One of the commonest things that learners tell me they want to achieve on Word courses is “how to make my documents look more professional”. Once we’ve got the “don’t use Comic Sans” jokes out of the way, then how do we achieve this? Well, one of the easiest and quickest is to use styles.
Styles have been in Word as long as I’ve been teaching it (almost 30 years now), and Microsoft really pushed them to the fore back in 2007 when they were given a huge section of the then-new ribbon.
What are styles in Word?
In short, styles let you quickly apply and modify the formatting of your document’s text, and if the aim is to make your document look more professional, then they also give you consistency – each time any given style is applied, you know that Word has used the same font, size, colour, etc.
Most of the built‑in styles are what are known as paragraph styles so they will apply their settings to an entire paragraph of text – no highlighting needed, you just click into the text and select the relevant style from the ribbon. Two clicks, and a load of formatting is applied! Quick, easy, and consistent – what’s not to like?
Applying your organisation's style to your document
In many cases, your organisation will have corporate styles already specified so being able to apply the correct branding is important. However, we’re not always so lucky that Word has been configured accordingly – we may have been told what formatting to use, but no styles have been set up to match that – and so formatting becomes a manual chore.
Thankfully, Word will let you modify any of its styles (you can also build your own) – commonly by right‑clicking the name of the style in the Ribbon – meaning that spending a few minutes setting out your styles can reap huge rewards. If I’m creating something like a training manual, then I simply select the styles we use at QA which I've already set up, and if it’s a personal document then I can set out my own styles however I want. Part of the beauty of styles is that I can set up my styles before typing the content, partway through the document, at the end – whenever I want to modify them, Word will update the entire document accordingly.
Just in case all of that isn’t enough, then styles also form the basis for many of Word’s features that might typically be needed in longer documents such as training manuals, tender documents and reports.
Being able to generate a table of contents in seconds, easily caption images and tables, cross‑reference to key topics, quickly modify the structure of a document without all that monotonous cutting and pasting, or even create documents made up of documents (for those really big documents!) – all rely on styles.
To find out more about styles and other long document features of Microsoft Word, have a look at our Mastering Microsoft Word course.