Getting Started With Microsoft Word Styles for Book Layout

by Joel Friedlander on February 1, 2013 · 37 comments

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Okay, so you’re sitting at your keyboard pounding away, working on your latest work in progress. You get to the end of a section, hit [Enter] a couple of times and then type the subhead for the next section of text.

You’re an experienced word processor—hey, you’re a writer, right?—so you grab your mouse, select the text of the subhead and start formatting it. Maybe you want your subheads to be Helvetica Bold, 12 point, all caps. (I’m not recommending that, by the way, just using it as an example.)

You quickly select Helvetica from your font menu, change the size, change the alignment from fully justified—which you’re using for the text—to flush left (left-aligned), which is what you’re using for your subheads. Maybe, if you’re nitpicky, you also add a little space above and below the subhead, either by using the [Enter] key or going into the Paragraph formatting palette and setting values in the “Spacing Before/After” boxes.

The Problem with Formatting

That was a lot of work to format a subhead, don’t you think? We walked through about 6 steps to get the formatting right. And you’ll have to repeat these steps every time you come to a subhead in your manuscript.

Some people realize this is a lot of repetitive work and invent shortcuts like copying the last subhead, which copies all the formatting with it, then pasting it where you want the new subhead, and then deleting the old text and replacing it with the new text. That saves time, doesn’t it?

But the fact is that all these methods are bad choices.

Over the course of a long book, can you really be sure you’ve input exactly the same formatting values every time? Did you remember to add that “Space/After” every time? Maybe you should check, since there’s no other way to be certain.

Wait, didn’t you try a couple of subheads in the Verdana font? Did you remember to go back and change those? What about if someone mentions that your 12-point Helvetica bold subheads would look a lot better in 11 point? What are you going to do then?

The Answer to the Formatting Problem

No professional typesetter or designer would face these same problems. Would you like to know why?

It’s because professionals are getting paid for their work. The longer it takes to do a particular task, the less money they will derive from a project with a flat fee. Therefore, they will use the tools built into professional-level software to automate and standardize this process as much as possible.

And that’s what you should be thinking about also, if you plan to do your own book interior in Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word and most other robust word processors now contain a few of the same tools found in high-end layout programs. These are the tools that will make your life easier and your work more efficient. The one you really want to learn right now is Styles.

A style in Word is simply a way to capture all the formatting for a particular piece of text so it can be named, edited, and used for all other similar pieces of text.

For instance, in my example, we could do all that formatting once, then capture it as a Style and call it “Subhead.”

When you get to the next subhead in your manuscript, instead of reaching for the mouse and starting to format it, you just assign the “Subhead” style to it. Bingo, your text is completely formatted in one simple step.

If you learn to do this, the time you spend working on your manuscript will be a lot more enjoyable and contain a lot less of the routine, mind-numbing repetitive work it takes to do these tasks manually.

But using styles has three other crucial benefits:

  1. All the similar pieces of text—like all the subheads—will be formatted exactly the same way, because they are all assigned with the same Style. There is much less margin for error, so you can be sure your book’s formatting is professional and consistent.
  2. You can change the definition of your “Subhead” style—for instance, from 12 point to 11 point—and all the pieces of text with the “Subhead” style will change instantly and uniformly.
  3. Your path to eBook conversion will be greatly simplified, because your eBook files need to have all text assigned to a style, and the styles will enforce consistency on the final eBook files.

One of the great things about using word processing software to prepare our manuscripts is its ability to harness the power of our computers to easily and quickly produce manuscripts and books that are consistent.

And knowing that you don’t have to go back and check hundreds of subheads to make sure they are all perfectly consistent? Well, that’s priceless.

The World Up Until Now

Of course, trying to create a book in Microsoft Word is no easy task. I’m pretty sure it would drive me crazy, but that’s because I’ve never had to do it.

I’ve been spoiled by great tools like InDesign.

But I know there are a lot of authors out there who confront this problem, and I have a message for you.

The world is about to change.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have a solution for your problem that I think you’ll really enjoy. It will take away the pain and frustration of trying to get something that looks like a book out of your word processor.

And in order to use it, you’re going to need to know these styles. So take a few minutes to study your word processor’s styles. It will repay you many times over.

Originally published in a slightly different form at CreateSpace as Start Styling! Word Processing Styles & Why You Need Them

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    { 34 comments… read them below or add one }

    Peggy March 29, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I just came across this page and would like to know what Joel was referring to when he said he had a solution to Word coming up. That was in early Feb. 2013.

    Would someone take pity and clue me in about that?

    Thanks,
    Peggy

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander March 29, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Peggy, here’s the article where we announced the template site: Self-Published Books Get a Major Overhaul with BookDesignTemplates.com and you can see the variety of solutions here: Book Design Templates.

