Devilish Details

Fiendish Tips for Writers and Editors

Confidently apply consistent formatting throughout your document using Word’s in-built styles, modify styles to suit your needs, and create new styles from scratch. (Word 365, Word 2016, Word 2013)

Your document is inconsistently formatted, and your headings, paragraphs and bullet lists are a mishmash of different fonts, sizes and even colours. You want to format your document so that it matches the professionalism shown in your writing … but you’re not confident about where to start with Word styles and you’re concerned that it will take up too much of your time.

Applying Word styles to your text not only ensures consistency of formatting throughout a document, it also saves you time and makes it dead easy to change your mind later about how your document looks.

This blog post shows you how to confidently apply consistent formatting throughout your document using Word’s in-built styles, modify styles to suit your needs, and create new styles from scratch.

The Styles gallery

First, let’s get acquainted with Word’s Styles gallery, a set of buttons located on the Home tab (see Figure 1). You can also open the gallery as a side bar by clicking on the arrow in the bottom right corner.

Style Gallery

Hot tip #1

When you open your Styles gallery, you’ll see that Word has many built-in styles for elements such as headings, body text, table of contents, bullet lists and references.

If you’re working on a document you’ve inherited from a colleague, you may see many more styles that were created by the document’s original owner.


Apply an in-built Word style to your text

If you’re looking at your Styles gallery on the Home tab (see Figure 1), you can hover your cursor over one of the in-built styles to preview how it will look when applied to your text. Select it by clicking on the style.

Alternatively, if you have your Styles gallery open as a side bar (shown in Figure 3 below), click on a style to select it and see how your text looks with that style applied.


Modify an in-built Word style to your needs

More than likely, you’ll want to tweak an in-built style to give your document the personal touch, or to ensure it’s in line with certain requirements (such as those set by a publisher or your university). This couldn’t be easier, and there are two ways to do it.

Modify a style by matching it to your text’s format

Hot tip #2

Format the text in your document as you would like it to look. For example, you might want your main heading at the top of your page to be centred, bold and 14pt.

It’s also a good idea to build some ‘white space’ into your heading so that a decent-sized gap is left between your heading and the following text (see Hot Tip #2).

Open your Styles gallery (either on the Home tab or as a side bar) and choose a style to modify. For a main heading, I’d recommend using Word’s in-built style called Heading 1. Click on the down arrow to the right of the style name and select update to match selection (see Figure 2).

Update to match selection

Figure 2. Update style to match selection, or modify your style.

You will now be able to apply that style to all equivalent headings in your document.

Let’s look at another example. You might have a subheading that you’d like to be aligned to your left margin, bold and 12pt. Select an appropriate in-built style (for example, Heading 2) and modify as shown above.

You now have two levels of headings to choose from. You can apply as many styles as you like to your subheadings, but a general rule of thumb is to have no more than five heading levels in a document (we don’t want to confuse our readers!).

Modify a style manually in the Modify Style dialogue box

Instead of using the formatted text in your document, you can modify a style directly in the Modify Style dialogue box (see Figure 2 above).

Modify Style box

Figure 3. Modify Styles dialogue box.

Using the same example as above, right-click Heading 1 and select modify to open your Modify Style dialogue box (see Figure 3), and then customise your style with the formatting changes you want to make.

Hot tip #3For example, to avoid ‘orphans and widows’ in your document (a single line of text at the top or bottom of your page), you might like to make sure your heading stays with the paragraph it sits above (see Hot Tip #3). By clicking on Format (bottom left of the Modify Style box) you can play with language, tabs, borders, numbering and so on.

Create a new style from scratch

If Word’s in-built styles are not up to the job, you might like to create a brand new style. To do this, highlight the text you want to base your new style on – a mini-bar will appear.


Click on the Styles button and the New Styles box appears (see Figure 4). Select create a style. A Create New Style from Formatting dialogue box will open.

You can then name your style – you might want to start it with your initials so that when you sort your lists of styles alphabetically, all your styles will appear in one place (e.g. ‘DD Blog body text’), and then click OK. Your style will now appear in the Styles gallery.

If you can’t see your new style in the Styles gallery, check that your gallery is sorted alphabetically and that you’re only viewing the styles in use in your document (see Hot Tip #1).

Create new style

Figure 4. Create a new style.

Changing your mind about a style’s format

If you decide later that you want to increase all your Level 1 headings to 16pt, or align left instead of centred, or if you want to make them all italic, simply modify the style using one of the methods above and your change will be applied throughout your document to all those headings with that style already applied.

Formatting services by the Detail Devil

Now you have the basic tools to confidently, quickly and simply create beautiful and consistently formatted documents that look like they’ve been crafted by a professional.

If you’re time poor, however, or simply don’t have the inclination to do it yourself, The Detail Devil offers a full formatting service at a very reasonable rate. See here for details about my formatting service, and contact me for a quote.

I look forward to your comments and questions below!

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