Ever get a document that someone else had written and found that list items were not aligned, fonts were not consistent, and updating the Table of Contents meant looking through the entire paper? I know I have. All this and more can be fixed by using Styles.
To use a Style you first have to know a little about formatting. Styles are simply a list of formatting rules. The paragraph I’m writing now has a font style of Helvetica (not the same font this post is in, though), a point-size of 12, and the text is justified. In the app I’m using, Pages, this style is called Body. In Microsoft Word (MSW) this style is called Normal. I can change any attribute of the style Normal and, if I did it right, it will change all the text formatted under the style Normal throughout the document. More on this later. I can also make a local change without affecting the entire document.
There are some baked in styles that come with MSW. Aside from Normal there are usually several Headings, Title, TOC (Table of Contents) headings, Header, Footer, and many others. To use a style, simply click on the style before typing anything, making sure that the curser is located where you want to type. You can also highlight a piece of text and then click on the style.
Common Style Uses
If you think you’ve never used Styles before, you’re wrong. Every time you type in a Word document you are in the style, Normal. One very basic use of styles is in the building of a Table of Contents (TOC).
A TOC can be automatically generated by the content you provide in your document. Typically you’ll use Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. You can use as many, or as few, Headings that you want depending on the style of your document. To start your TOC, insert it from the “Insert” menu at the top of the window. Different versions of MSW do this differently so I’m going to rely on your expert skills to find it. When you do find it, you might notice that you can add an Index, Table of Figures, and other useful items. I’ll cover some of these later.
Once in the TOC window you’ll have several options. The first is style. Not the kind of style we’ve been talking about. The style of your TOC. Just click through the options and you’ll see the changes in the preview window. I prefer the “Formal” style for site reports. You can modify several options before you commit to the table. You can also determine which Headings to use in your TOC.
My TOC is set up within my report templates. When I finish a day of writing, or, when I’ve written quite a bit and I want to save my file, I update my table of contents. The TOC is considered a “field” by MSW. When you right click on the TOC a window will pop up and present you with a couple options. You can update just the page numbers or update the entire field. I always update the entire TOC just in case I’ve missed something.
One more important point about the TOC. Don’t give your TOC title a Heading style. You don’t really want Table of Contents appearing in the Table of Contents. Also, if you want the page numbers to work out right you’ll want to use “Section Breaks” properly, otherwise, the page numbers won’t know where to start and end. What’s a Section Break? Check back in a future post to find out.
Modifying and Adding Styles
Any style can be modified. In fact, you’ll likely have to modify the styles used in your report template to suit your own personal style, or that of your company. Modifying a style is easy and there are two basic ways to do it.
If you’ve already typed your text out make sure the curser is located within the paragraph or sentence that represents the selected style. You might even select the entire selection just in case. Then, change whatever it is you want to change. You can change the size, font, and color of the text. You can also change the paragraph settings, line settings, and whatever else you want. For now, the changes will only apply to the area where you’ve made the change. To apply the change throughout the document there is one more step. Find the Style’s drawer. You may have to pop it out of the ribbon. It depends on the version you have. Either way, you are looking for the phrase, “Update to Match Selection”. That will update the style every where it’s used in the current document.
The other way to modify the style is to choose “Modify” from the same menu where you found the “Update” selection. Within the “Modify” window you can change anything about the text. There may be a sub-menu where you can select things like Font, Paragraph, Border, and several other attributes. When you make the changes within this interface they will apply for the style throughout the document. Modifying the style includes changing the style’s name. It can be anything.
One handy modification you can make is that you can decide which style will follow your style. For example, you can choose a heading, enter the text, and when you press enter the Normal style follows. You don’t want to have to switch to Normal every time.
Finally, you can create your own styles from scratch. There should be a “New Style” option within the style’s window. The options are identical to the “modify style” window. Go nuts. Make it anything you want.
Find the “Document Map” button. That should open a drawer, usually on the left side of the window, that shows the outline of your document. The outline is based upon the styles you used. If you didn’t use any styles then there won’t be anything over there. If you inappropriately used styles then there will be blank spaces and sentences there. I can tell whether or not someone knew what they were doing by the status of the document pane. You can navigate using the document pane by clicking on any of the entries. Clicking on the blank spaces will take you to the paragraph returns that were intended to not be headings. You can click Normal and that will fix them.
The rule of thumb I use when using any computer program is that someone has already figured out how to do what I want to do. If you think of something that you’d like to do figure out how to do it. If you can’t figure it out, Google it. If you’re worried about messing something up just open a blank document and experiment. If you work for someone that discourages figuring out stuff like this so you can save massive amounts of time in the future then come work for me. That attitude belongs in the 80s, not in 2013.
Stay tuned for more riveting tales of adventure using Microsoft Word.
Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field