    Reply

    Peggy March 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks, Joel. After I left that message I wondered if it was leading up to announcing your Word templates. They really are splendid. Last winter, when I edited “The Storyteller’s Anthology” for my favorite nonprofit writer’s group that was (well, still is) in need of funding, I contacted your people and received a donated theme for it. Everything, including the contents, editing, Word theme (thank you so much), cover photo and art was donated, and the book is selling well. You can see the print version on Amazon and the eBook will be available next week.

    Thanks for your quick response here and again for the great template.

    Reply

    Debbie February 22, 2014 at 7:57 am

    I want to use a book template from Word 2013. It is set up as a booklet. 2 pages are side by side – 8.5 high by 11 wide

    I would like to change the layout to be one page 8.5 wide by 11 high.

    Do you know how to do that?

    Thanks!
    Debbie

    Reply

    db20 February 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Debbie, I don’t know how you would do that, but Joel has MSWord templates that are already formatted for 8.5 x 11, they are at http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/.

    Reply

    Moa'bite May 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Very interesting website! I didn’t know that they are people who are specializing in teaching how to publish! I will surely be a follower! And thanks for this article!

    Reply

    Peter Flynn March 3, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Very valuable post, Joel, and not just for self-pub or ebooks. As a typesetter, I charge for my time, and a consistently-styled Word document takes only a fraction of the time to convert to typeset format than inconsistently-styled or unstyled documents. The in-house XSLT we use to pull the content out of Word’s XML is smart, but not so smart that it can’t be fooled by an author using bogus styles, or simply using the wrong styles because they look the same as the right ones. One of the drawbacks of wordprocessor marketing is that everyone now believes that “looking pretty” is the same thing as “being right”.

    A colleague once said that every author nowadays believes they have the right to design their own layout; this may be true for self-pub, but not with an established publisher who has a house style. They are the ones who should be ensuring that the document is styled correctly (but hey, I charge them for putting it right :-) And I do know some authors who have used their demonstrable skill in styling to bargain for an extra advance or percentage royalty, on the grounds that the typesetter (me) will charge less for easier work, which is true (our rates for XML or LaTeX are _lower_ than normal, unlike with most typesetters).

    Reply

    Peter Flynn March 3, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Very valuable post, Joel, and not just for self-pub or ebooks. As a typesetter, I charge for my time, and a consistently-styled Word document takes only a fraction of the time to convert to typeset format than inconsistently-styled or unstyled documents. The in-house XSLT we use to pull the content out of Word’s XML is smart, but not so smart that it can’t be fooled by an author using bogus styles, or simply using the wrong styles because they look the same as the right ones. One of the drawbacks of wordprocessor marketing is that everyone now believes that “looking pretty” is the same thing as “being right”.

    A colleague once said that every author nowadays believes they have the right to design their own layout; this may be true for self-pub, but not with an established publisher who has a house style. They are the ones who should be ensuring that the document is styled correctly (but hey, I charge them for putting it right :-) And I do know some authors who have used their demonstrable skill in styling to bargain for an extra advance or percentage royalty, on the grounds that the typesetter (me) will charge less for easier work, which is true (our rates for XML or LaTeX are _lower_ than normal, unlike with most typesetters).

    Reply

    Maggie Dana February 2, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Another typesetting nightmare occurs when someone selects a heading Style, then hits SHIFT-RETURN and keeps on typing, only to realize that everything is coming out in the heading style (Bold Italic, for instance). This is because the SHIFT-RETURN they hit (and didn’t see because they don’t have INVISIBLES turned on) carries the previous paragraph’s formatting with it.

    So they select the paragraph and turn it into ‘regular’ text by setting a font and size from the menu bar, while beneath the surface … hidden and waiting to pounce … is the underlying header style.

    But all looks OK to the author, so he keeps going. Sometimes he hits RETURN, sometimes SHIFT-RETURN. When stuff doesn’t look right, he fixes it on the surface. But to him the document looks fine. The headings are bold italic flush left, his text is 12 point justified.

    At this point, he decides to hire a print book and ebook formatter and sends off his masterpiece which is a disastrous mix of styles, both Word Styles and local formatting, indiscriminately applied. I say ‘indiscriminately’ not to be pejorative, but to point out that most people who use Word don’t know about Styles and if they do, they don’t know how to use them.

    As someone pointed out earlier, Word doesn’t make it easy to use them. So far, I haven’t found a quick keystroke combo that will invoke a style. Word used to have this feature, quite a few versions back. In the late 1980s when Styles first came out (I’m on a Mac) I seem to remember a keystroke combo (OPTION-SHIFT-S, maybe) that brought up a small dialog box; you then typed the first letter or two of your Style and Word applied it. Nice and quick and no need to take your hands off the keyboard.

