The basic way to format text in Word is to apply a style: A Tip for managers

"Avoiding styles is a hobby for some Word users. They go through 35 mouse clicks in 12 formatting dialog boxes, just to avoid using a style."

from Getting started with styles [NOTE: outdated link removed by Lene Fredborg 19-Feb-2017] by Dian Chapman


Word formats everything with styles. Yes, everything.

Your team can be more productive if they use styles to format text. If they're not controlling styles, Word is controlling them. (And if Word is in charge, we're all doomed!)

Why bother with all this style stuff?

Applying a style is easy

In Word 2007 and Word 2010, on the Home tab, use the Quick Styles gallery. Click the thumbnail for the style you want and your text is formatted. You can even decide what styles to show in that gallery.

If you're a keyboard fanatic, try Alt-Ctrl-1 to apply Heading 1 style. Or Alt-Shift-L for bullets. Those two keystroke combinations alone will save hours of mucking around trying to remember whether the major headings were 14pt bold or 16pt not bold.

For more ways to apply styles, see How to apply a style in Microsoft Word.

Applying a style increases productivity

Applying a style to a paragraph takes one or two mouse clicks.

Applying the font, font size, font colour, bold, italic and other formatting properties takes several mouse clicks or keyboard strokes for each property. And, you have to remember what the settings are. That's just not productive.

Applying a style ensures consistency

If you format text with styles then you know, with certainty, that your document is formatted consistently.

A paragraph style has well over 100 properties. If it's bulleted or numbered, it may have another 40-odd settings. If you try to format text applying each property separately, you've got almost no chance of consistency.

Applying a style gives you power over your document

When you have used styles consistently, you can make big instant changes to your document. If you decide that all Heading 2 paragraphs need a bit more space before them, modify the style and all your Heading 2s are changed. Changed your mind? Undo, and the big change is gone.

An aside: A real-life example of failing to use styles

Once upon a time an academic friend sent me a draft of an article for a prestigious journal. My friend had authored the article with a colleague. These were highly-regarded, senior academics. But the document made them look like amateurs. I could immediately see which author wrote which paragraph because each author had used his own formatting!

Use the built-in styles

There are umpteen built-in styles and you can create your own. As a general rule of thumb, use the built-in ones whenever you can. 

Most important is to use the built-in heading styles

The main styles to get a handle on are the heading styles. There are 9 of them, named, with remarkable ingenuity, as Heading 1, Heading 2, … Heading 9. Use each style for a different level of headings in your document. More info: Why use Microsoft Word's built-in heading styles?

If your document does not mark headings with an appropriate heading style, then:

  • you can't create a table of contents except by circuitous, time consuming routes
  • you can't number figures or tables as (eg) Table 1-1, Table 1-2
  • you can't use Outline View to re-structure big documents
  • the Document Map will be useless, when it could be a quick navigation tool
  • you can't create a header that shows (eg) the title of the chapter at the top of each page.

If you don't like the built-in styles, change them

If you want your headings to be blue, modify the built-in heading styles to be blue. More info: How to modify styles in Microsoft Word

If there is no suitable built-in style, create one of your own

Word 2010 comes with nearly 300 built-in styles. You'd think that would be enough, but no! Use custom styles when you need to.

Name your custom style for its function (eg "Recommendation") not its form (eg "Blue").