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Timesaving tech tip: Customize and create styles for consistent, instant document formatting

I’ve got my own writing style. I’m sure you do too. Regardless, you likely have editors, publishers, and/or teachers who insist on specific style requirements that can be quite tedious and time-consuming to apply on a document by document basis.

Timesaving tip: Customize and create styles for consistent and instant formatting.

On the Home tab of the ribbon in Microsoft Word, in addition to the font and paragraph setting commands, is a lesser used gallery of named styles for quick formatting of elements within the document. In addition to the “Normal” style used for most body paragraphs within the document, there are predefined styles for headings, titles, quotes, and more.

These styles fit Microsoft’s default preferences of font size, type, color, and more, but probably don’t meet the formatting defined by your style guide. The good news is that you can modify every style (and even create additional styles to fit your needs).

APA style as an example

Let’s assume, for discussion, that you are writing regularly within the social sciences discipline and therefore are expected to format most of your manuscripts using American Psychological Association (APA) style. Although Microsoft Word provides reference features that make it easy to manage sources and properly create citation and bibliography content, the APA setting on the References tab of the ribbon does not change the formatting of the document to meet the style requirements. This means that the required 12-point, Times New Roman font and double-spaced paragraph formats must still be applied manually to most of the document. If you have not applied any styles to your document, the entire paper is using the “Normal” style, which by default is 11-point, Calibri font with a 1.08 line spacing and an extra 8 points of space after each paragraph.

Instead of selecting all the text and manually formatting the contents, Styles let you update all content quickly and even save the modified settings for future use, so you can set it and forget it!


  • Right-click on the style you want to edit (in this case Normal)
  • Select Modify from the context menu
  • Make the desired changes in the Modify Style dialog box (adjust the font to Times New Roman, set the size to 12-point, change the paragraph spacing to double, and remove the extra spacing)
  • Select the option to apply the style to “New documents based on this template” (to save settings for use in all other new documents from the same template)
  • Click OK

All text will be automatically updated throughout the document to meet the new style definition.

What about headings?

APA requires specific formatting of headings based on the starting point of the “Normal” style. For example, first-level headings are required to be centered, boldface, uppercase and lowercase. Second-level headings are left-aligned, boldface, uppercase and lowercase.

Using the same steps as above, you can modify the additional heading styles, starting with “Heading 1” and “Heading 2”, to meet these specific formatting requirements.

Once the style has been defined, select the text to be formatted, and simply click the desired option (i.e. “Heading 1”) from the Styles gallery to apply the correct formatting to your manuscript contents.

Bonus TIP:

When using Styles for formatting headings, Word can automatically pull those headings to generate the table of contents, saving you the task of manually generating your TOC.