Oh What Tangled Webs…Working with Style Sheets in Word Part 1

Welcome to Part 1 of an ongoing series to help you get your Word documents in order. This will eventually form a portion of a non-fiction book that I’m currently writing on how to better format your novel and prep it for print. There seems to be a plethora of information on creating ebooks, but I find some gaps in the print-on-demand field and I hope I can help some folks out.

Now, those of you who craft your work in Word, raise your hand now. And of those, how many understand Word’s somewhat convoluted style sheet and way of handling formatting? Yeah? Just about no one? Well, that’s totally understandable, and I want to talk a little bit about it today. Even among those of us who use Word on a day-to-day basis in our professional lives (technical writer speaking here) the thing can be a difficult beast to tame.

The problem? For a long time, Word did not account for well-formed code, which caused all kinds of headaches when people used divergent formatting and didn’t use style sheets. This is the #1 reason WordPerfect shall forever be the perfect word processor, but I digress. Going to talk a little technical here before I get to the more practical demonstration, so feel free to skip the next two paragraphs. At work, I would probably be telling you to skip to Step 5.

I’ve talked a little about this before, but one of the biggest problems that faced the early web was the relative flexibility of HTML. That’s right, it was actually too flexible. It’s great that browsers could allow you to do different things, but it led to fragmentation, wherein some sites were nigh-unviewable in certain browsers. You still see this in some instances today, but it’s become very, very uncommon because people got their heads out of their asses about standardization of features across the language (well, to some extent. It could be better but it’s a huge improvement over the early 00s).

So, you might wonder, how does this apply to Word? After all, Word didn’t even support HTML for quite some time. The problem is that this same thinking applied to Word. Combine that with the fact that no one envisioned early word processors as a desktop publishing resource and you have a product that’s trying to grow while being held back by its own legacy and the demands of the current market for a delicate balance of flexibility and rigidity. I don’t blame them for having some difficulty with standards, especially when they support some antiquated formats. I’m sure something has to give with an architecture like that.

Anyway. The issue is that few people used a standardized template with their documents, and styles were in no way formalized. You might have one paragraph that’s tagged as “normal” while the next might be “normal (web)”. You might switch to a “graphic” tag and then have it stick in the next paragraph (this has been fixed in newer versions of Word). The biggest nightmare is copying text from one document and pasting it straight into another document with a different template. The new style gets inserted into the target document and just…that becomes a mess really quickly. You can see where style issues crop up.

Okay, you are now past the geek talk. The answer to all this is to keep a consistent template and style sheet, and be sure that you use styles when you’re writing. How to do that? Well, the current default template for Word 2010 (we’ll be looking at this today) is actually perfectly adequate for writing a novel, though I’ve developed some of my own styles.

Let’s get with the hands-on. Most of these screenshots are from me patching up issues in my latest print proof, but I’m having to spoof some, too, as I didn’t have to build my template from the ground-up this time (thank god for that).

I could (and am) literally write a book about this subject, so today we’re just going to play with the normal style. Trust me, there’s plenty of stuff to talk about and give you a decent hands-on.

So, the default Word template. If I create a blank document, Word presents the Normal style as follows:

So we see that the font is Calibri (Body), 11 point, with a left justification. No special features, etc. Now, Calibri is a perfectly acceptable font for e-books (and it doesn’t really matter anyway), so you could just leave it as-is. Luckily, I don’t leave it this way because I need my novels print-ready, and print-ready books should have a serif font. See this article to answer all of your font questions, ever. This offers us an opportunity to look at changing these in a very basic way.

I’m going to assume that you understand most of the options in that screenshot; if not, we can talk about those in a separate post.

You can do this in one of two ways; right now, let’s change the normal value in the more traditional manner.

Right-click on the “Normal” style in the Styles section and select Modify…

You’ll see the Modify Style pop-up. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with it. This is mostly informational, telling you what the style looks like.

Click the Format drop-down button and select font.

So now we have the font selection screen.

Set your font to whatever font you’ve selected. Also select the style and size. I choose Book Antigua because I like the way it looks on the page; this is not one of the more common printed fonts, but I feel if you’re at least aware of the more common standard there’s some room for taste. You might want to use a more traditional publishing font. These include:

  • Caslon
  • Garamond (my second choice)
  • Goudy Old Style
  • Baskerville

Once you’ve chosen your attributes, click OK.

Voila. You can see that this has become the default font for normal. 

So the default font goes from this:

To this:

Pretty basic tutorial, I admit, so let’s look at the other way to do this. Pretty simple. You select the text that you want to change and go to the font selector at the top. Choose the font and size you want (in this instance, we’re going back to Calibri 11).

When you’re done, right-click on the selected text. Roll-over Styles in the drop-down menu and then click on “Update Normal to Match Selection.”

And there you have it – the same effect as above, but handled through this short-cut.

Obviously, I’ve just scratched the surface here; we have a lot more to cover. Here’s the thing, though: I’d like this to be interactive. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. I can provide screenshots and maybe let you know if your question is planned as  a future topic.

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One Comment

  1. Nice tutorial! I’ve downloaded a couple of style sheet templates for Word over the last few years, and what I find most useful about them is that I can set different styles for common things that “happen” in a book. For example, there style for the first paragraph is different than the style for subsequent paragraphs, and the font and centering are different for titles than for the body text. It’s helpful to have shortcuts to those to make the formatting consistent.

    My question: Do you find that the subject in a given piece influences your font choice?


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