Styles in Microsoft Word

Let’s face it: legal writing is already hard work. Tinkering with things like fonts to enhance legal document readability can be time-consuming. However, with the Microsoft Word Styles feature, consistent formatting becomes a whole lot easier and faster and can help enforce standards in your firm’s outgoing documents.1

What are Styles?

Using Microsoft Word Styles is a way to apply pre-set formatting definitions to blocks of text. For example, you can designate a style called “Heading 1” which formats all of your first-level headings in a particular font, boldface, single-spaced, and centered. That Heading 1 style, applied to all of your first-level headings in a brief or another document, gives you a one-step way to apply multiple format settings (font, font weight, justification, line spacing, etc.) for consistent formatting in your document.

The beauty of using Styles rather than manual text formatting is being able to change the formatting throughout the document in a couple of steps. Otherwise, you’re stuck going through the entire document looking for each instance of a particular text type. For instance, if you decide to change your first-level heading font from Times New Roman to Book Antiqua, you only need to modify the Style, and all the headings in your document will change automatically.

Using Built-In Microsoft Word Styles

Microsoft Word has had the Styles feature for several versions, and the Ribbon-based versions (Office 2007 and up) kick it up a notch by offering multiple sets of standard Styles. Styles are grouped into Style Sets, and many of the Styles within the current set are available in the Quick Styles Gallery on the Home tab:

Click on the down arrow just to the left of Change Styles (the arrow that has a small line above it) to see the full list of Quick Styles:

The default Style set often features blue headings and fonts not particularly appropriate for legal documents. There are more choices over on the Design tab:

word-2016-design-tab

Either choose another Style set from the gallery or click on the Colors and/or Fonts drop-downs to the right to make the appropriate adjustments to the current Style set. Save your settings for your future documents by clicking the Set as Default button.

How to Apply a Style to Text

To apply an existing Style (such as one of the above) to your text, select the text with your mouse. Once your text is selected, click on the Style name in the Quick Styles Gallery on the Home tab. Your text will be re-formatted in the new Style.

To see a preview of how a particular Style will reformat your text, simply hover your mouse pointer over that Style and pause a moment—your text will briefly change to the new settings. It will revert to its previous formatting as soon as you move your mouse pointer away

Here’s another way you can choose Styles to apply to your text: click Apply Styles in the full Style set view shown above and get a complete list of Styles to apply (not all Styles are listed in the Quick Styles gallery):

word-2017-apply-styles

Clicking on that button circled in red above will pop up a Styles pane to the right that you can also use to manipulate Styles:

word-2016-styles-pane

Modifying an Existing Style

If you would like to apply a Style to your text but want a minor change, such as making the type a bit larger, right-click on top of that Quick Style and select Modify:

You’ll be taken to the Modify Style dialog box, where you can adjust the formatting in a variety of ways. To change the font as in our example, just click the font drop-down and scroll down until you find the font you want.

word-2016-style-modify

The easiest way to change an existing Style? Find some text in your document that’s already formatted the way you like, select the text with mouse or keyboard, then right-click the Style as previous. As you can see above, the first choice in the right-click menu is Update [Style] to match selection. Click that, and the selected Style will be updated with all of that text’s settings—font, justification, line spacing, etc.

Creating a New Style

What if you want to add a Style to the set you’re using? You can use a similar trick to the one above—format some text the way you want it, then use that text as the basis for a new Style.

For example, you can create a “Block Quote” Style where paragraphs are single-spaced and indented 0.5″ on left and right. Format the block quote the way you want it, select it with your mouse, right-click on it, and get the contextual menu:

When you click Save Selection as a New Quick Style, you get the Create New Style from Formatting dialog box. That will allow you to name your new Quick Style (and modify it some more if you like) and save it.


  1. Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2016 for Windows.