What Every Author Needs to Know About Microsoft Word “Styles”

Microsoft Word “styles” is the single most powerful tool in an author’s toolbox, yet most writers haven’t even heard of it. How about you? Do you make manual changes to paragraphs and fonts? Do you select each chapter title in your book to change the font size or to style it in bold or italics,… [Read More]

Microsoft Word “styles” is the single most powerful tool in an author’s toolbox, yet most writers haven’t even heard of it. How about you? Do you make manual changes to paragraphs and fonts? Do you select each chapter title in your book to change the font size or to style it in bold or italics, left justify or center it? Do you create space between your chapter titles and the first paragraph of your book by repeatedly tapping the enter key?

Well, I’m going to show you how easy it is to use styles to consistently format your manuscript in this mini-tutorial. But first, let me give you some motivation to learn this simple way to streamline your work by pointing out why you must, and what you’re going to love about it.

  • Using Styles will save you time. You’ll be able to play with the look of your manuscript with one click, instead of manually changing, for example, 24 individual chapter titles, several times.
  • If you apply Styles, you’ll be able to automatically create a table of contents. (Insert > Index and Tables > Table of Contents)
  • Styles is the secret to instant ebook publishing. You’ll be able to upload your manuscript to Amazon KDP and Smashwords because you’ve already done the formatting. (Ebook readers need those styles to figure out how to display each element of your text.)

So, instead of manually changing each instance of a chapter title, assign a pre-defined style to each and every line of your manuscript. Whenever you want to change the font, line spacing, bullets or numbering, tab indentation, or text alignment, you just have to do it once.

So let’s do it. I suggest that you make a fresh copy of your manuscript and then follow along.

We’ll concentrate on the Styles area. (If you don’t see it click View > Ribbon in Word’s toolbar.)

1st graphic

Spend a while clicking through the three things you can do here.

  1. Use the right and left arrow to scroll through the pre-defined Quick Styles. Click the down-arrow to see all the Quick Styles, and right-click to remove or modify Quick Styles.
  2. Click the A icon in the upper right to choose from pre-defined styles.
  3. Click the page-paragraph icon in the lower right to open the Styles panel in the Word Toolbox.

2nd graphic

Now let’s format your manuscript.

  • Select all the text in your document and change everything to Normal. (Just click Normal in any of the Style panels you see above.)
  • Apply the Chapter style each of your chapter heads. Don’t worry if the style doesn’t look like you want it to look, we’ll fix that later.
  • Find your book title and subtitle, any block quotes, headings, and subheadings, and apply the pre-defined styles to those elements.

Ready to customize your chapter heads? Here are the steps I used to change my Chapter Title style. I’ve included screenshots below the instructions.

  • First, open Styles in the Word Toolbox and either edit a style or create a new style. If you create a new style, name it and base it on a style that’s close to it. In this case “CHAPTER.”
  • Set the style of the paragraph to follow it as Normal.
  • Check the Automatically Update check-box at the bottom of the screen to update other instances of this style whenever you change one instance of it.
  • Check the Add to Quick Style box.
  • Change any of the fonts, weights, and spacing. I changed my Chapter Title style to Garamond 16 bold, and in the Fonts Advanced menu, widened the spacing between the letters, as you see in the screen shots below.

3rd graphic

Note that in Paragraph Indents and Spacing, I set the spacing before at 20 pt, and after at 40 pt, so I don’t have to enter blank paragraphs to get the spacing I want. There should be no manual paragraphs or tabs in your final document, as shown in the example below. These should always be set in the style.

4th graphic

That’s really all there is to it. Want more? Microsoft Support offers a detailed web page for Style Basics in Word.

Uploading to Amazon Kindle and Smashwords

I took this procedure one step further by uploading this article as a short ebook to both Smashwords and Amazon Kindle (via KDP). I did this last week, making the book available via pre-order, so it’s live today and you can go see it in both places. Amazon requires a 0.99 cent minimum price, but Smashwords lets authors create coupon codes, so you can download it for free on Smashwords with coupon code EC55D.

CK smashwords


CK amazon

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7 thoughts on “What Every Author Needs to Know About Microsoft Word “Styles””

  1. Oh, thank you! I’ve been trying to convince writers for twenty years that Styles is the best feature of Word. I virtually never get a manuscript that hasn’t been manually formatted, with the actual style overridden by someone who just doesn’t understand it or take the time to find out. I’m adding a link to your article on my site, and I’ll suggest your book right and left.

    1. Carla King says:

      Thank you, Victoria. For sure it would be easier to edit a well-styled manuscript. I’ll bet you might even charge less because you spend less time, huh? 🙂

      1. Ha! Let’s not get crazy here. LOL Yes, in fact, I would be able to charge less, and it would be well worth it to me and the writer.

  2. Excellent tutorial! I struggled to set up my styles for every manuscript, learning a bit more each time, but this article really summarizes everything in an easy-to-follow pattern (must be your manual-writing experience at work, Carla!). I’d add anyone writing a series might want to save a version of their manuscript (once it’s all set up) as a template so they can write their next installment using that template — no need to re-set everything again and again.

  3. Carla King says:

    Absolutely, Ellen. No need to re-invent the wheel! Another tool that does the trick is Joel Friedlander’s book design templates, with the styles already embedded.

  4. Carla, excellent article with visuals AND an ebook! As a legal secretary, I used styles for years customized to work for contracts, pleadings, briefs, publications, etc. I couldn’t have lasted as long as I did in the business without it. I have not used it much in my writing on Word because I’m drafting my first book on Scrivener. However, Scrivener has its own version of styles called presets but they are few in number with the option to create your own. The tutorial implies they transfer well into Word for compiling, proofing, etc. Thanks so much for your efforts in writing this post.

  5. Sheron says:

    Excellent tutorial. I use styles, but I can always learn more about it.

    I especially like the screen shots that shows exactly what you are describing.

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