Start Styling!

Are your Word documents in style?

Don’t worry, that question will make sense in a few minutes.

Over the past 12 years I have amassed a collection of more than 3,400 individual writing exercises that I created for submission to my Writerspark creative writing group. Each new exercise was then added to the growing Word document in which they were stored.

Since posting these brief inspirations required little in the way of fancy formatting, I made do with some bole text here, a smattering of italic there, and cared little for visual impact as long as they were stored safely.

Wind the clock ahead to two weeks ago, when I made the decision to publish my exercises as a series of eBooks so that writers outside of my group could benefit from them. Yikes! Over 3,500 haphazardly formatted text that I’d have to format before I could publish!

Needless to say, Kindles™, nooks™ and other e-Readers don’t play nicely with haphazard. They like things tight and tidy. So I spent one week trying to convince myself that formatting that mess was actually doable, and the better part of last week in disaster recovery mode:  creating and applying MS Word styles to every one of my first 1,000 exercises, swapping in some of my own photos to replace those to which I no longer had rights, and addressing duplicate entries, typos and sundry other flaws. However, setting the font and paragraph styles consumed the greatest amount of time. But I got ‘er done.

What I learned from this nightmare was that although I may not intend to publish something that I write today, that doesn’t mean I won’t find some reason to publish it in the future. So rather than fight the reformat battle some time down the road, it’s a far more simple task to assign word processor formatting from the very beginning of each document, which with Microsoft Word means applying Styles.

The nuances of Word Styles are beyond the scope of this article; however, what I can tell you is they are really not all that complicated. They appear either at the top of your Word toolbar and, for the most part, come with names that are ridiculously straightforward:  “Heading 1” formats whatever your main heading is, “Heading 2” formats a subheading under that; “Heading 3” the heading under Heading 2, and so on…  In addition, there’s a Style for Body text, Emphasis to emphasize words or sections of a piece, and scores of other styling elements.

Why not simply use the Bold, Italic, Underscore, Font type and Font Size buttons to format text?

The answer, in short, is flexibility.

If you use the simple formatting buttons to enhance your text, each word, phrase or paragraph that you set this way is done individually. That means that if you later decide that some words that were set in italics should actually be in bold, you’ll need to return to every single word and reformat the change. Imagine having hundreds or even thousands of pages that required similar changes.

Styles, on the other hand, allow you to change every element to which a particular style was applied by simply modifying that style.

Say, for example, you have three hundred pages that contain 30 chapters, each chapter with a unique Chapter title. As you created your document, you decided to use the Heading 2 Style, which comes set to the Cambria 13 point font. Later, while proofreading your manuscript, you realize that those chapter titles would look far better in Arial 14. If you had formatted each heading separately, using the Font and size buttons, you’d have to find each of the 30 titles, highlight them and change the attributes individually. However, since you had the forethought to apply Styles during your document’s creation, you need only right click the Style selector, select modify, set that Style to Arial 14 and click “Ok.” In an instant all 30 chapter titles change to Arial 14. Done!

Choosing and applying Styles from the outset allows you to make wholesale changes to documents, no matter how large, in matters of seconds rather than days or weeks. Another nifty benefit of Styles is that they allow you to experiment with different appearances without the need to wade through pages of text to make the desired changes. Want to see what three hundred pages of body text would look like in Century Schoolbook instead of Times New Roman? Click! Modify your Body Style, click “Ok,” Voila! Don’t like it? Click “Undo” and you’re back where you started.

That’s not all – You’re not stuck with the Styles that come supplied with Word; you can create your own or rename Styles and save them with your document. Word’s original Styles set remains totally intact, while your saved document opens with your desired Styles front and center in the Styles area.

Whether you’re composing a short story, a poem or even a series of recipes, applying Styles from the beginning, and using the same styles consistently whenever you write similar documents, assures you that should you ever decide to pull them together and publish as a collection your formatting will be cohesive and ready for submission or eBook conversion.

If you want to avoid the turmoil I experienced over the past two weeks, start styling.




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About Bill Weiss

Bill Weiss is a creative and freelance writer and founder of the Writerspark creative writing group.
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