Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 2007, 2010, and 2013. If you are using an earlier version (Word 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Word, click here: Understanding Styles.
by Allen Wyatt
(last updated March 7, 2015)
Unlike most other word processing programs, Word does an excellent job of separating content from appearance. This may sound strange, but the words you type are your content and the way they look on screen or on paper is the appearance. Styles are nothing more than a named definition of how text should appear. You can best understand this by comparing your text to water (this is your content). The appearance of the water depends on the attributes of the container in which it is placed. If you place it in a glass it will look one way; if you place it in a pitcher, it looks a different way. The relationship between text and styles is no different; if you change the style that has been applied to text, then the appearance of the text automatically changes.
While Word allows you to explicitly format your text by selecting it and then picking the attributes you want applied, styles give you much more power. This is because you only need to define the style once and then you can apply it to text as you see fit. Plus, if you later change the style, all text formatted with that style is automatically updated to reflect the change. (You have changed the container, so the water changes appearance.)
The two most prevalent style types in Word are Character styles and Paragraph styles. Character styles are used to define how individual characters appear, including attributes such as font, font size, and bold, italics, superscript, etc. Paragraph styles are much more comprehensive and define not only how the characters in the paragraph appear, but how the paragraph should appear in relation to the margins of your document, whether it should include bullets or numbering, how it should be treated by the spelling and grammar checkers, and how it should appear in relation to other paragraphs in the document.
In addition to character and paragraph styles, you can also define table and list styles. Table styles are used to specify how a particular table appears, including borders, spacing, and other table-specific formatting attributes. List styles are used to define how bulleted lists and numbered lists should appear.
Styles are saved with a document, or they can be stored in a document template. Word allows you to add, change, rename, and delete styles. Follow these steps to define a style:
Figure 1. The Create New Style from Formatting dialog box.
At this point you can use your style anywhere you like within your document.
WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (9627) applies to Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Word here: Understanding Styles.
Comprehensive VBA Guide Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is the language used for writing macros in all Office programs. This complete guide shows both professionals and novices how to master VBA in order to customize the entire Office suite for their needs. Check out Mastering VBA for Office 2010 today!
If you use styles to format your text, you can later search for words and phrases that are formatted using various styles. ...Discover More
You can add any number of styles to your document in order to define how you want your text to appear. If you later want to ...Discover More
Word can hyphenate documents automatically, if you want it to. But what about those situations where you want most of a ...Discover More
FREE SERVICE: Get tips like this every week in WordTips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click "Subscribe."
Got a version of Word that uses the ribbon interface (Word 2007 or later)? This site is for you! If you use an earlier version of Word, visit our WordTips site focusing on the menu interface.