph only in examples like these, where it will simplify something for document users. It’s a common mistake to overuse this setting, adding confusion and complication rather than simplifying workflow; the example I see most often is setting each lower level of a multilevel list to follow the previous level. That doesn’t simplify anything—in fact, it can complicate use of the outline-numbered styles—because you won’t always want the lower level style to follow the higher level. Outlines frequently have body text between numbered paragraphs or consecutive paragraphs on the same level.
Have you ever selected just a few words in a paragraph and then applied a paragraph style, only to have the style apply as if it were a character style—in other words, just to the selected text? If so, you were using a linked style.
In Word 2010, you see this additional style type in the Styles pane and as an option when you create styles through the dialog box. Linked styles are just paragraph styles that you can also apply as character styles (that is, apply only the font formatting from the style to just part of a paragraph).
For Windows users, linked styles were first exposed in Word 2007. Before that, you could use built-in linked styles as both paragraph and character styles (such as the styles Heading 1–9), but there was no visual indication in Word of which styles were linked, and you could not create your own linked styles. In Word for Mac, this is still the case with Word 2011.
In the Styles pane, notice that paragraph styles display a paragraph symbol, and character styles display the letter a to represent a character. In Word 2010, linked styles display an icon that includes both the character and paragraph symbol.
One more little style-related tip for Word 2010 VBA users: if you check your document styles by type in VBA, you’ll see 93 paragraph styles as noted earlier. If you check the number of linked styles, it will indicate zero. Word 2010 VBA includes a constant for the linked style type but recognizes those styles as paragraph styles.
- Use styles, like any other Word feature, only when doing so will simplify your work and the document. The majority of documents and document content do benefit from styles, but creating a mass of styles just to avoid using any direct formatting is overcomplicating their purpose and will likely lead to overburdened documents that are difficult to edit and manage.
A Quick Style Set is a type of template that contains only paragraph and character styles. You can apply one to any document without changing the attached template. A Quick Style Set changes nothing but the makeup of paragraph and character styles in the document.
- To access Quick Style Sets, on the Home tab, in the Styles group, click Change Styles (the Change Quick Style Settings icon in Word 2011).
- In Word 2010, point to Style Set to see the list shown below. In Word 2011, the list of available Quick Style Sets is immediately visible when you click the Change Quick Style Settings icon.
The Quick Style Set list, accessible from the Home tab, in the Styles group.
In Word 2010, you can point to style set names to preview them in your document. Of course, you will see previews only if styles with the same names as those contained in the set are applied in the active view of your active document.
In both Word 2010 and Word 2011, you can just click to apply the style set to your document. When you do, styles in your active document with the same names as those in the style set will update to take on the definition from the style set. Additional styles in the set that were not in your active document will also be added.
If you include a style in the Quick Style list (a.k.a., the Styles gallery) and it doesn’t appear in that gallery, it might be set to be hidden until used. If this is the case, as long as it’s included in the Quick Style list (which you can confirm by checking that option in the Modify Style dialog box), it will be included in your style set.
Quick Style Sets are a clean and simple option for when you need to provide consistent sets of styles for a group of users, without dictating layout or other template elements. Quick Style Sets can also be great for people who create content for multiple clients.
For example, I often write for different Microsoft websites, many of which have their own style requirements. Instead of saving several document templates when all I need is a set of styles, I have separate Quick Style Sets to apply to blank documents when I’m writing content for different groups.
This article has been excerpted from Chapter 8 in Documents, Presentations, and Workbooks: Using Microsoft® Office to Create Content That Gets Noticed by Stephanie Krieger, published by Microsoft Press.