The last time I wrote about MS Word, someone told me that Word is a four-letter word in their book. Seems a bit extreme, albeit literal. I particularly like MS Word and its paragraph styles function, but perhaps that’s because I’ve been using it for decades and came to design much later on.
In fact, my fellow designer friends tend to be the most passionate in their utter loathing. That makes sense given how powerful Adobe products like InDesign can be in producing engaging publications.
Sure, it can be buggy and Office 365 updates can be supremely annoying. For example, the onslaught of modern comments has resulted in incessant migraines for copy editors round the world, or at least those in my community. And back when Word switched up track changes, it took me a while to figure out how to use simple markup properly.
However, Word paragraph styles have made life so much simpler for those who know about them. I guess that’s the issue, though: most people, who are not designers anyway, don’t know about them!
Most people, in fact, continue to use multiple paragraph breaks and character spaces instead of page or section breaks; paragraph indents; table spacing; and white space around images, headings, and figures.
Does that sound like you? And is your response the following: “Wait, what? That’s not how you’re supposed to do it?”
Let me ask you this: Has the notion of a table of contents awakened you in a cold sweat in the middle of the night? Do shifting page breaks frustrate you into reconsidering your life goals? Does image placement make you want to move to a remote mountain village never to be heard from again?
If you’ve answered yes to those questions, you can reconsider that answer just by learning how to apply Word paragraph styles. A clean table of contents doesn’t have to be a mystery and neither do fluid page breaks and images.
Painless Paragraph Styles
The basic concept of paragraph styles is to apply all the fonts AND spacing once so that the changes trickle down to the whole document. THEN, if you decide you want to add more space above or below a paragraph, you just need to make that fix once.
First, create one of your first paragraph styles by formatting any paragraph the way you want it to look. Set your font and font size. Next, go to the Layout tab in the Ribbon, and change the Before and After spacing in the Spacing section.
Finally, go back to the Home tab, go to the Styles section, right click over Normal, and select Update Normal to Match Selection. The screencast above doesn’t show the drop-down menu, but it is shown in the image below.
Any paragraph that takes the Normal style now looks like the paragraph you just formatted. If you tweaked the spacing before or after the paragraph, you might see a whole lot of white space between all your paragraphs. That means you probably have extra paragraph breaks. Just click between the paragraph and delete until your cursor lands back at the beginning of the next paragraph.
Just the Beginning of Paragraph Styles
These steps are just the start of what can be done with MS Word paragraph styles, but they are the basic idea if you have been having trouble wrapping your head around a clean, effortless layout.
Once you can grasp this, you can move on to creating heading styles that not only support accessible documents but feed into an automated table of contents as well. You’ll also be able to get page breaks and images to stay where they need to be. That’s all for another day, though.