When you’re editing a document, have you come across headings that have been formatted manually? For example, the headings are big, bold and perhaps in a different colour, but the text still shows the default style ‘Normal’. This means someone has created the headings the hard way, selecting the text, applying the desired properties, then copying that formatting whenever a particular heading level appears in the document.

There’s an easier way!

It’s far more efficient to use styles in Microsoft Word. The styles are a built-in feature that’s sometimes overlooked. Here, I'll show you three good reasons for using styles rather than manual formatting. Read the text or scroll down to watch the video.

1. Quickly create consistent headings in Word

MS Word Styles are particularly useful for headings. Word provides a set of built-in heading styles. The top levels, Headings 1and 2 (and maybe Heading 3 depending on your screen size) automatically appear in the Styles pane on the Home tab. The pane shows the name of each style under a preview of how that style will look when it’s applied to the text.

To create a top-level heading in Word you simply put your cursor anywhere in the relevant text and click on Heading 1. Immediately, your text will be formatted in that particular style (in this instance, in Calibri light, 16 pt and blue). This is much quicker and easier than selecting the text and applying manual formatting. It also means that your headings will be consistent wherever you apply that heading style.

If you want to change the heading format (e.g. to make Heading 1 bold), you just follow these steps:

  1. Select one instance of Heading 1 and make it bold.
  2. Right click on that heading in the Style pane to open this list:
  3. Select ‘Update Heading 1 to Match Selection’ to change all the top-level headings in your document to bold.

2. Easily create a table of contents using Styles

Creating a table of contents (TOC) for a long document helps the reader navigate to different sections quickly. The TOC is a summary of all the headings in the document. If you were to create the TOC manually, then whenever there’s a change to a heading, you’d need to go back and change it in the TOC. This extra work can result in updates being missed and the TOC not reflecting the correct headings and page numbers.

The good news is, you can automate the TOC using MS Word styles.

Simply apply styles to all your headings, then follow these steps to add a TOC:

  1. Put your cursor at the point in the document where you would like the TOC to appear.
  2. Go to the ‘References’ tab and click on ‘Table of Contents’ to open this list:
  3. Select one of the built-in TOC templates and immediately your TOC will appear.

The TOC is a dynamic field that can easily be updated to match any changes to the headings or the page numbering in the document. Just right-click within the TOC and choose ‘Update field’ for any changes to appear.

3. Use MS Word styles to navigate around your document

If you’re a frequent MS Word user, you’ve probably used the ‘Find’ function. You’ll have seen that the ‘Find’ search box pops up in the left-hand panel, but did you notice the different options in that panel? It’s called the Navigation pane, and it’s useful for more than just looking for key terms.

The Navigation pane is a panel that sits to the left of the document. To open it, either go to the ‘View’ tab and tick the box to show the pane, or just click CTRL F (or CMD F on the Mac).

The Navigation pane contains three headings – ‘Headings’, ‘Pages’ and ‘Results’ – and if you click on ‘Headings’ it provides a list of the headings in your document (provided you’ve applied the heading styles as described above). From this listing, which is rather like a TOC, you can click through to the different headings and find your way around your document.

In addition, if you want to move text around, you can select a heading in the Navigation pane and drag it to change its position.

Using styles in MS Word makes it easy to create and adjust layouts

You can imagine how relieved your clients will be when you send their document back with consistent headings using MS Word styles. No more searching through the document looking out for inconsistent formatting. And if any changes are needed, all headings can be updated instantly, with changes flowing through to the TOC.

If your client needs some explanation to figure out how to manage the styles themselves, why not share this screencast of the process for applying styles.


If you need more than the in-built features of MS Word to polish your documents, you might like to check out the online courses for MS Word Add-ins and tools on cadmantraining