As with most things in life, theres an easy way to do things in Microsoft Word, and a theres hard way. Using styles might seem like too much effort when you're busy, but this feature can save you a great deal of time should you ever need to change a document's formatting later.

If, for instance, you decide to change every heading in a document from Calibri to Times New Roman, turn numbers into bullets, add extra spacing around headings, or make dozens of other tweaks to a document, styles can simplify those tasks. Allow me to show you my 10 must-know secrets of working with Microsoft Word styles.

Styles in a Nutshell

If youre unfamiliar with the concept, here's what you need to know about styles: You can apply Microsoft Word styles to any text by selecting the text, clicking the Home tab, and choosing a style in the Styles Gallery. Hover your mouse over the style, and you can see what the text will look like before you apply the style to it. When you do apply a style to text, you also can apply an entire collection of formats to the text with just that one click. Word saves styles along with the document, so they travel with the file wherever it goes.

1. Make Your Styles Your Own

Using styles helps you streamline the creation and editing of documents, but the default styles won't always be exactly what you want. You can make the styles your own by changing how they look. To do this, click the Home tab, right-click the style you want to change in the Style Gallery, and choose Modify. For example, you might want to change the Title style, as it uses a very large font but is otherwise handy to have. With the Modify Style dialog box open, make changes to the styles attributes.

Youll find the basic formatting choices in the middle area of the dialog box. You can bring up more advanced formatting options, such as those available in Word's Font, Paragraph, and Numbering dialog boxes, by clicking the Format button at the foot of the dialog box and choosing your desired option from the list.

When you've made your tweaks, click the New Documents Based On This Template option if you wish the changes to be available to all future documents that use the current template. If you want the altered style to be exclusive to the current document, leave the Only in this document option selected. Click OK to confirm your changes.

2. Change a Favorite Format Into a Style

When none of the styles in the Style gallery suit your needs, you can create one by example. First, format a paragraph the way you want the style to look, or choose a paragraph thats already formatted appropriately. Select the text, click the Home tab, and, in the Styles Gallery drop-down list, choose Save Selection as a New Quick Style. Type a name for the style, and click OK. The style will automatically appear in the Styles Gallery.

You can now apply your style to any text by selecting the text and clicking the style's name in the Styles Gallery. If you want the style to be available to all future documents you create in this template, right-click its name in the Style Gallery, choose Modify, click the New documents based on this template option button, and click OK. Word will save the style into the template.

3. Turn the Clock Back to Word 2003

One generally unpopular change that Microsoft introduced with Word 2007 (and carried forward to Word 2010) is a new paragraph default style that includes excessive amounts of space between paragraphs. You can go back to the tighter paragraph layout that was standard in Word 2003 by selecting any existing text in the document and, under the Home tab on the Ribbon, selecting Change Styles > Style Set > Word 2003. This action applies the Word 2003 paragraph styling to the document, causing the excess spacing to disappear.

4. Clean Up After Others

Occasionally someone will send you a document that I call a "choc chip cookie," a document dotted with all sorts of styles and fonts. If all you want is a plain text file, or if you prefer a clean document that you can format from scratch, you can remove the existing formatting quickly and easily.

Select all of the text in the document by pressing Ctrl-A, and then press Ctrl-Space to remove any special formatting. If the text paragraphs have styles associated with them, the styles will remain in place, but any additional formatting will vanish.

If you press Ctrl-Q, all styles will return to their original look. So if someone has altered a styled paragraph by, say, changing its alignment, your key command will undo that alignment change, and the paragraph will revert to the style defaults.

To get rid of absolutely everything, press Ctrl-Shift-N to set the entire document to normal style. Alternatively, you can click the Home tab, display the Styles Gallery drop-down menu, and click Clear Formatting.

5. Borrow Styles From Other Documents

As I mentioned earlier, Word saves styles with a document. On top of that, you can copy styles from one document to another; all you need to do is launch the Document Template Organizer. To do that, however, you need the Developer tab to be visible on the Ribbon. (If it isn'tit should be the last tab on the right end of the Ribbonadd it by choosing File > Options > Customize Ribbon. Look over in the right panel, place a check next to Developer, and click OK.)

Open the document into which you want to copy the styles, click the Developer tab, and then click Document Template > Organizer. When the Organizer dialog box appears, click the Styles tab. On the left side, youll see the styles in the currently open document. On the right side, youll see those styles in the current template (typically normal.dotm). Click the Close File button below the right pane, so that you can open another document in this pane. Click Open File, and open the document that contains the styles you want to copy. When its styles appear in the right pane, select any style and then click the Copy button to copy it to your current document.

