Novice Self-publishing 3: Word Styles


The beauty of using Styles in MSWord is that you can change an aspect of your style (font size, indents, alignment…) and every paragraph in your document will automatically change.

The snag with using Styles is that you can change an aspect of your style and every paragraph in your document will automatically change.

It helps if the ribbon in your Word toolbar is showing Tabs and Commands. You can change this setting by clicking on the rectangular icon at the top right of the screen next to the question mark (see screenshot below).

It also helps to know where your spaces and returns are, and what Style they are in; this sometimes explains why your printed work doesn’t look as you thought it would (see earlier blog).

Toggle space and paragraph symbols on or off by clicking the ¶ symbol in the HOME tab.

Using Styles

Don’t be put off using Word Styles by the effort of setting them up. They are worth the extra time and occasional panic, once you understand how they work.

For instance, you might bold or italicise a section within a paragraph without affecting the paragraph’s Style (as I did there), but if you change the formatting at the start of a paragraph, the Style may automatically update and change all the other paragraphs in that Style throughout your document. (The change will also show in the Style Gallery on Word’s toolbar ribbon.)

If this happens and your Style suddenly changes across the entire document, don’t panic.

Undo by clicking once on the Undo symbol – that backward curved arrow, top left of the screen next to the Save icon (which looks like a floppy disc, if you’re old enough to remember what they were – see screenshot above.)

Sometimes this wholesale change of Style doesn’t happen… but it probably will if you have been using Styles throughout and not just reformatting Normal as you go along. It appears that Word can tell the difference (spooky, isn’t it…)

Clicking on Return once will retain the formatting of the line you intended to change but return the rest of your document to its previous formatting.

Clicking twice will undo your current text changes as well. You can then set up a new Style for the current paragraph.

It is better by far to set up a new Style than rely on Undo 

Otherwise you may notice at some future date that your formatting for this section has reverted to the original Style. (Or, even worse, you may not notice.)

Similar frightening changes happen when your mouse hovers over different Styles in the HOME tab Whatever paragraph your cursor is currently sitting in changes to the Style you are hovering over. Do not click on the mouse button unless you intended to change that paragraph to the style under your cursor.

If you do panic and unwittingly centre or double-space an entire paragraph, all is not lost. Just click on the Undo button.

Changing an existing Style

The Style Gallery box is on the Home tab (see screenshot above).

There are two ways of changing a Style

  • Find a paragraph in the style you wish to change.
    • Change the paragraph as you want it to look by right-clicking within the paragraph and choosing Modify from the context menu that appears.
    • Work through the changes you want to make and save them. Check the paragraph looks as you want it to.
    • Right-click with the mouse on that Style in the Style Gallery.
    • From the context menu that appears, choose ‘Update… to match selection.’


  • Park the cursor in a space or in a paragraph of the Style you wish to change. While not essential, this will avoid frightening changes in displayed text while you work on the Style.
    • Right click with the mouse on the Style you wish to change in the Styles box
    • Click on Modify
    • Read every line and control in the box that appears; leave or change as required
    • Click the box for Automatically Update. (This appears if you have other paragraphs in this Style already in your document.)
    • Go into Format (bottom left) and choose Paragraph to adjust indents, line spacing, space before or after, etc. Then…
    • Go into second tab of Paragraph formatting to turn off Widow and Orphan control (not wanted for e-book manuscripts) and to add a page break before, if you want to, for Chapter headings.
    • From here, click OK twice. Apply to a paragraph and check that this was the effect you wanted.

To justify text (for print only).

In your manuscript for print, right-click on each of your main paragraph Styles, and Modify them by changing in the first screen: from left-aligned to justified. (Find it underneath the font control box – see screenshot above).

Click on Automatically Update at the bottom.

Justified paragraphs give a more professional appearance, but you will need to check all the page endings in your formatted manuscript.

When you adjust page endings (and you will) you may be left with a bottom line stretched unnaturally across the page. This can be solved with a Section Break, but the Section Break has a knock-on effect on Headers (more on Section Breaks and Headers in a later post).

Creating a new style

Click on the down arrow in the bottom right corner of the Style Gallery box on the Home tab.

A column of Styles will appear. At the bottom left of this column are three boxes; click on the first for a New Style.

The box that appears looks the same as the Modify Style box in the earlier screenshot.

  1. Give your Style  a name in the top field.
  2. Then choose the Style you want to base your new one on from the drop-down menu.
  3. Work through all the other fields, as in the instructions above for changing a Style.

To close the Styles list when you are done, click the cross at the top right of the column . Your new Style should appear in the Style Gallery box on Word’s toolbar ribbon.

blank pages flying to book

It may sound daunting but, like everything in life, it gets easier after the first time.

PLEASE let me know if any of this needs more clarification.

Do you have any tips or shortcuts you can share?

My next Novice Self-publishing post will deal with layout and Section Breaks.

13 thoughts on “Novice Self-publishing 3: Word Styles

  1. Thanks, Cathy this is really useful, my tuition on Word is about twenty-five years old and certainly needs revision, some of the stuff I had forgotten or hadn’t learned properly in the first place. This is helpful and must have taken you some time to put together with the different screenshots.
    Thank you again for your time and trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that, Phil. Most of it was foreign to me before I started with the Smashwords Style Guide. That was a geat starting point when we put the writing group’s book together last year.

      Liked by 1 person

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