A beginner’s guide to using heading styles in Microsoft Word

In my first office job, I was given a very long training manual to revise. The organisation had rebranded and all draft documents had to be reformatted to match the new corporate style. This meant changing every single heading in the training manual. I almost quit on the spot.

But a kind colleague sensed my despair and taught me how to use the styles function in Word. My visions of weeks spent scrolling through the document page by page began to fade. Instead, I was able to apply the new corporate style to the document in just a few hours.

Along with learning how to use the coffee machine,
mastering styles in Word is one of the most important professional skills I have learned.

In this step-by-step guide I’ll show you how to use the inbuilt styles in Word to create headings and navigate easily through your document. This will be useful for writers, editors, students and anyone working with Word.

STEP 1: CHOOSING A DESIGN

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Image by Laura Ockel

Word comes with a large range of inbuilt design templates (called themes) for your document’s layout.

  • Go to the Design tab (pictured).ck-themes
  • Click on the Themes drop-down and choose a theme.
  • In the Document Formatting box, select a format. You can hover over a format box to preview it in your document.

STEP 2: UNDERSTANDING STYLES

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Image by Sharon Pittaway

Styles allow you to preset characteristics (like font, colour and paragraph spacing) for your text.

Let’s say you create a document where all the major headings are Arial, size 24, and green. But your boss prefers Times New Roman, size 20, and blue.

If you’ve set up styles, instead of clicking every major heading and changing it to Times New Roman, size 20, and blue, you need only change the style, and this will automatically change every major heading in your document.

At the very least, I recommend styling your document’s headings.

Using consistent headings creates signposts for the reader, makes a document more visually appealing and helps writers and editors navigate through a complex manuscript.

Styles can also be applied to other text (like paragraphs and bullets), but for this tutorial we’ll just stick with heading styles. You can create your own or use the inbuilt styles. We will be using the inbuilt styles.

STEP 3: UNDERSTANDING HEADING STRUCTURES

ck-headings

Microsoft Word uses a default heading structure (pictured). It’s a good idea to structure your document like this too, to make it easier to read and navigate.

STEP 4: USING HEADING STYLES TO STAND OUT

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Image created from an original photo by Lauren Peng
  • Find the quick styles gallery, or the styles pane, usually on the Home tab (pictured).ck-styles
  • Highlight your first heading.
  • Click on the style called Heading 1. This will be applied to the heading in your document.
  • Follow this step for all your headings, making sure you follow the Word heading structure.

STEP 5: FINDING YOUR WAY WITH DOCUMENT NAVIGATION

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Image by Callistus Ndemo

How often have you become lost in a document, scrolling endlessly for the page where you think you saw Table 1.2?

Never again! Now you’ve applied styles to your document, you can use a really handy feature called the navigation pane.ck-navigation

  • Go to the View tab.
  • Tick the box next to Navigation Pane (or, in earlier versions of Word, document map).
  • The interactive pane (pictured) will open next to your document.
  • Click on Headings.
  • You will see an outline view of your document, based on heading styles—think of it like a dynamic table of contents. Clicking on a heading will take directly to that place in the document. You can also rearrange sections by dragging and dropping headings in the navigation pane.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Now you’ve mastered the inbuilt styles, you can learn how to customise the default styles and learn how to build your own styles.

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2 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to using heading styles in Microsoft Word

  1. Thank you, Claire, this was a very informative and helpful read. I understand why formatting in Word is important. I appreciated your insight and experience of being on the ‘other side’ when you didn’t understand formatting in Word. I think I will refer to your post in the future.

    Like

  2. Hi Claire, I have never really understood styles and always placed in the too hard basket. Your tutorial is spot on, very clear,concise and easy to follow. I will be bookmarking it and using it.

    Like

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