Understanding paragraph, character, list, and table styles

Applies to
Microsoft Office Word 2003
Book image This article was excerpted from Microsoft® Office Document Designer by Stephanie Krieger. Visit Microsoft Learning to buy this book and CD set, which includes the Microsoft Office Document Designer tool kit.

In this article


Styles defined

Built-in styles

Style types and how to use them

Keyboard shortcuts


"What's in a name?" William Shakespeare asked. Well, of course, Mr. Shakespeare didn't have Word in mind as he envisioned the magnificent Romeo and Juliet, but, by the end of this article, you might be asking yourself this question: How much more prolific might the great wordsmith have been if he'd had Word styles to save him time, so he could just concentrate on the writing and not worry about the formatting?!

When it comes to Word styles, everything is in the name. Styles are one of the most important and valuable tools for creating documents in Word. And I guarantee that you already use them in every document, whether you know it or not! This tip sheet will introduce you to the purpose and types of Word styles so that you can use them to your best advantage — and maybe take in a play with the time you save!

 Important   Few software features can make as big a difference in your work as Word styles! You'll get the most benefit from learning about styles if you're already familiar with the three levels of Word formatting (font, paragraph, and section) and the basics of paragraph formatting. For a refresher with these topics before you continue, check out chapter 2 of Microsoft Office Document Designer for an introduction to the three levels of Word formatting, or get started with Word paragraph formatting in the article Paragraph formatting essentials for unbreakable documents.

Styles defined

A style is a collection of formatting commands that's given a name so it can be easily accessed and all the formatting it contains applied as a group (in a single click). Better yet, when formatting is applied using styles, changing the formatting throughout a long document means changing it just once in the style itself — then it's automatically changed throughout the document wherever the style has been applied.

In a nutshell, styles save you a tremendous amount of time and help keep the formatting in your document consistent. And because multiple pieces of information are stored in one place, they also help to keep the formatting simple to manage and your documents well behaved. In fact, styles are what Word is all about: The less work you do, the better your documents will be! So, let's get more specific and get you started using Word styles.

There are four types of styles — paragraph, character, list, and table (list and table styles are new as of Word 2002). However, the majority of styles you'll use are paragraph styles. In fact, get comfortable using paragraph styles and you'll be amazed at how much less stressful your long documents are to create and how much more professional all your documents can look!

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Built-in styles

Word includes a number of built-in styles that are always available, some of which are key to using different Word features. For example, Normal style is the default paragraph style for all text in your Word document. When you see Normal in the style box on the formatting toolbar, it doesn't mean there's no style applied to your text, it means the default style Normal is applied.

Normal is the style on which most other paragraph styles are based. That means if you change Normal style (such as changing the font style or size), many other styles will automatically change to match. As you can imagine, this kind of link between styles can be incredibly useful. It can also be incredibly frustrating if used incorrectly. Everything you need to know about how styles work together can be found in the article "You've Got Style, Kid! Creating Paragraph Styles for Better Documents" and the tip sheet "Managing and Customizing Styles: Using the Styles and Formatting Task Pane" (Microsoft Office Document Designer).

Perhaps the most dynamic of the built-in styles are the paragraph styles Heading 1 through Heading 9. These styles contain unique attributes that help them work automatically with outline numbering tools, tables of contents, cross-references, and a number of other timesaving Word features. Check out the tip sheet "Go to the Head of the Class!" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for more information and help working with built-in heading styles.

Built-in character, list, and table styles also exist, and many are used automatically when you access various Word features. Take a look at two examples:

  • When you create a footnote, the footnote reference that appears at the insertion point has the built-in character style Footnote Reference applied. So, for example, if you wanted all footnote references throughout your report to be italicized, you could simply modify the style instead of changing each individual reference and they'd all update instantly.
  • Does it bug you that whenever you create a Word table, it automatically contains a full grid of black border lines? That's because Table Grid is the default built-in table style. Just click in the table and apply Table Normal style to remove all borders at once, and keep them from coming back uninvited! You can also change your default table style — see the tip sheet "Tips, Tricks, and Problem-Solving for Tables" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for more information.

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Style types and how to use them

Style type What it's all about How to use it
Introducing paragraph styles

A paragraph style can contain any formatting that can be applied to as little as one paragraph, including any kind of paragraph formatting (such as paragraph alignment and indents) and any character formatting that you apply to the entire paragraph (such as font or font size).

Paragraph styles are used for text in any part of the document, whether in the body of the document or even in tables. Built-in styles also exist for your use in headers, footers, footnotes, and even reference tables such as tables of contents and indexes.

With your blinking insertion point in the paragraph to which you want to apply a style (or with multiple paragraphs selected), click the desired style name in the Styles and Formatting task pane. When you do, your active paragraph(s) will take on all of that style's formatting and the applied style name will appear in the Style drop-down list on the Formatting toolbar.

 Note   In the task pane, a paragraph mark (¶) sits beside each paragraph style.

If you select just part of a single paragraph, only the character formatting attributes of the paragraph style you select will be applied. When you select less than a paragraph, Word assumes you want the formatting applied as a character style to just the selected text.

