A Quick Tour of Microsoft Word’s Built-in Styles

By January 7, 2014 February 27th, 2016 General

If you’re finding each new version of Microsoft Word even more difficult to use than the previous version then you’re not alone. The application’s myriad of character formatting and numbering options make it a difficult application for most users to wrap their heads around. However, all is not lost, as Microsoft has included a number of built-in styles to help you get up and running quickly. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at some of the more common built-in styles that we use, and show how you can use these styles to aid in formatting your next Word document.

What’s cool about Word’s built-in styles is that they have all of the building blocks you need to get started. This not only includes fonts and basic formatting but also auto numbering and bulleting for lists—a feature that is normally very difficult to understand.

Before getting started, always ensure that you’re working with the Styles pane which is accessible from the bottom right corner of the Home->Styles tab. This is necessary because the list of styles shown on the Styles tab itself is incomplete, buggy, and seldom shows you the styles you need or are using. Also be sure to turn on Show Preview on this pane, and click on the Options link and ensure that all styles are being shown.

Another other tip is to turn on the styles dropdown by going to Word Options->Customize and selecting Style from the Popular Commands group. This will place a style drop down in Word’s title bar and will always show you the current style in use when you select text.

Finally we recommend protecting the document (Review->Protect document) once your styles are setup to prevent others from tinkering with the styles. This will force other authors to use the built-in styles that you have configured.

Now when it comes to the built-in styles, we generally use Body text for the normal paragraph style as well as the Body Text indent styles for indented items. You may need to tinker with the formatting (e.g. indentation) of these styles, but once configured, they make for a good indentation system. One note here is that most other styles, like the headings, are configured to have a “following paragraph” style of Normal, so you may need to adjust this if you plan to use Body Text as the regular paragraph style.

When it comes to lists, be sure to make use of the List Number, List Bullet, and List Continue styles. These will give you auto numbering, auto bulleting, and simple indentation for lists. Again, you may need to tinker with the indentation of all three, and perhaps the sub-bullet and numbering styles, but the payoff is that you never really need to deal with numbering/bulleting, it just seems to work. And the List Continue styles are useful for continuing paragraphs of sub items without including any numbering or bullet characters.

The Heading styles are also useful out of the box, though by default they don’t have auto numbering applied. However, this is simply a matter of modifying the styles to include numbering. Once you do this, they will auto number nicely like the List Number styles and you never need to deal with Word’s convoluted auto-numbering system.

For appendix items, this is one area that Word forgot about as there are no “appendix” styles. However, it’s easy to create them by simply creating styles based on Heading 1, Heading 2 etc. and setting a numbering style. If you then want to include them in your TOC it’s simply a matter of setting them as Level 1, 2, etc. in the TOC’s configuration. And if you want to cross reference them, they are easy to find as simple numbered items.

The caption style is another built-in style and is automatically used when inserting captions for tables and figures. Generally you don’t need to do much here other than perhaps changes the font for this style and set its justification based on whether your figures/tables are centered or aligned.

Two other useful styles are Emphasis which is an italicized style useful when referring to something or emphasising a term, as well as Strong, which is a bold style useful when instructing the reader on what to do (e.g. when indicating which button to press). We use these extensively in instructional materials as they help the reader to identify important items.

If you’re doing a lot of code samples, you can use the Plain Text style which gives a code like style. However you may want to switch to a fixed-width font like Courier, or Courier New as this font looks more like that used in programming. This style is also useful because the “after” paragraph spacing is 0 point and the “following paragraph” style is also set to Plain Text. This makes it easier to enter blank lines between paragraphs of code without the style reverting to Normal.

So that’s a quick tour of the built-in styles in Word. With a little bit of tweaking you can use these styles as a starting point for your next document, and most importantly, to avoid difficult processes like configuring numbering. And once your styles are configured and locked, other users will also be able to quickly add formatting to their documents.

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