    Back to the nightmare formatting job. I have one here at the moment and on the surface it’s nice and clean and very simple. A Q & A, block-text style, with speakers’ names in bold and a lot of italic book titles sprinkled through the questions and answers. But no matter how I try to fix this mess … changing the Style parameters, putting it all in ‘normal’ or whatever, I still end up with a mess. Italics will switch to roman and vice versa, or I lose all italics, depending on which ‘fix’ I attempt.

    I leave it to your imagination as to what happens to this file when I import it into my page layout software and even worse, convert it to HTML for ebook production!

    Is it time for wine/whine yet?

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins February 2, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I agree, those carriage returns can be a bear if you do it unintentionally. Styles typically break at the with a full return (pilcrow). I find that when formatting with styles, turning on the “show/hide” formatting is very helpful.

    For ease of use, Word 2010/11/13 bring styles back to the forefront. They include the list on the home tab and have everything right there for an author to use. Worth the upgrade just for the ribbon! :)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Maggie, fantastic.
    “No need to take your hands off your keyboard.”
    Reminds me of the character mode vs graphic user interface wars, and how WordPerfect ruled because (as Grace says, above) you could control the entire program from the keyboard. But we’re all slaves of the GUI now, yes?

    This is nowhere worse than the iPad, which is intentionally dumbed down to resist control from a keyboard, meaning you have to constantly poke the screen then return to the home row. Oh, don’t get me started!

    David Bergsland chimed in this week on Word also, but from rather a different perspe tive:

    The Sadness of Word and How It’s Damaging Self-Publishing

    Reply

    Roger C. Parker February 2, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Dear Joel:
    This is an important and long-overdue article for the author community–and, as usual, you did it with economy and grace.

    Your advice is really valuable advice…though I also find Word’s text Styles interface to sometimes be a study in frustration–especially when you enter text copied from other files.

    BTW, when you return to the topic in a couple of weeks, you might want to describe the differences between Character and Paragraph styles, which can be very helpful.

    Good work!
    Roger

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 2, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks, Roger. I found myself using Word a lot more in the QuarkXPress days, when we could pre-format text and just pour it in to the layout program where it would pretty much auto-format.

    I’ve switched sides in the battle with Word, though. I ranted about it for 2 years and then gave up because the plain fact is that hundreds or thousands of authors are creating books in Word.

    I now see my job as making those books look better, as good as they can, and be properly constructed. And I think I have a way that will work.

    Reply

    ZLS Publishing February 2, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Another reason why I can’t stand Microsoft Word. Goodness! Thank goodness for professional software like Adobe. I wouldn’t want he travesty of dealing with this mess everytime I need to typeset a book. Ugh!

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan February 2, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I used Pagemaker for years, loved it, learned to use it for some writing groups I belonged to as I used to do the newsletters in Pagemaker. I loved it over Word in those early days because Word never stayed put, things moved around (as far as I could see). Then they ditched Pagemaker and I never went into the new expense of InDesign.

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan February 1, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Looking forward to your upcoming info Joel.

    Reply

    Grace Brannnigan February 1, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    I began years ago with Word Perfect. Loved it. Knew it backwards and forwards. Used it for the transcription I did. Then I got published traditionally and was told I had to do it in Word. I hated Word for years and fought against it and then upgraded from Word 2000 or so to 2007 and had a rush job I had to do. Needless to say, I was ready to pull my hair out. Where was everything? Fast forward….six months ago, I came across a tutorial for epubs. I wanted to get my eBooks on Smashwords and do it myself in a competent manner. The tutorial showed me the value of styles. Now I use it for the beginnings of all my eBooks, Smashwords and Kindle and today used it for Createspace.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 2, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Hey Grace, I started with WordPerfect too! Back in the 4.1 era, when a “power user” was someone who knew all 40 function key uses. But Word soon steamrolled all other word processors as part of Office. Sounds like you’ve got a good workflow now.

    Reply

    Colin February 2, 2013 at 10:24 am

    LOL I started with WP 5.1

    Reply

    Grace Brannigan February 2, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I used it on DOS, blue background, set it up myself on my first IBM computer where the entire computer was contained in the monitor in 1993. Had a manual for WP about 3 inches thick and it was so easy. I didn’t have a mouse, so everything was by the keys. The good old days. lol.

    Reply

    Mike Perry February 1, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Word has had named styles since the late 1980s. The problem is that Microsoft makes it so difficult and clumsy to use that most users never discover it. And odd as is seems, at least on the Mac version styles are getting more and more hidden. Microsoft also seems to be the only software company around that makes its products harder to use with each subsequent generation.

    Besides, for all but the final stage of formatting and layout, there are far better apps that Word, apps intended to make writing and editing easier. Scrivener is one of the most popular, particularly since it has Mac and Windows versions and will soon release one for iPads and iPhones.

