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Apply text style

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Style – how to get your text layout looking right

All word processors offer you the chance to apply a layout style to sections of the text. When preparing your manuscript for submission or for the printer, this is how you do it. You can ignore the predefined styles and do it all yourself, setting font, size and style for large and small blocks of text. But there is a much better way to do it by using text styles:

  • The styles are likely to be more consistent if you do not have to set them all manually.
  • If you change your mind, you can adjust the style and tell the software to update all sections that use that style.
  • It is invaluable when working with multi-part documents.
  • You can generate tables of contents automatically if you use heading styles in a hierarchy of section heading.
  • It saves time.

How to set the style

All word processing software has some default styles, typically called ‘normal’, ‘body text’ or ‘default’ and if you just start typing then you will be using one of these. If you want paragraph or section headings to look different, just highlight the words and look for the style (normally on the top menu bar, near where you set the font) and choose it.

Changing the way styles look

If you do not like a style you can change it. You will need to look for the ‘modify’ button. Then look at the style settings: not only do they have the font size, etc. but rules for allowing space before and after sentences and paragraphs, what to do if there is a section break for a new page, and many other options.

You make the changes and most word processors bring up a new screen or tab for each of the settings. When all the changes look right, and there is a useful preview screen, look for a button or tick-box that asks if it should automatically update this style. It is best to select the update option or your existing styles will look different, which rather defeats the purpose.

You will find you need to experiment but modern software provides a good preview so you can see impact of the changes you are making before saving them.

Creating a new style

If you want the captions for images and tables to stand out from the background text, you can define a caption style using a different font or bold text. The same applies for quotations you might be using in your writing. This can be invaluable for academic work or if you are writing performance scripts. To make a new style, you base it on an existing style as this means that some of the basics such as how to treat orphan line and paragraph breaks are already set. Then you modify it, and rename it before saving it.

TIP: If you find a style that has an effect that you like, and this can often happen if you paste content from another source such as the web, see if you can identify the settings within the style.

When to do it

Logic says you should start as you mean to go on. However, a better approach is to get the content into the document before you worry about the styles. In the next paragraph the reason why styles you have already set can suddenly change is explained!

If you plan to gather a lot of chapters into a book, you could go through each file to make sure the styles were consistent, but that is hard work. It is much better to merge all of the sections or files together, and then sort out the styles. It is a good idea to delete styles you do not want, such as ones that are imported when you paste web material into a document. Removing the style does not remove the associated text. Once you have removed the unwanted or duplicate styles (e.g. body text, body text 1, body text 2 etc), you can work you way through your book, applying the styles you need.

One way to ensure you apply styles to everything is to select the whole document, (ctrl-A) and apply the default style to absolutely everything. That way you will have a consistent base style, as all spurious effects will have been removed. After that, apply  the special style to heading and quotes.

What goes wrong

If you are cutting and pasting from other documents and especially from a web page, you might bring along a lot of exotic styles. You will see these on the style list, which grows whenever these are imported along with pasted text (unless you use the ‘paste without formatting’ option).

If these have the same name as an existing style, it should not overwrite the pre-existing style, but add another version. Nevertheless, it does happen that existing styles are changed when you insert some new text, which is why it is worth building the document before you sort out the styles.

When this happens, you can just remove these unwanted styles by deleting them. The text will remain and will adopt the default style.

See also building a table of contents where certain heading styles are used to compile the contents page.

Style sheets for your writing


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