How to apply a style in Microsoft Word

The quickest way to apply a paragraph style:

  1. Put your cursor in the paragraph you want to format.
  2. In Word 2007 or Word 2010, on the Home tab, click on the thumbnail of the style.
  3. In Word 2003 and earlier versions, on the Formatting Toolbar, click on the Style box. Choose a style from the drop down list.

All formatting in Microsoft Word is controlled by styles. A style is a set of formatting instructions. Word applies the formatting instructions when you apply a style. Microsoft Word comes with dozens of built-in styles. You can also create your own Word styles.

The general idea is that you modify a style to suit your particular formatting needs, and apply the style to your text.

Styles generally describe the purpose or function of text. For example, there are built-in styles called Title, Subtitle and Body Text.

There are several kinds of styles in Word. The most commonly used are paragraph styles and character styles. Not surprisingly, paragraph styles are used to format a paragraph. And character styles are used to format characters within a paragraph.

This page explains how to apply a paragraph style or a character style.

You'll need to know what version of Word you have. If you're not sure, see What version of Word do I have?

Select the text

To apply a paragraph style to one paragraph, put your cursor in the paragraph.

To apply a paragraph style to more than one paragraph, select the text you want to format.

To apply a character style, select the text to format.

Tip for Word 2002, Word 2003, Word 2007 and Word 2010

In Word 2002 and later versions, you can apply a paragraph style to part of a paragraph. This creates a kind of hybrid part-paragraph part-character style with a name like "Heading 1 Char" or "Body Text Char".

Be very careful.

To apply a style to some specific text, select it. To apply a style to a whole paragraph, either put your cursor in the paragraph without selecting any text. Or, select all the paragraph including the paragraph marker.

Apply the style

Do any one of the following to apply a style to your selected text. Use which ever method suits you best.

Using the mouse

  • In Word 2000 or any earlier version of Word, choose Format > Styles. Choose your style and click Apply.
  • In Word 2002 or Word 2003, choose Format > Styles and Formatting. Click the name of the style you want. (Tip: Learn more about the Styles and Formatting task pane.)
  • In Word 2003 or any earlier version of Word, on the Formatting Toolbar, click on the Style box. Choose a style from the drop down list.
  • In Word 2007 or Word 2010, click on the name of a style in the Quick Styles gallery on the Home tab.

Using the keyboard

  • Type ctrl-Shift-s.
    • In Word 2003 or any earlier version, that takes you to the Formatting Toolbar's Style box. From there you can:
      • Use Alt-Down Arrow to choose from the list.
      • Type the name of a style.
      • Type the alternative name of a style. (You can modify a style to re-name it and give it an abbreviated name. For example, re-name "Heading 1" to be "Heading 1, H1". Then you can just type H1 in the Style box to apply style Heading 1.)
    • In Word 2007 or Word 2010 it takes you to the Apply Styles pane. There you can choose from a drop down list of styles or use the keyboard alone to apply a style.
  • Use built-in shortcut keys for Heading styles and Normal style (which is the only way that hasn't changed since way back last century).
    • Apply Heading 1 style: Alt-Ctrl-1
    • Apply Heading 2 style: Alt-Ctrl-2
    • Apply Heading 3 style: Alt-Ctrl-3
    • Apply Normal style: Ctrl-Shift-n
    • Promote a heading paragraph to the next-highest level (for example, Heading 2 to Heading 1): Shift-Alt-Left arrow
    • Demote a heading paragraph to the next-lowest level (for example, Heading 1 to Heading 2): Shift-Alt-Right arrow
  • Create your own shortcut keys for styles. To do this modify the style. In the Modify Style dialog, choose Format then Shortcut Key. For example, you could set Alt-b-t to apply Body Text. Or Alt-b-i for Body Text Indent. Make up your own scheme.
    • Note that using your own shortcut keys to apply styles makes it really fast. But you lose two bits of functionality, which can be confusing.
      • First, there is an option to "Prompt to Update Style". In Word 2003 and earlier, it's at Tools > Options > Edit. In Word 2007 it's at Office (pizza) button > Word Options > Advanced. In Word 2010, it's at File > Options. Most people leave this ticked. If it's ticked, and you change the formatting of a paragraph and then attempt to re-apply the style, Word will ask if you want to re-define the style based on this paragraph's formatting. But you don't get this message if you attempt to re-apply the style using your own shortcut keys. Why? Don't know.
      • Second (and this only applies in Word 2002 and Word 2003), in the Format > Styles and Formatting pane, the default in the Show list is "Available Formatting". It's supposed to list all the styles you've used in this document. But it doesn't always list styles you have applied with your own shortcut keys. Why? Don't know. Workaround: Change the selection under Show to something else and back again.