Formatting Tips: Styles in Microsoft Word

Formatting Tips from Dog-ear Book Design

In this series, we explore common techniques for formatting manuscripts in Microsoft Word for print and e-book conversion.

Just what are Styles anyway?
Text Styles are a way to save and apply a set of preferences on a snippet of text. There are also styles for tables, objects and other elements in Microsoft Word, but in this formatting tip, we are going to focus on text styles only.

Using text styles, you can save info like font, font size, font attributes like bold, italic, underline, spacing between lines, paragraph indents, etc., applied all at once on a selection of text, instead of setting each individually.

Why should Styles be used?
Say you want to change the font you are using on all your chapter titles in your completed manuscript. You can scroll through and change each one individually, or if you have already have a style applied to all the chapter headings, you can edit that style to the new font you want to use and voila! All the chapter headings automatically change. If you write and edit in MS Word as well as format, applying styles as you write will save you lots of formatting time later.

When formatting for e-book conversion through services like Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo and Smashwords, styles play a very important role. During the conversion process the styles set up get converted to Cascading Style Sheets (or CSS for short) in the e-book files. CSS is the code used to describe the text and paragraph attributes of the e-book. You will have more consistent and predictable results when using styles instead of directly editing text and paragraph attributes.

And, yes, Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords all accept Microsoft Word files for conversion to EPUB or MOBI files!

When formatting for printed books through Createspace, etc., controlling paragraph attributes through styles is also important. You will get more consistent and predictable results controlling indents and spacing by measurements in styles than by using tabs, extra spaces or hard returns on your keyboard. And, everything is editable on the fly. You don’t like the 0.125 inch paragraph indent you set? No problem, just go in and edit the style to increase the indent. All the paragraphs set to that style will change automatically for you.

Finding Styles in Microsoft Word
I’m using screen shots taken from Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac. Your screen may look different. If you have trouble finding a control, check your help files. There’s a link to a primer from Microsoft at the end of this post which uses screenshots from Microsoft Word 2007 for Windows showing the ribbon. You can enlarge my screen shots by clicking on the image.

Styles are located in your formatting palette. Depending on your MS Word version and preferences, styles may also be accessible directly from your ribbon. Not sure? Open a new document. Look for the word “Normal” in a drop down menu or box with styled text above it in your ribbon. Chances are this is your styles. If unsure, under view open your formatting palette.

Microsoft Word styles location in ribbon and formatting palette

Where to find styles in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

Applying Styles in Microsoft Word
To apply a text style, highlight the text to which you want to apply a style and select the style you want to use in your ribbon or formatting palette. It’s that easy.

Applying the Heading 1 style to sample text in Microsoft Word

Applying the Heading 1 style to our sample text in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

How to edit Styles in Microsoft Word
I find it’s easier to apply a built-in style (like Normal) and then edit the attributes of that style later. To edit an existing style, go to your Format menu and select Style. In the example below, I’ve edited the Heading 1 style applied to our sample text. Make sure the style name you want to edit is highlighted and click on the Modify button. You will see the Modify Style window. In this example, I’ve changed the font to Trebuchet MS, 18 pt, applied bold and italic attributes and changed the color of the text to red.

Editing the Heading 1 style

Editing the Heading 1 style in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

That looks good, but I’m not done yet. I also want to add some space between the Heading 1 style and any text that appears after. To do this, we edit the Heading style again. Go back to the Format menu and select Style. Click on the Modify button. In the bottom right corner you see a dropdown menu. In that menu, select Paragraph. This allows you to edit paragraph attributes like spacing and indents. I’ve changed the spacing to 0 points before the text and 24 points after the text.

Editing the spacing after the Heading 1 style

Editing the spacing after the Heading 1 style in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

I use styles for the bigger or important sections, like a chapter heading/title and the indented paragraphs in the book. For small attributes that are not consistent, like using italics in the text, I leave these as direct edits, which has worked well for me up to this point with Smashwords and Kindle for e-book formatting. Depending on your situation, you may get a different result.

That’s the basics of Styles in Microsoft Word. There’s a lot you more you can control with styles. If you are interested, you can find more info at Microsoft.

Find this helpful? Have a tip to share? Have other formatting questions you’d like to see covered? Leave a comment below. I love comments!


  1. Netta
    Mar 24, 2014

    You make this so easy. THANK YOU!

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