How to create and share custom Style Sets

customstylesets primary

Who knew Microsoft Word could give you a power rush? That’s what you feel when you create a one-click, customized Style Set that automatically applies font, paragraph, layout, and other setting to any document. It’s a great way to create consistency for monthly reports or other routine pieces of content. Once you get the hang of Style Sets, formatting text one paragraph or section at a time will feel as primitive as Sumerians writing cuneiform on wet-clay tablets.

In Word 2013, the process for creating styles and Style Sets (which is what Microsoft now calls style sheets), is similar to the processes in Word 2007 and 2010. Veterans will recognize most of the commands, and novices should catch on quickly, especially in the user-friendly Word 2013. The only real differences (aside from the aesthetics) are the location of these features on the menus, the addition of many new templates and themes that use Style Sets, and some new options that make this feature more proficient and accessible.

Create a custom Style Set

Imagine that you have to create a weekly report for your branch of the company that will, eventually, be merged into a bigger report for the corporate offices. The CEO has instructed you to create a Style Set for everyone in all the branches to use, so the reports can be merged seamlessly with minimal reformatting. For the sake of brevity, we’ll create just one custom style for that Style Set. You can then use these instructions to create all the remaining styles such as titles, subtitles, several layers of headings, contents, footnotes, body text, etc.

Styles panel

styles panel

Styles panel

On the Home tab, click the expansion arrow in the lower righthand corner of the Styles menu. The default Normal Style Set panel drops down, displaying a list of all the paragraph, character, link, table, and list styles in that Style Set. You can add new styles to this Style Set or modify the existing styles and save them under a different name. Or you can clear these styles and start fresh, then resave your custom Style Set with a new name. For this example, we’ll just add new styles to the existing Normal Style Set, then resave it as the “CorpReport” Style Set.

In the Styles Panel, select the New Style button on the bottom left (mouse roll-over displays the button description), and the Create New Style From Formatting screen appears. In the Name field, enter the style name BoxText. For Style Type, select Paragraph from the drop-down list; in Style Based On, select No Style from the drop-down list list; and in the Style for Following Paragraph, select Normal. Later, when you add your own custom body text style (such as BodyText), you can modify this field and resave.

Formatting section

In the Font section under Formatting, select a large serif font like Bookman Old Style. Choose 11 point from the Font Size drop-down list. In the box that says Automatic (color options), choose a dark blue for your font color. Common Character attributes (bold, italic, and underline) are the buttons between the Size and Color fields. The next row of buttons are the most common Paragraph format options: Justification, Line Spacing, Spacing (before and after paragraphs in points), and Paragraph Indents. Note that the Sample text in the large, center panel changes based on your selections, so you can view them live, and the following panel provides a text description of the options you’ve chosen.


Next, check Add this style to the Styles Gallery so your styles appear in the style list. Then check Automatically Update so your styles automatically update when changes are made, and then choose the radio button for New Documents Based On This Template, since you plan to use this Style Set for your weekly reports.

Custom format menu

Additional format features and more character and paragraph options reside under the Format menu. Select the Format button, and a drop-down list appears listing the submenus for these extended features and options.


Primary format menu used to create new styles or style sets


Format font


Format font menu used to define font typeface, size, and attributes (bold, small caps, etc.)

From the Format menu, select Font. The font, font style, size, and color should already be set because you made these changes on the previous screen. On this menu, check the Small Caps box, then click OK. Note that the Underline style option on this Font menu is not for underlining specific words (even though Words Only is an option). You are currently creating a paragraph style, so if you select this option, it will underline the entire paragraph—either one word at a time (if you choose that option) or one long, continuous line.

Format paragraph

From the Format menu, select Paragraph. In the Alignment drop list, choose Justified, and in Special drop list, choose None. In the Outline Level drop list, select Body Text.  For both left and right indentation choose 1 inch. For spacing, choose 6 point for Before and After, and for Line Spacing, choose Single.

Next, select the Tabs button, which opens the Tabs menu. Enter 0.5” and choose Set, then OK. Note the Alignment and the Leader sections let you customize the tabs for documents such as a Table of Contents.


Format paragraph menu used to define paragraph attributes such as spacing, indents, justification, and tabs

Format border

From the Format menu, select Border. This menu provides border and shade options for your text box. Select Setting: Box, then choose a color and line width. Next, choose the Options button and set the spacing inside the box between the text and the borders. Click OK, and OK again.


Format borders and shading menu used to add boxes, lines, shading, etc. around paragraphs

Additional formatting features

Language, Frame, Numbering, Shortcut Key, and Text Effects follow. Language is obvious. Numbering and Bullets let you choose how your paragraph levels are numbered and aligned—Arabic numbers, Roman numerals, caps, lowercase, periods, etc. The Bullets tab provides options for various bullet designs. You can also create custom number formats and define new bullets from other fonts such as WingDings.

Frame governs how document text is framed around graphics and/or text boxes, formally known as Text Wrap. This feature is invaluable when creating brochures, newsletters, and other layout designs that incorporate a lot of text and graphics in the same document. Text Effects are artistic options—shadows, gradients, reflections, soft edges, and more added to titles, headers, and others— to give projects a more graphical design appearance. These options are not included in the BoxText style that we’re creating now.

Custom shortcut keys


Custom shortcut key menu for defining custom shortcut keys such as Ctrl+B for bold

Now, whenever you need this custom text box in the middle of your report, just press Alt+Ctrl+Q and it drops in, ready for new text. Shortcut Keys are quick commands executed by a combination of simultaneous keystrokes such as Ctrl+B for Bold and Ctrl+I for Italic. This feature lets you create unique shortcut keys for your custom styles. Just enter the combination keystroke in the Press New Shortcut Key field, then click Assign. You will be alerted if you choose a key combination that’s already being used. However, if the Assign button is not grayed out, you can overwrite this default setting, but I would not recommend it. For the BoxText style, enter Alt+Ctrl+Q.

Once all the features and options on the Modify Style menu are complete, click OK and your new style appears in the list of styles on the Style panel. But this is just one of the custom styles needed for your new Style Set. At this point, you can continue creating and defining new styles for your report or resave this modified Normal Style Set as your CorpReport Style Set.


Sample of the paragraph style just created called BoxText, a custom style with indented text inside a double lined box

How to save a custom style

Select the Design tab, then click the small down arrow on the right side of the style gallery window. Select Save As New Style Set.


Design menu tab/screen that shows new and existing style sets, used to name and save new style sets


Name and save new style set dialog box

Open the menu again and note that the new Style Set is displayed under the Custom banner between the headers called This Document and Built-In. In the File Name field, enter the Style Set name CorpReport. Check the Save Thumbnail box, then click Save.

File sharing

Once your CorpReport Style Set is complete, it’s time to email a copy to the other branch offices. Open a new email and address it. Click the attachment icon in your email client and then navigate to the Users/username/AppData/Roaming/Microsoft/Quick Styles folder on your hard drive. Select the CorpReport.dotx file. 

In the body of the email message, instruct the recipients to copy this file into the same folder on their hard drives. When they open the report in Word, if the Style Set is not already attached to the document, they just need to go to the Design tab, scroll over to the CorpReport Style Set in the Style gallery box at the top (mouse roll-over displays the style names), click that thumbnail, and then watch the document reformat right before their eyes.

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