How to use Microsoft Word's Styles to automate formatting of large blocks of text

Headers, subheads, footnotes, and regular paragraphs all need their own look. Word's styles can make that all easy.

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Rob Schultz

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Peter S. Chamberlain asked for a way, in Microsoft Word, to automatically manage the formatting of “a lot of text.”

The Styles feature in Microsoft Word is one of a handful of tools that keep me from moving to the free LibreOffice suite. When you assign a paragraph or a sentence to a particular style, the text takes on the formatting defined in the style—font, margins, bold, italic, paragraph breaks, and so on.

If you change a bit of text already assigned to the style, you get the style’s formatting, plus the additional changes. But if you change the formatting for the style itself, you change the formatting of everything assigned to that style.

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You may, for instance, have one style for headers, another for subheads, another for the table of contents, and yet another for regular text. Those would all be paragraph styles, which affect full paragraphs. Character styles affect any block of text you select. A single word or sentence can have both a paragraph style and a character one, with the character style’s formatting altering that of the paragraph style.

Creating a new style is remarkably easy. Format some text, select it, right-click it, and select Styles > Save Selection as a New Quick Style.

1130 create style

This brings up a dialog box where you can name the style. For more options, click the Modify button: In the resulting dialog box, you can pick the Style type, select the font, or click the Format button for more options.

But here’s one really important option: Should you save the style Only to this document or to New documents based on this template. The latter option will affect future documents you create.

1130 modify style

Back in Word’s main interface, you can assign text to a style by right-clicking it and selecting Styles and the desired style. If it’s a paragraph style, it will change the entire paragraph. With a character style, only the selected text will change.

To alter a style, change the formatting of some text or a paragraph, then right-click it and select Styles Update [stylename] to Match Selection, where "stylename" is the name of the style. You can also right-click the style and select Modify.

Styles can travel from one computer to another, and even from an old version of Word to a new one. If you save your styles to your Normal template, all you have to do is move the template file to your new PC. In both your old and new computers, you can get your template folder by searching for %appdata%\microsoft\templates.

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