See the article "You've Got Style, Kid!" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) for step-by-step instructions on creating paragraph styles.

 Important   You can apply most styles from either the Styles and Formatting task pane or the Style drop-down list on the Formatting toolbar.

Click the button to the left of the Style drop-down list to open the task pane, as you see here:

Formatting toolbar

If you don't see a style name in the Styles and Formatting task pane (such as Table Normal style, which doesn't appear in the task pane by default), you can type the name in the Style drop-down list and press ENTER to apply it. Or change which styles you're viewing in the Styles and Formatting task pane. The tip sheet "Managing Styles" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) tells you everything you need to know for getting exactly what you need from the Styles and Formatting task pane.

Introducing character styles

A character style can contain character formatting only, including font, font size, font style (bold, italic, bold/italic), font effects (such as small caps or superscript), character spacing, text borders and shading, and even language settings.

Character styles are most commonly used with built-in Word features, such as the footnote reference example. Other features that use character styles include hyperlinks and page numbering.

Character styles can sit on top of paragraph styles, which means that if you apply a paragraph style to a paragraph of text, you can select just part of that text to add a character style — just as you can select part of that text to apply bold, underline, etc.

 Note   In the task pane, a lowercase, underlined letter "a" sits beside each character style.

It's not necessary to create a character style to apply character formatting, and doing so really only provides added benefit if you have a combination of several character formatting commands that you frequently reuse.

To learn about creating character styles, after you're comfortable creating paragraph styles, check out the tip sheet "Managing and Customizing Styles: Using the Styles and Formatting Task Pane" (Microsoft Office Document Designer) .

Introducing list styles

A list style is similar to an outline numbered list, but it's a bit less flexible and most appropriate for use with more basic outlines.

Like an outline numbered list, a list style contains paragraph number (or bullet) formatting for up to nine levels of an outline. Unlike outline numbering, however, all nine levels of formatting are contained in one style.

That sounds fantastically easy, and it is, but there is a catch. Since a list style is a type of style itself, it can't contain paragraph styles (as outline numbered lists can) so it can't store unique paragraph formatting for each outline level. List styles can only contain formatting that relates to the paragraph numbering, so all other formatting must be applied separately, which can turn out to be a whole lot of work.

Use list styles where you need a simple multilevel list without much other formatting. For complex outlines or long documents requiring outlines, Outline Numbered lists are your best bet.

To use a list style, just click the list style name in the Styles and Formatting task pane, or select the preferred list style from the List Styles tab in the Bullets and Numbering dialog box (Format menu). Once you apply a list style, press TAB or SHIFT+TAB at the start of each new paragraph to change the outline level.

 Note   In the task pane, an icon of three bulleted lines sits beside each list style.

 Important   If you aren't comfortable with outline numbering, get familiar with your options before you start using list styles, so you'll know that you're making the best and easiest choice for your document. Check out the article "Take Back the Numbering!" to learn how to create an outline numbered list and the tip sheet "Flex Your Numbering!" for more information on list styles (both in Microsoft Office Document Designer).

Introducing table styles

Table styles can contain certain elements of table, paragraph, and font formatting.

You can apply formatting such as font, borders, shading, and paragraph spacing to the heading row as well as the body rows of a table, and the formatting will automatically adjust to accommodate changes in your table structure.

While table styles aren't as flexible as you might need when creating complex documents, there are a lot of benefits to using them. Table styles are also ever-present and might affect your work with tables when you don't choose to use table styles, so it's a good idea to be familiar with them.

You can find all existing table styles through the Table AutoFormat dialog box (Table menu). Once you apply a table style in your document, it will also appear in the Styles and Formatting task pane.

 Note   In the task pane, an image of a box with gridlines sits beside each table style.

Also note that the default table style, Table Grid, will appear in the Styles and Formatting task pane once a table has been inserted in your document.

For more information on working with table styles, see the tip sheet "Tips, Tricks, and Problem-Solving for Tables" (Microsoft Office Document Designer).

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Keyboard shortcuts

Here are some keyboard shortcuts to use when working with styles.

Keystroke Action
CTRL+SHIFT+S Access the Style box on the Formatting toolbar.
CTRL+SHIFT+N Apply Normal paragraph style.
CTRL+Q Strip paragraph formatting that's not contained in the applied paragraph style.
CTRL+SPACEBAR Strip character formatting that's not contained in the applied paragraph style.
CTRL+ALT+1 or 2 or 3 Apply built-in paragraph styles Heading 1, Heading 2, or Heading 3, respectively.
See the Keyboard shortcuts topic in Word Help for a complete list of available shortcut keystrokes for all features.

 Note   All Microsoft Office Document Designer (MODD) document designs include a full set of styles for whatever you might want to do in your document. With any MODD document active, just open the Styles and Formatting task pane to check them out!

About the author    Stephanie Krieger is a Microsoft MVP, professional consultant, trainer, and writer who specializes in creating solutions with the Microsoft Office System. She helps clients customize software and design templates and also provides train-the-trainer services.

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Applies to:
Word 2003