Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Understanding Styles.

Understanding Styles

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated May 19, 2014)

Unlike most other word processing programs, Word does an excellent job of separating content from appearance. This may sound strange, but the words you type are your content and the way they look on screen or on paper is the appearance. Styles are nothing more than a named definition of how text should appear. You can best understand this by comparing your text to water (this is your content). The appearance of the water depends on the attributes of the container in which it is placed. If you place it in a glass it will look one way; if you place it in a pitcher, it looks a different way. The relationship between text and styles is no different; if you change the style that has been applied to text, then the appearance of the text automatically changes.

While Word allows you to explicitly format your text by selecting it and then picking the attributes you want applied, styles give you much more power. This is because you only need to define the style once, and then you can apply it to text as you see fit. Plus, if you later change the style, then all text formatted with that style is automatically updated to reflect the change. (You have changed the container, so the water changes appearance.)

There are several types of styles maintained by Word, but the two most prevalent types are character styles and paragraph styles. Character styles are used to define how individual characters appear, including attributes such as font, font size, and bold, italics, superscript, etc. Paragraph styles are much more comprehensive and define not only how the characters in the paragraph appear, but how the paragraph should appear in relation to the margins of your document, whether it should include bullets or numbering, how it should be treated by the spelling and grammar checkers, and how it should appear in relation to other paragraphs in the document.

In addition to character and paragraph styles, beginning in Word 2002 you could also define table and list styles. Table styles are used to specify how a particular table appears, including borders, spacing, and other table-specific formatting attributes. List styles are used to define how bulleted lists and numbered lists should appear.

Styles are saved with a document or they can be stored in a document template. Word allows you to add, change, rename, and delete styles. There are a number of ways in which you can define styles, but the most common is to use the menus. To define a style if you are using Word 97 or Word 2000, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Style from the Format menu. Word displays the Style dialog box.
  2. Click on New. Word displays the New Style dialog box. Using this dialog box you can change the attributes of the style.
  3. Make sure you specify the name and type of style you are creating. You can also indicate if this new style is based on (derived from) an existing style.
  4. Click on the Format button to make changes to the actual formatting attributes assigned to the style. The types of formatting available depend on whether you are working with a paragraph or character style.
  5. When you are done setting the formatting attributes, click on OK to close the dialog box. The Style dialog box is again displayed, and your style is listed in the available styles list.
  6. Click on Cancel to close the Style dialog box.

If you are using Word 2002 or Word 2003, the way you define styles is different. Follow these steps if you are using one of these later versions of Word:

  1. Choose Styles and Formatting from the Format menu. Word displays the Styles and Formatting task pane at the right side of the program window.
  2. Click on the New Style button. Word displays the New Style dialog box. Using this dialog box you can change the attributes of the style.
  3. Make sure you specify the name and type of style you are creating. You can also indicate if this new style is based on (derived from) an existing style.
  4. You can make changes to common attributes right in the New Style dialog box. If you need to make more detailed attribute changes, click on the Format button. The types of formatting available through the Format button depend on the type of style you are defining.
  5. When you are done setting the formatting attributes, click on OK to close the dialog box.
  6. Close the Styles and Formatting task pane.

At this point you can use your style anywhere you like within your document.

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (955) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Understanding Styles.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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