Your guide to using styles in Word

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Styles Make Your Writing Better

Well, ok, they won’t make your writing better, but they make it a hell of a lot easier to format.

Styles also make it a LOT easier if you change your mind and want to create a new look for your document.

They’re also the editor’s friend, so if you want to impress your editor (and get rid of all those pesky tabs, redundant spaces and end of line returns) Styles are the way to go.

And they’re not at all scary! (honest)

So here is a very quick guide on how to use Styles – once you start using them you’ll use them all the time.

Create your document


Right, open up your Word document or create a new one. Depending on which version of Word you use you’ll see something similar to the screenshot. Look above your ‘paper’ there is the Style section of the toolbar.

This is where the magic happens. But you can ignore all those Subtle, Emphasis and Intense Emphasis boxes for now, just stick with the Normal and the Headings.

Write something fabulous so you have something to practice on.

Create a Normal Style

The Normal style is for the body of your document, the main text, the stuff like these words right here. You want to use the Normal style for everything that’s just normal text.

Now, I have a fondness for Calibri when I’m working. It’s a nice clean font, no annoying squiggles and it’s easy on the eye. But you might want something different, a nice serif font such as Times New Roman, or Blackadder so you can pretend to be a pirate.

Let’s change the normal style to something else.

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First right-click on the Normal box (the one highlighted in orange here to show that I’m using it right now) then click on Modify.

The Modify Style box will now magically appear on your screen.

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You can see that under formatting I have Calibri 11 Automatic colour, left justified. There’s also a nice little box to show you what your style will look like. Pretty handy that.


Now look down the bottom. Unless you want your modified style to work on ALL the documents you create, keep the ‘Only in this document’ circle checked. If it’s not checked you might find that your lovely pirate document style carries over into all those business letters you’ve been writing.

The quickest way to change your style is to just change things in this box, so let’s do that. Just hit the little down arrow next to Calibri (Body) and choose your font, then do the same for size. Let’s also change the colour and get rid of Automatic.

Once you’re happy with your selection click OK.


Ta Daaaaaa. You can now write like a pirate! Aaaaaaaar.

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But that’s not easily readable, so for now let’s use your new skills and change it to something else – repeat what you’ve just done, but make it a better font.

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That’s better.

Once you’re happy with your Normal style you can stop fiddling or you will NEVER get any work done. Believe me, you can spend hours playing with Styles.

Make sure your text is all using the Normal style. Select your text and click on the Normal box if it doesn’t have a border to show that it’s in use.

Next …

Create your heading styles

When your text is split up using headings there’s no need to manually change things on the ribbon every time you want to change the font and size. Save yourself the hassle (and make editors go ‘ooooooh’) by creating a Heading style and using that.

You can change the Heading in the same way you just modified the Normal style, or you can delve deeper into the Modify box. Let’s do that and alter your Heading 1 …

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Go to the Heading 1 box, right-click and hit Modify, which will open the same box you used last time, only now it’s linked to the Heading 1 Style.


It shows that Heading 1 currently uses the Cambria font in size 14. Let’s look into the format further. Hit the ‘Format’ button. This gives you a whole heap of choices for font, paragraph, tabs, border etc.

Click on font and you get a new box with lots of lovely choices.

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I’ve chosen Cooper Black font, lilac, Bold and size 14 and checked the Emboss box, because, hell why not. But you can choose whatever you like, the preview box will show you what it looks like.

Hit OK

Congratulations, you’ve just changed your first Heading style.

Type your heading, then highlight it and click on the Heading 1 box, or click on the box before you start typing your heading.

My heading can be seen here –


It’s not very good though so I’d probably change it.

So now you know how to change Styles, you just do this for every different part of your document.

I’m going to change back to my normal styles and show you a screen shot of parts of a document that are most common:


There are lots of ways you can customise the Styles to make your document fabulous, don’t be afraid to play and, as long as that ‘Only in this document’ box is ticked, you won’t really risk doing anything to your other documents. I say ‘really’ because there is always the risk.

Anyway, let’s do one final thing and get you that lovely indented Normal style.

There are obviously going to be other ways to do this, but being totally honest, I like to stick with what I know and I’ve found this to be the easiest way to do things.

Create your indented Normal style

Make sure you are using the Normal style.


Go to the little arrow on the bottom right of your Styles box and an option box will appear.


Now click the little AA box (new style box) and it takes you to the usual modify box that you are used to using.


BUT … this time you will see Style 1 is highlighted – change this to name your style, which in this case will be based on your Normal style. I call it Normal Indented.

Next hit the Format button, then Paragraph and you will be faced with a box to help you format your text.


The Indents and Spacing tab should be showing you a selection of choices, head to the Indentation area and click on the right arrow next to Special

Select First Line and in the box to the right you’ll see 1.27 cm – you can leave this or change it to the indent you want.

Hit OK and you’ve got yourself a new style.

Now whenever you want to have the body of your text to be indented, apart from the first paragraph, you set your first paragraph to Normal, and the rest to Normal Indented.


And if you want to change the line spacing of your text, go Modify>Format>Paragraph and change to whichever line spacing you like.

So, there you go. A really quick guide to Styles. There may be other ways to do it, but this is the way I use it and it works for me.

You can see now that simply by using Styles you can change the way your document looks whenever you fancy and you don’t have to go through the whole damn thing manually changing the font size, colour or type. You just hit ‘modify’ and everything under that Style changes automatically. And if a Style is based on another one, like my indented Normal style, if you change the original style, the ones that are based on it will change too. Simple.

Now you can be in total control of your document and save valuable time, allowing you to write like a pirate whenever you like.

sara donaldsonThis post was originally published on Sara Donaldson’s s blog. Sara is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter.

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