How to Avoid Headaches by Using Word’s Styles


Let’s say you’ve written a novel. Then say that during your editing stages you decide you want to italicise thoughts and set extra spaces between the chapter titles and the body of the text. You start slogging through the document, manually making each change. After a few minutes you start kicking yourself, wishing you’d done this from the start.

Want to avoid this nightmare? Microsoft Word’s Styles are your best friend. They will save you hours of hair-pulling and teeth grinding, I promise. Styles are Word’s language for controlling formatting. So much so that people in the industry refer to Word as a ‘Styles-driven’ programme. Once you’ve created a pre-defined style set, it’s available in a single click and can be applied globally throughout your work. Unconvinced of its usefulness? Here’s some reasons why you’d want to learn Styles.

  • consistency – it’s far easier to maintain consistency by choosing your desired formatting parameters once, rather than risk making mistakes in your manual adjustments.
  • it saves time – the first point implies this. Let’s say you want to change the way chapter titles are styled, or sections that are separated as diary entries. If you’ve set them up using Styles, you only have to modify that set of Styles once for the change to happen globally.
  • easier navigation – chapter headings can be searchable in the navigation menu, allowing you to quickly skip to different parts of the document.
  • editing – using outline view, you can easily rearrange whole chapters and other sections. You can also collapse each section in the normal view.
  • table of Contents – if you’re using a ToC for your book, Word can set one up and have it automatically update.

Here’s a no-nonsense guide to help you on your way to use Styles. (You’ll never want to manual format again!)

How to set the Normal Style

The Normal Style is what you’ll be using for the body of the text, which will be the most frequent. Once you’ve opened your Word file, head over to the Home tab, where you’ll see the Styles section on the ribbon.

On the right side are two options to access different Styles. The arrow right in the corner opens the Styles pane.

But for now, we’ll stick to modifying an existing Style. So, on the Styles section, right click on ‘Normal’ and choose ‘Modify…’. You’ll get to the following menu.

When you’re modifying a Style, particularly the Normal one, make sure your keep the ‘Only in this document option, found at the bottom of this menu checked. If not, you may find the body text of every document you make has this font – not something you want if you choose a font on the wilder, more eccentric side.

You’ll notice the name of the Style at the top. Now, let’s make some changes. I want to use Quicksand, as it’s easy on the eye and just looks nice. I also want to change my line spacing (publishers prefer decent line spacing to make it easier to read, so this is something you’ll definitely want to do). Any changes you make are visible in the preview box, coupled with a textual description of the changes. Pretty neat that. Click on Format at the bottom, followed by Paragraph.

This will bring you to this menu.

There’re multiple options here to tinker about with, but for now head to the spacing section and click on the dropdown menu under Line spacing. Both double and 1.5 are acceptable. After you’ve done that, click OK.

Now, let’s tweak some title settings. My title is styled the same as the body, which I don’t want. Click anywhere in the title text you want as your title, then scroll over the Heading 1 option in the Styles section. This gives you a preview of what it looks like before being applied.

You’d probably like to edit the name of this Style to make it quicker and easier to find, so feel free to change it. I’ve changed it to something simple – Chapter title. Changes I’ve made are the font, its size, and its colour (you probably won’t need to change a title colour, but for the sake of this example, why not). Titles are usually centred and the setting for doing this is underneath the font options. And to the right you have options to increase and decrease the space between the title and the body text. I’ve double clicked the symbol with the two arrows facing away from each other, and in the description box you can see the ‘Above’ value has changed to 12 points.

Here’s the result.

Now, almost all published fiction requires indented first lines. You may already do this manually by using the tab key. Not anymore. Formatting settings are applied by the designer. So, if there’s tabs or spaces used to create those indents, they will only end up getting deleted anyway. Why? Because manual spaces/tabs don’t mesh well with formatting software, especially for Kindle. So, let’s create an indented Style.

Creating a new Style

On the Styles section, click on the drop-down menu in the very corner this time to display the Styles pane. On this list, ensure Normal is selected, then click on the A+ symbol on the bottom left. This will bring up the menu you’re familiar with.

Go to Format, then Paragraph, and this time head to the ‘Special’ dropdown menu in the Indentation section and choose First Line. You can adjust the indent size, but 1.27cm will do just fine for now. Make sure to check the box ‘Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style’. (You can also uncheck ‘Only in this document’ as you won’t be replacing anything and can have this Style available for each document.)

Now you have this:

Tada! We now have an indent. You’d want to apply the Normal Style for the first paragraph after a heading, as convention has it so that the first paragraph is ‘full out’ i.e., no ident. For the rest, use the shiny new indented style. You’ll notice that only one paragraph is indented. That’s because I already had other paragraphs, but if I were to continue typing after this paragraph, the subsequent ones will stay in Style.

The awesome thing about Styles is you can apply them to anything. And the more elements you Style, the better. So if you want to make characters’ thoughts italic (usually employed to reveal a character’s direct first-person thoughts in an otherwise third-person POV), Word has you covered. In the Styles section, expand the selection and you’ll notice ‘Emphasis’, which is, you’ve guessed it, the Style for italic. ‘Strong’ is for bolding if you wanted to know.

A nifty trick is to map the Style to a shortcut. Modify Emphasis by right clicking it, go to Format, and near the bottom is ‘Shortcut key…’ that’ll bring you to this menu.

Type your preferred shortcut in the ‘Press new shortcut key’ area (I suggest Alt + i for its similarity with the manual italicising shortcut Ctrl + i).

Also, you can apply Styles by right clicking a highlighted piece of text and using the Styles dropdown menu.

And that’s it! Now you all you need to get started with Styles. Hopefully this newfound knowledge can relieve you of those formatting nightmares and allow you to spend your time more productively.

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