Microsoft Word – 10 reasons why styles are indispensable 1

When I get the occasional day off from Excel to train on Microsoft Word instead, the feature most likely to inspire concerned mumbling, or even outright revolt, amongst the delegates is Styles. Those of us addicted to Styles would probably see using Word without them as similar to driving a car without ever changing out of first gear. Yes, you do avoid the complexity of using the gearbox, but at the cost of not getting the most out of your vehicle. So, in the probably forlorn, hope of moving your ‘make more use of styles’ resolution closer to the top of this year’s list, I’m going to set out 10 reasons for grasping the Styles nettle.

1. Faster formatting. You can apply dozens of different paragraph and font format attributes with a couple of mouse clicks or a single keyboard shortcut. To allocate a keyboard shortcut to a style, modify the style and, from the Format button, choose the’ keyboard shortcut’ option.

2. Consistent formatting. By creating an appropriate set of styles, you can ensure that formatting is not only consistent within a document, but across all your documents or all your organisation’s documents.

3. Better formatting. Because a style has the potential to be used to format thousands of future paragraphs, it is worthwhile taking a few extra minutes to implement appropriate advanced formatting – such as the paragraph pagination options.

4. More efficient formatting. More use of styles can mean less typing. A ‘signature’ style could include several lines of spacing to save having to press the enter key half a dozen times. You can also define which style is to be used for the paragraph following such a style.


5. Ease of updating formats. If you decide to change the formatting for a particular type of paragraph or set of characters, then all you need to do is modify the appropriate style and all the content within your document based on that style will be changed in one go. Optionally, the change can be applied to the document template to ensure the revised style is used for all future documents.

6. Cascading attributes. Styles can be based on other styles, so if an individual style doesn’t override a particular attribute in the ‘base’ style, changing that attribute in the base style will change it in all the styles based on the style, or based on a style based on the style.

7. Numbering. Without styles, trying to cope with the hierarchical numbering of a reasonably complex document can induce toe-gnawing frustration. By linking styles to outline levels, even very complex numbering systems can be made completely automatic based on the use of styles.

8. Table of contents. An automatic table of contents can be inserted into a document with the different ‘levels’ determined by styles – usually heading styles.

9. Document map/Navigation pane. Depending on the version of Word, the ‘View’ options include the ability’ to add a ‘pane’ to the left of the document. Where heading styles are in use, this acts as an active index to the document contents.


10. Copying formatting between documents. Using the ‘Document Template’ or ‘Templates and Add-Ins’ screen, you can attach the document to a different template and optionally update all the styles to match the new template styles. In addition, the ‘Organiser’ button allows you to copy styles between documents and templates.

  • The Office website provides this instruction to format restriction">> under Tools menu, click Protect Document.


     This could improve matters if I can be there at the start of the process.  Once the editing has started then the horse has bolted

    Thx Simon

  • Andrew, I can't remember which version introduced it (I think it was 2003) but there is a protection option to limit the formatting of a document to the use of a specified set of Styles - this might be helpful for the reports you mention.

  • Word Styles are perhaps too clever for most users.  As Richard says, if new styles are created with an amendment then this presents a headache when collaborating on large documents.  I work with large consultancy reports where individuals work on chapters and then I merge to a final document; if a user has, say, tweaked a heading 1 style, then on merging the document you have to go through and find these new styles and revert to the master heading 1.  I am not aware you can just "import" a generic style.

     Word is not a great tool for collaboration but users are comfortable with it, so adopting a better tool is an even bigger challenge


  • There was a new option added either in XP or 2003 I think that 'keep(s) track of formatting'. The option is in Tools, Options, Edit tab. Turning this off stops Word creating new styles to reflect all your formatting changes so they behave much as they used to before. Apart from the difficulty of finding it in the first place, I haven't found too many problems with multi-level numbering in Excel 2007, though I haven't tried much pasting of styles between documents in 2007 or 2010.


  • I agree with Richard. In Word 2007, some functions in Styles do not seem to work as specified, including multi-level numbering and pasting styles between documents.