Formatting using Word styles

Have you ever wondered what the Styles section on your Word toolbar is for?

You can assign these styles to the text in your document as you’re working, and it helps with formatting – if you decide the font you’re using is too small to read, and you’ve assigned Body Text style to the main text of your document, you can just change the size of the font in Body Text, and all your text in that style will increase.

So how do you assign a style to your writing? Here’s the steps to follow.

Assigning styles to a document

1. Open your Word document.

2. Go to the Home > Styles section of your toolbar.

3. Click the Show Styles arrow.

Result: the Styles window opens on the right-hand side of your page.

4. Go to the text in your document.

5. Click in a part of the text that you want to assign a style to.


  • The main body of your document is usually given the style “Body text”, or “Normal”.
  • The front page name of the document is “Title”
  • Chapter headings (or the top level of headings if you don’t have chapters) are “Heading 1”
  • The next level of subheading is “Heading 2”, and the next under that is “Heading 3”. You might have five “Heading 2” headings in a chapter; these might have one to (for example) five “Heading 3” headings between them.
  • Diagram captions might be assigned a “Caption” style, or something similar.
  • If you want to have a bulleted list, always use the “List Bullet” style (don’t just click the bullets in the Word toolbar).

6. Work your way through the document, assigning styles to all the text. If you haven’t yet completed the document, assign the styles as you write.

What if the styles don’t look the way you want them to? Maybe the Heading styles are blue, and you want them to be black. There are two ways you can change this.

Updating a style using the Word toolbar

1. Assign the Heading 1 style to your heading.

2. Highlight the heading with your cursor.

3. Change the font to Automatic colour using the Font section of the Word toolbar.

4. Click on the characters to the right of the Heading style in the Styles window.

Result: a dropdown displays.

5. Click Update Heading 1 to Match Selection.

Result: all headings with the Heading 1 style update to Automatic colour.

If you want to change the heading colour and the spacing above and below it, or the indent from the margin, or something else, the following is another way you might go about doing this.

Updating a style from within the style

1. Assign the Heading 1 style to your heading.

2. Click on the characters next to the Heading 1 style in the Style window.

Result: a dropdown displays.

3. Click Modify…

Result: the Modify Style window displays.

In this window you can change the font, size, colour, alignment, line spacing, and indent of the heading.

4. Click Format at the bottom left of the window.

Result: the Format dropdown displays.

5. Click on these to update different aspects of the heading.

  • Font – allows you to make similar changes to step 3
  • Paragraph – allows you to change indents and spacing, and lines and page breaks
  • Tabs – allows you to set or remove tab stops on the line
  • Numbering – allows you to set automatic numbering for a heading (eg, Chapter 1, Chapter 2) which updates automatically when a new heading of that level is inserted. Note that for more complicated heading numbering, you should Google “Microsoft Word heading outline numbering” for other ways of doing this.

These four are the main sections that you are likely to use.

There are other sections in the Format dropdown that I haven’t discussed. Have a look and a play with these if you’re interested; they provide other effects that you may want to use at some stage. Generally speaking though, a less fussy look is a more professional one; and just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

When you’ve developed a series of styles that you want to use in every document or report you write in your business (and this kind of consistency reinforces your professional image), you could think about creating Word templates of these styles for future use. I’ll talk about these in a future post.

This has been a very brief look at using styles in your Word documents; and updating those styles when you want to. Hopefully you can see how styles might be useful to you in creating your business documents; but if it’s something that you just don’t see yourself using, and would rather hand over to a professional, do get in touch and we can chat about how I might be able to help.

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