Help with Writing: Word Advanced, Part 1

In previous posts, we’ve covered how to change your fonts, change the spacing, and add page numbers. In this post, we’ll introduce the Design panel of Word and how to use Styles.

You’ll notice that this is only Part 1. Word has a lot (a lot) of advanced features. Part 2 introduces the Layout panel, Part 3 will introduce the Track Changes function, and Part 4 will deal with chapters and indexing. Because these are features that undergraduates don’t often have to deal with, we’ve dropped the “Undergraduate” from the title. But undergrads, you can still keep reading! Word is the #1 word processor in the world; one day, someone might ask you if you know how to make a document have columns, chapters, etc.

Depending on which version of Word you have, your default paragraph will look like one of the following:

Word paragraph with two styles of default fonts


The first one is the Word 365 default, which uses Calibri size 12 font with single-spacing. The second is the Word 2016 default, which uses Calibri size 11 font with 1.15 spacing. Because these are the default settings, every time you open a new document in that version of Word, those will be the settings that appear and that you’ll use to start typing.

Luckily, if (like me) you hate Calibri, there’s a way to make a new default! This uses the Design tab of your Word window.

Microsoft word design tab

As you can see, Word comes with many options for pre-formatted documents. For standard academic work, you will want to avoid most of those options. Instead, depending on what you want to change, you can set a new default for yourself. For example, if you are fine with Calibri as a font but really hate the 1.15 spacing (because really, what is that?!), you can go to the Paragraph Spacing tab, select Single, and then click on the green arrow for Set as Default.

MS word set as default

You can also choose a new default font by selecting it in the Fonts menu and clicking Set as Default (and yes, you can do this multiple times and for multiple features — but there’s an easier way).

As I mentioned earlier, the Default style is simply the style that shows up when you choose a new Blank document (“Blank” being a regular Word file, as opposed to a Resume, a Report, an Invitation, etc.). If you want to use different styles in a document — for example, you want to have different fonts or spacing in your main text vs. your footnotes — you can use the Format menu to define specific Styles.

MS word Format menu

TIP: If you want your new style to apply to something you’ve already written, select the text first!

Once you’ve hit the Style button, a new menu will pop up in front of your text. A word of warning: if you are relatively new to word processors, this window is going to look much scarier than it actually is!

MS Word styles pane

What this window shows you is the list of styles you are currently using and what that looks like in a sample paragraph. You can create a new style by hitting the New button, or if you are really intimidated by this window, you can select Modify to modify the default presets. Either way, you’ll be redirected to a new popup:

MS word styles menu

So this window is defining a New Style. I’ve given mine my initials for the purposes of this demonstration, but I’d recommend giving it a name that’s a little more memorable if you’d like to create multiple styles. (For example, maybe you want a separate set of defaults for teaching and research: then you could have one set called Teaching and one set called Research). The next line allows you to choose what type of style you’d like to modify: character (font), paragraph, table, etc. I highly recommend choosing paragraph. That’s because when you choose Character, you will only be able to modify the font, not the spacing. Paragraph allows you to modify all attributes within a paragraph, including spacing, alignment, tabs, etc.

You can have your style based on almost any style, since you’re going to modify it anyway. I chose Normal because most of Word’s other styles include bold and/or italics, which I don’t want in my default font. But hey, I don’t know you: no judgments if you do.

TIP for impressionable undergraduates: please don’t make your default font bold italics. For those of us who are Old, that looks like shouting.

For the last pulldown menu, if it doesn’t populate automatically, make sure that the Style for the following paragraph is the same style as your new style. So in my test case, that is style JN. Otherwise, your document will look like those crazy German journals where one paragraph is clearly in size 12 and the next is equally clearly in size 10. (Why is that?? Anyone who knows, please us in!)

The rest of us can’t get away with that. So please make sure that your styles match unless you don’t want them to match, like in a block quote. (TIP: block quotes always have to be manually adjusted.)

MS word new style completed panel

So as you can see, I’ve made some changes to my default settings, which as you recall were Calibri size 12 and single-spaced. I’ve changed my font to a serif font, Book Antiqua; I also changed the spacing to 1.5 (the blue highlight in the middle). I’ve left most of the other defaults in place, because Word does try to make your documents look nicer. Going across from the font type, here’s what you can change:

Font, size, face (bold/italic/underline), color, character set (Latin for most Western readers).

Alignment (left-justified, centered, right-justified, left- and right-justified), spacing (single, 1.5, double), adjustments to that spacing (in case you want 1.7 or 2.5), and tabs/indentation

You then get a sample of your text and a gray box that you can ignore telling you all of the choices you’ve made. If you’re satisfied, hit OK and you’ve made your new style!

These styles can also be managed and new styles can be created from the Home screen by using the Styles panel.

MS word styles panel

Clicking on this will open up a new pane on the right with all of the available Styles, including styles you’ve made, and will let you make more by clicking on New Style. That will open the dialogue boxes we just went through.

MS word styles pane

To adjust your text, you can select the word(s) you’d like to style and click on the appropriate style.

TIP: at the top of the list, you’ll see a Clear Formatting option. This removes any additional styles and returns your document to whatever your default is. If you’ve reset your default, it will not return your document to the Word default.

One reason you might want to use the Styles pane instead of the menu is that you can very easily change your default fonts that way. Here’s how! Start by experimenting with your text in the home menu until you find a font, spacing, kerning, etc. that you like. I’d do this by pasting in a paragraph or so and adjusting until I liked the way it looked.

MS word modified style

Here’s the same paragraph in a nicer font. From here, select your entire paragraph of nice-looking font and go to your Styles pane (remember: from the Home menu, it’s on the far right). When it’s open, make sure your ideal font is still highlighted, then hover over Normal. You should see an arrow appear on the right; click on it to bring up a menu.

MS word change style

When you select and click Update to Match Selection, your preferred font is now Word’s Normal font, and should appear in all default documents.

We are still taking ideas for other things you want to do in Word! Let us know on the blog, Facebook, or Twitter.



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