Word will warn you if you attempt to copy a style with the same name as a style in your current document, but it will give you the choice of overwriting that style with the new one. If you agree to this, any text in your document that's formatted with the previous style will update with the attributes of the newly copied style.

When you have copied all the styles you want, click Close. The newly copied styles will be available in your Style Gallery, so you can use them in your document and Word will save them with it.

6. Create a Custom Checkbox List Style

If you find yourself creating a lot of checklists, you can create a custom checklist style that will speed up the process. To begin, type a word or two and format the text using a checkbox bullet: Click the Home tab, click the Bullets drop-down list, and select a checkbox from the bullet library. If you see no checkboxes, click Define New Bullet > Symbol and locate a checkbox or another appropriate symbol in the Wingdings font. Select it and then click OK.

Once you have your bullet checklist working, make it a style by selecting the text, clicking the Home tab, and then opening the Style Gallery drop-down list. Choose Save Selection as New Quick Style, give the style a name, and click OK. If you add this item to your normal.dotm file, it will be available to all new documents based on this template, and youll be able to use it at any time.

7. Use a Workaround for Picture Styles

Microsoft Word 2010 provides no means of creating a style for a picture that you can use to quickly format all of your images in the future. However, you have a workaround involving Quick Parts. Add an image to your document by clicking Insert > Picture and then choosing a picture in the dialog box. Next, click the picture, select the Picture Tools tab, and choose Format. At this point you can adjust how the text should wrap around the picture, indicate whether the text appears on top of the picture, customize a border for the picture, or what have you.

Once you've applied formatting to your satisfaction, click the image to select it and choose Insert > Quick Parts > Save Selection to Quick Part Gallery. Type a name for the image, and choose to save it to the Quick Parts Gallery. Save it in your Building Blocks.dotx file, and click OK.

In the future, you can add this formatted image to a file by choosing Insert > Quick Parts and clicking the image. Then, to change it to the image you actually want in the document, right-click the image, choose Change Picture, and select the new image. The new image will appear in the existing border, thus saving you from having to reproduce the border (and other formatting) each and every time you add a picture to your document.

8. Make a Table of Contents From Heading Styles

The heading styles that come with Wordnamely, Heading1, Heading2, and Heading3are useful not only for headings but also for speeding up the creation of a table of contents for a long document.

First select a piece of text to format as a heading. Click the Home tab, and open the Styles Gallery. Choose the Heading1 style for a first-level heading, or the Heading2 style for a second-level heading. You can also use shortcut keys for these styles: Press Ctrl-Alt-1 for Heading1 and Ctrl-Alt-2 for Heading2. Since these are paragraph styles, you simply need to place the cursor somewhere in the paragraph to apply them; you don't have to select the entire heading.

Once you have formatted your document headings accordingly, you're ready to create a table of contents. Click in the document where the table of contents should appear, select the References tab, choose Table of Contents > Insert Table of Contents, and click OK. Word will automatically create a table of contents using the headings formatted with the Heading1 style as the main entries, the headings formatted with Heading2 as subentries, and the text formatted with Heading3 as third-level entries.

9. Set Special Features for Code Text

If you create documents that include special textcomputer code, for exampleyou might not want Word to check the spelling on that text. You can create a style that you can then apply to such text to prevent the spelling checker from scanning it. First, select some text that looks the way you want the code to be formatted. Click the Home tab, and on the Styles Gallery drop-down menu, choose Save Selection as a New Quick Style. Type a name for this style, such as ComputerCode, and click Modify. Next, click the Format button, select Language, enable the Do not check spelling or grammar checkbox, and click OK.

If you wish, select the New documents based on this template option to make this style available for all future documents you create with this template, and click OK.

10. View Styles in the Style Pane

If youre interested in (or confused about) using styles in your document, and if you want to see where styles have been applied, check the Style pane. Click File > Options > Advanced, locate Display Options, set the 'Style area pane width in both Draft and Outline views' value to 1.5 inches, and click OK.

To see the Style pane, click the View tab and select either Draft or Outline. The Style pane will appear on the left side of the screen, listing the name of the style in use for each paragraph. You can easily adjust the width of the Style pane by dragging its divider. Since the Style pane appears only in Draft and Outline views, it will disappear if you switch back to Print Layout view.

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