Word Formatting 5

For the last lesson in this Geek School series, we’re going to show you how to use Styles, Style Sets, and Themes to save a lot of time when formatting your documents by creating reusable settings that can be applied to all of your documents.


Up until now, you’ve been learning about how to create documents and implement formatting bit by bit. In other words, you create a document and changes you make are typically localized. In this lesson, we step back a bit and show you how styles can take the work out of creating a consistent look and feel that you can control from a central location rather than having to needlessly apply changes to each and every part.

Styles are very useful for generating a table of contents but that is but only one use for them.

The main function for styles is to allow you to quickly set titles, subheadings, section headings apart from one another by giving them unique fonts, font characteristics, and sizes. By grouping these characteristics into styles, you can create documents that have a consistent look without having to manually format each section header. Instead you set the style and you can control every heading set as that style from central location.

With styles you can:

  • Apply a consistent look across the whole document instead of having to format each section individually.
  • Automatically number section headers.
  • Apply same font to the entire text body.
  • Apply the same font to header sections.
  • Use a consistent paragraph spacing.
  • Pick a default color scheme for SmartArt, charts, and shapes.
  • Pick from a number of pre-designed styles use them as your own and modify them.

Let’s go over some examples to give you a better idea of what some of these mean. First, note the “Styles” section on the “Home” tab.

It expands to reveal more:

Click on the small arrow in the lower right corner for a floating “Styles” panel.

This windows stays visible so you can use it as you work through your documents. You can move it outside the application window, and also dock it right or left side of it.

The style dialog box like format shape floats independent of Microsoft Word. That means you can move it outside the document to make more room or even more it to a second monitor if you are using dual monitors.

Click “options” and you can select how the styles pane is shown and sorted:

Each style can be applied differently and you can hover over the symbol to the right to see exactly how it is applied.

If you click on that symbol, you are presented with a dropdown options menu, which gives you further control over the styles in your current document.

You can modify a selected style, which will apply to all instances of that style throughout the document. In this case, there are 109 of them. Here you can also select or clear all instances of that style, and remove it completely from the “style gallery.”

Along the bottom of the pane are three buttons, which have some pretty important functions.

New Style

If you click “new style” the resulting dialog box will let you create a new style using existing formatting. As you apply new characteristics to the style, you can see how it will look in the preview.

You can dig into the nitty-gritty specifics of the style including the format, such as if you want it to have bullets, borders, fonts, text effects, and so on. From there, you can add the style to just that document, or you can add it to the template so every document has that style from there on.

Style Inspector

Use the style inspector to “inspect” styles throughout your document. This feature is useful for stripping formatting or further changing it.

You can also click each style for a drop-down options menu, allowing you to modify and build a new style, select all instances of that style in the document or completely clear them.

Click the bottom-left button to show the “reveal formatting” pane to see how your document is formatted. This is somewhat similar to or at least hearkens back to “Reveal Codes” in WordPerfect.

Manage Styles

The “manage styles” button allows you to quickly edit styles such as to modify their appearance, reorder their recommended order of appearance, restrict which ones are available, and set new defaults to current styles.

It’s useful to know how to take control of your styles because used well and wisely, they can give you a lot of power with your documents.

Style Sets

The “Design” tab brings all of the formatting options you can apply to a document in one place.

“Document Formatting” section shows you how the heading and text would look if you pick one of the combinations there. Each of these combinations is called a “Style Set.” If you briefly hover over each style set, the formatting of your document will change to preview how it would look. If you click on the style set, it will be applied to your current document. This is non-destructive, so if you don’t like the new style, you can just as easily change it.

Similar to other sections throughout Word, if you click the scrollbar on the right edge, it will expand to a full menu. Further options at the bottom allow you to reset your style set to the default or save your current style as a new set.

The right side of the document formatting section contains functions for changing your colors, fonts, paragraph spacing, add effects, and set your changes as the default style set.

Changing the colors simply means that shapes, SmartArt, charts, and text will affected.

There are plenty of built-in color schemes to choose from, however, if none these strike your fancy, or you have specific colors you want to use, you can click “Customize Color” at the bottom. Here you’ll have virtually limitless choices, and you can save your new custom color set and use it later.

The “Fonts” menu contains predefined schemes that you can select based on the old Office theme, or a font family.

Select “Customize Fonts” at the bottom of the menu to quickly create a new custom set based on your personal favorite font family. In the screenshot below, we see you can assign a “heading font” and “body font” and then give it a name, save it, and then apply it to your current and future documents (“set as default”).

If you choose a new font style, you can see it reflected in the font section of the “Home” tab.

“Paragraph Spacing” contains a variety of built-in styles, which should please all but the most picky. Again, to see how your document is affected by these, you can hover over each one and the changes will be previewed in your document.

Note the “Custom Paragraph Spacing” option at the bottom of this menu.

The effects menu allows you to quickly change the effect of design elements such as shapes, SmartArt, and charts.

If you want to preserve any changes to your style set permanently as the default, then you can click “set as default.” A dialog box will appear asking you to confirm.

Finally, if you want to use a custom style set in the future, but you do not want to apply it as the default. You can save it as a template file. Right-click on the style set and then “Save.”

Note, we’ll cover templates shortly. Here you should simply know that if you want to use your new custom template in the future, you would only need to double-click on the *.dotx file or open it from Word.

Note the option “Add Gallery to Quick Access Toolbar” simply means that if you want quick access to the document formatting gallery, it can be accessed from the QAT at the top of the Word window.

Modifying Styles

Suppose we only want to modify Heading 2.

For example, let’s say we want to center, bold, and italicize it. The quickest way to do this would be to change the selected style, then right-click on that style in the “Styles” section on the “Home” tab, in this case Heading 2, and select “Update Heading 2 to Match Selection.” All instances of Heading 2 will now reflect your changes throughout the document.


The style set you are greeted with when you click on the “Design” tab comprises the “Office” theme. Other themes can be accessed by clicking on the “Themes” button on the left of the “Design” tab.

A theme comprises a whole new bunch of style sets, each with its own fonts, color, spacing and anything else previously discussed.

Note at the bottom, there are further options to rest the theme to the template, browse for custom themes on your computer, as well as save the current theme, assuming you’ve altered or customized it, as a new theme. This is different from saving a style set. Remember, a style set saves as a template file (.dotx). A theme is saved as a theme file (.thmx) and each theme file:

Themes are remarkably simple and a very effective way to apply a complete look and feel to your documents in a matter of seconds.


And that’s it for the How-To Geek School’s Guide to Word Formatting. It’s been fun, we’ve learned a lot, and hope you did too! If you missed any part of this series, or simply want to review something again, you can easily do so by clicking any of the links in the table of contents at the beginning of the article.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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