top of page
  • Writer's pictureCristina Magalhães

Word Styles: All the Secrets To Improve Your Productivity

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

You've noticed the horizontal list of styles at the top of your Word window, but you never really understood how to use it or what is it for. After reading this article you'll know everything about Word styles. And you will also understand how it contributes to increasing your productivity.

As a bonus, you'll also learn how to create an index. Once you have the styles defined, it’s super easy.

What is it, and what is it for

The Microsoft Word styles tool allows you to save different text formatting options. This way, you can quickly apply them to certain portions of the text.

Let's imagine that you want all the titles of our document formatted with Arial, size 16 and bold. You can create a style with these options and apply it to each of the titles, avoiding having to format them individually. The same can be done for subtitles, paragraphs, tables and lists.

This saves time and ensures formatting consistency throughout. Read on to learn how to master this tool.

How to create a style

Paragraph style

The paragraph style type applies to headings, subtitles and paragraphs.

On the Home tab, click the arrow located in the lower right corner of the Style Gallery. A small window will appear. Now, click the button in the lower left corner (new style).

In the Create New Style window, define all the formatting options you want. In the properties choose a name for the style; in the type of style choose Paragraph; select a similar existing style to use as a starting point; and define which style to apply to the next paragraph (for example, if you are creating a style for a title, the next paragraph will be a style applicable to paragraphs).

In the Formatting section you can find the main options: font, size, line spacing, etc. If you want to define any formatting other than these, click the Format button in the lower left corner. There you will find all the options, including those related to Numbering, in case you want to have numbered titles.

Once you have chosen all the options, click OK to save. The new style will appear in the Style Gallery and in the style panel.

Table style

If you frequently use tables in your documents, it's useful to create a style that you can easily apply to them.

Follow the steps above to access the Create New Style window and choose Table in the style type.

In the Formatting section, you can determine a style for the entire table or different styles for certain columns or rows. This is useful if you need to highlight the first column or row; or if you want to have alternating colours between columns or rows to make it easier to read.

All options are available either in the Formatting section or through the Format button in the lower left corner: table properties, borders and shading, paragraph, etc.

List style

The List style is used to create formatting options for lists.

Follow exactly the same steps described above, but in the style type choose List.

The Formatting section is different from the one in the paragraph style. In this case, you can indicate at which level the list starts and define what formatting you want for each level.

In terms of formatting options, you can choose whether you want a numbered or bulleted list, the indentation, font and colour, among others. In the Format button, in the lower left corner, you'll find advanced options regarding the font, numbering, definition of a shortcut and text effects.

Once you've made all your choices, click on OK, and the new style will be added to the Style Gallery.


I wanted to make a particular reference to the Spacing option because most people tend to press Enter to add space between headings and paragraphs or between paragraphs.

This is not good practice because, in long texts, it will cause the paragraphs to shift between pages. See also my article on page breaks and section breaks for more information.

To define the spacing, go to the Create New Style or Modify Style windows, as appropriate, and click Format (bottom left) and choose Paragraph.

How to edit a style

In the Style Gallery or the panel, click on the style you want to edit with the right mouse button. Choose Modify. Change whatever is needed and click OK to save.

The changes will be automatically applied to the parts of the text that are formatted with the style in question.

How to apply a style

To apply a style in Word, just place the cursor on the title or paragraph in question and click on the style you prefer in the Gallery or panel.

By hovering the mouse over the styles (without clicking) you can see how that portion of text will look like after applying the formatting.

How to delete a style

To delete a style, you only need to right-click on the style in question and choose Delete.

It is not possible to delete the predefined Word styles. However, it can be removed from the Style Gallery. To do this, right-click on the style (in the Gallery or the panel) and choose Remove from Style Gallery.

Importing/exporting styles

To import/export styles between documents, click on the Manage Styles button in the styles panel (at the bottom of the panel, the furthest button to the right).

In the Manage Styles window, click the Import/Export button in the lower left corner. In the window that will appear, you have on the left side the styles of the opened document and on the right side the styles present in Normal.dotm.

Normal.dotm is the base template for Word when you open a new document. Therefore, if you copy any style to this template, that style will become available whenever you open a new Word file. This is useful if you want to create styles for use in your company documents.

If you want to copy a style to a document other than Normal.dotm, you will have to click on Close File (on the right side). Then click on Open File and select the destination document.

Now you just have to select (on the left side) the style you want to copy and click on Copy. This style will become available in the other document as well.

Manage Styles - Options

In the Manage Styles window, in addition to importing/exporting styles, you have many other options for organizing styles.

On the Edit tab, you can define how the styles are sorted in the panel (as recommended, in alphabetical order, etc.). It is also possible to modify the styles, eliminate them and create new ones.

In the Recommend tab, you define the priority of each style, which will have an influence on where it appears in the style panel. You can also determine whether or not a particular style is part of the recommended ones.

If you want to restrict the use of certain styles when the document is used by another user, you can do so on the Restrict tab.

Finally, you have the Set Defaults tab where you choose the default options when creating a new style.

Style Inspector

In the style panel, you can access the Style Inspector. The button is the one in the centre.

The Style Inspector allows you to easily identify which style is being used in a title or paragraph and see the formatting details. To do this, click on Reveal Formatting. You can also create a new style and delete the style of a paragraph.

Styles tool: how does it contribute to increasing your productivity?

By using styles, you are automating several steps that would otherwise have to be performed manually and repeatedly. All of this makes the document production process more time-consuming and tedious.


  • When creating styles for headings, subtitles and paragraphs, you can easily apply them to the respective parts of the text. This avoids having to constantly change the formatting.

  • If you define the spacing after a title or paragraph in the options (see how here), the spaces between title and paragraph or between paragraphs will automatically be uniform throughout the document.

  • If you want to have numbered headings, you can set that option in the style. This way, you don't have to worry about checking which number is next; it's automatically assigned.

  • Would you like all subtitles to be indented? Set this up in the style and the indentation is always applied.

Time is money. And, therefore, the less time you spend on minor tasks, the more time you have to dedicate yourself to the main areas of your business. Work smarter, not harder (the saying goes).

Bonus: how to create a table of contents

Once you have all the styles defined and applied to the respective portions of the text, it's very easy to create a table of contents (TOC).

The TOC is created wherever the cursor is placed. So, before the next step, place the cursor where you want it to be placed.

On the ribbon, go to the References tab and click on the Table of Contents button, on the left. Then choose Custom Table of Contents. Several alternatives are available in terms of design.

As you are using custom styles in this case, you will have to take one more step to create the TOC. Click on Options. In the Table of Contents Options window, delete the 1, 2 and 3 under Level. Then, click on the arrow on the right side until the styles you created show. Enter the respective levels in front of each style (1, 2, 3, etc.). Click OK to close the window and click OK again in the Table of Contents Options window.

And this is it! The index should appear where the cursor was placed.

If you want to make any changes in terms of design or how many levels show in the TOC, just go back to the Custom Table of Contents option and adjust.

Final Words

As promised, I've shown you everything you need to know about styles to make your day-to-day life easier and increase your productivity. You learned how to create, edit, apply and delete styles. And also how to import and export styles and how to create a table of contents. Now you just have to put everything into practice.

Cristina Magalhães is an editor, proofreader and crochet tech editor who works with businesses, content writers and individuals.

She edits business documentation, marketing materials, LinkedIn profiles, CVs, cover letters and crochet patterns.

Get in touch:

Social Media: Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram


bottom of page