The Top Three Reasons to Use Styles When Formatting a Document

Do you use styles in formatting your MS Word doc?

Do you even know what styles are?

At its simplest, a style is a collection of formatting – font face, font size, font color. And when you hear that, you think, “So what? Why should I go to the trouble of using those presets to format my document when I can think of something so much cooler?”

Styles Help You Write

I’m going to go back about thirty years when I was first learning to write. My fifth-grade teacher, like many in the US, taught us something called a Five-Paragraph Essay. This project takes the student through the writing process by teaching them to create an outline, coming up with supporting points for their topic, and then using that to start writing the actual essay.

When you use styles, you can integrate the outline and the writing process easily. Come up with the main points you want to cover in your document format them as headers, and then, voila! You have a ready-made outline in your navigation pane.

But let’s say that you’re writing something that has some sub-points to make:

Outlining helps to organize thoughts

When you outline, you’re organizing your piece into units of thought that go together logically. Maybe you’re writing an instruction manual, and you want to divide by topic or sub-topic. Maybe you’re writing a speech, and you need to make sure that your points go together into a coherent group. Formatting your points into headings and subheadings means that you can do this on the fly as you’re in the brainstorming stage of your piece.

Outlining makes text flow easier

But using headings and subheadings to outline your document isn’t just for the writer. A document that uses them makes it easier for the reader to follow. If you’ve ever tried to read a wall o’ text explaining something, you’ll agree that formatting documents in headings and subheadings mean that you can digest the material more quickly.

Styles Make Document Structure Automatic

Once you have the outline for your document using styles, the structure of the outline can drive the structure of the document.

Have you ever collaborated on a piece with someone, only to find that your perfectly-paginated and laid out document is now completely messed up because one of your co-authors has added a few paragraphs of material somewhere?

It can be frustrating until you realize you can edit a style that makes this sort of thing unnecessary.

Let’s say that you’re formatting a document so that anything that is a Heading 1 in your work would be analogous to a new chapter in a book. Therefore, it always needs to start on a new page. Sure, sure, you could add a page break before the Heading 1 manually. But why bother when Word can do that for you?

  1. Right-click on the style you wish to change (in this example, Heading 1)
  2. Click on the Format button in the lower-right corner.
  3. Then click on Paragraph.
  4. Click on the Page and Line Breaks tab.
  5. Check Page Break Before.
  6. Click OK on each dialog box until you get to your document again.

Now the wordiest of co-authors can’t mess up pagination!

There are many more features that can be style-driven if you want them to, and I encourage you to explore Using Styles in Word from Microsoft. Styles can control tables of contents, headers and footers and other types of formatting that make the document easily-readable.

Styles are Easy to Change

The biggest reason to use styles, in my opinion, is that they are easy to change. If you’ve ever been in a meeting and had someone hung up on the color or size of text in a document, you’ll understand why styles make this easy.

Debbie and Bill might be at each other’s throats in the design meeting going back and forth on whether or not to use the purple (because it’s a strong color) or the green (because it implies calm and good resource stewardship). And there you are chewing your nails because you know that this 800-page document has fifty headings and subheadings. They could come to an agreement only to have Corey over in Marketing put the kibosh on their choice for an aqua when you’re three-quarters through implementing the green on each heading one by one.

If you’d used styles, all you have to do is edit the styles themselves and the change is global.

I hope you’ll consider using styles for your next MS Word document to see how much easier the writing and formatting goes.

Author: Noël Figart

Noël Figart is a computer applications instructor, technical writer and editor.

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