    My own book production workflow is to write until I have a near-final version in Scrivener. Then I transfer it to InDesign for the layout and final edit. Once you get past the steep learning curve, the sheer power of ID makes it a joy to use. With the latest version, ID lets one text flow drive multiple outputs: PDF, ePub and Amazon’s Kindle. In today’s world, that saves a lot of time.

    When I first got into publishing, I tried to use Word but gave up in disgust. It’s a memo/letter creating app that works poorly for long-document writing and for the final layout. That’s not something that can be fixed by tacking on a few more features. It’s embedded into the core design of Word.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus February 1, 2013 at 8:35 am

    I did comparison pages with Word and ID. Neither one was the clear winner.

    http://www.bookmakingblog.com/search?q=indesign

    I’ve published more than 30 books with Word and see no reason to change. Good books and bad books can be done with many programs — and I doubt that there is any advantage to using ID for an e-book.

    Joel said, “Typesetting with a word processor is never going to give you the smooth color, sophisticated hyphenation, and fine control over your type that you can get with a professional-level program. But by picking the right typeface at the beginning, you’ll ensure that your book can be readable and conform to long-standing book publishing practices. And that’s no small thing.”

    My new book about formatting books with Word: http://www.amazon.com/Really-Publish-Microsoft-Publishing-ebook/dp/B00AXNCMOQ

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 1, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks, Mike. I like your workflow, since I’ve recently started using Scrivener for a new book project. What a delight after years inside Word which is, as you say, basically designed for office work. I’m testing a product right now on Word 2010 for Windows, and it is much more difficult than previous versions, and more visually confusing, too. Odd.

    Reply

    Dannie Hill February 1, 2013 at 6:20 am

    I’ve used Word for all my books and still get lost. Thanks for the help. Look forward to what you have to say!

    Reply

    Rosanne Dingli February 1, 2013 at 4:57 am

    Yes, yes, yes!!! I have been saying this to people who ask me for advice for months now. Typesetting and interior design are much more than just formatting. A formatted manuscript does not make a book – one must design it, typeset it, and “styling” it is definitely the pro way.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    Amen.

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins February 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    You are so right, the “devil is in the details”. Not only are styles a consistent way to apply formatting, but when done right they can set your book head and shoulders above the rest.

    Reply

    Carol Brill February 1, 2013 at 4:16 am

    Joel and newbie’s everywhere about to self-publish! I WISH, WISH, WISH, I’d read and understood this post about 6 weeks ago when I started my self-pub process. In spite of following The Book Designer religiously for a couple of years, I totally missed the difference between FORMATTING the interior and CONVERSION to e-pub. And, since I decided to buy conversion services, I naively thought I could ignore posts on Formatting. WRONG.
    I know you know, the rework (and stress) that caused when my MS didn’t pass conversion inspection due to a mix of TABS, Spaces, or Paragraph formatting for normal indentation and/or alignment. Lesson learned, I will study Styles and read everything you post on formatting!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 1, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Another hallelujah! is in order, Carol. Stay tuned, I’ve got some great stuff coming on this topic.

    Reply

    Colin February 1, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Hello Joel
    Thanks for this article.
    “Of course, trying to create a book in Microsoft Word is no easy task.”
    I have to disagree with this. After 30+ years in the technical writing field, I’ve designed dozens of manuals (books) using only Word. Admittedly, in the early days (Word 3.0), it was challenging :-). But today, there is actually very little than cannot be done in Word.
    Cheers.
    Colin

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Colin,

    Thanks for your comment. For someone who has never done it, creating a decent-looking book in Word is daunting. And the principle thing that can’t be done in word is really good typography.

    But I have to agree things have gotten much better, and the time is approaching this won’t be a big stumbling block any longer.

    Reply

    Colin February 1, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    Hello Joel

    Don’t you think it’s a matter of something being “difficult” before we start it, but when we have it mastered, we look back and think: “Now why did I get all stressed out?”

    I started with the old PageMaker (that is what InDesign was called :-)), and as Word was the standard for technical writers, we had no option but to master it. Something about using Word, I believe, is that most people use it in their work environment, and as such, it becomes “easier” to master.

    For a newcomer, InDesign can also be somewhat of a nightmare.

    Cheers.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus February 1, 2013 at 12:28 am

    Thanks VERY much, Joel.

    I’ve produced more than 30 books with Word but never saw the point in using the styles feature other than for hyperlinked chapter names in e-books.

    Because of your suggestion, which I read at 3:10 a.m., I set up a style for subheads in a book I’m working on. I love being able to make an instant change that affects dozens of occurrences in a book. Styles are wonderful and I feel like an idiot for not using them more often before.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.CreateBetterBooks.com
    NEW: self-publishing company parody, http://www.99BuckBooks.com
    NEW: reviews of books for authors: http://www.BooksForAuthors.com
    http://www.InfoForAuthors.com
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 1, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Well, hallelujah! I feel like I accomplished my mission. You won’t look back, Michael.

    Reply

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