Using Styles, specifically Normal (default)

Copper Contributor

Styles have never been necessary before and I am only now trying to get my head around them. I get the principle and am starting to use them sparingly, but I have run into problems.


On creating a new document, I understand the default style is "Normal" (and paragraph). I can then go on to add styles to headings etc and, on modifying they update (usually - more anon). However, when I try to modify the basic style there is no change. What am I doing wrong?


I also find that any modifications I make work only for that document. If I save the document as a copy to another name (which I do at the end of every work session for security) the headings revert to the previous (unmodified) settings on that copy, BUT on checking the style the modifications already made are there, and only come into force when I click on each and every instance where that particular style has been used.


I'm clearly doing something wrong, or have misunderstood the instructions but, as it is, styles would seem to be of limited benefit.


Any help would be welcome.

10 Replies

@Jim_Bond Styles have been a feature of Word since the very first version for DOS in 1983

To get an understanding of their use, see the following page of the late Shauna Kelly's website

Thank you.
Modyfying what is effectively a default style would seem to go against the recognised instructions, likewise when trying to mantain a style after a document has been copied. If anyone could shed any light on that I would be grateful.
best response confirmed by Jim_Bond (Copper Contributor)

@Jim_Bond When modifying a style, if you want the modifications to apply to other, new documents, you need to check the box for "New documents based on this template" before clicking on OK to dismiss the Modify Style dialog.


If you do not do that, if the document was saved after you modified the style, the modifications should appear in a copy of the document, unless in the Templates and Add-ins dialog you have a check mark in the box for "Automatically update document styles"


That box should NOT be checked.



Thank you, I think I have it now!

Have to say there are still problems with the default style, which will not update in the original document when modified, but I think I have discovered a very basic workaround.

Again, sincere thanks.



By "default style," are you referring to the Normal style? Note that style inheritance only works for settings that have NOT been explicitly modified in the "child" style. For example, if a style called S is based on the Normal style and you then modify the font name of S, the font name will no longer respond to later changes of the style name in Normal


In addition, if you find that text in the document is not consistent with the applied style, you can revert the selection to the settings of the underlying style by pressing Ctrl+SpaceBar (reverts character settings, such as font name, size, attributes) and by pressing Ctrl+Q (reverts paragraph settings, such as indentation and line spacing).

Thank you for responding, I appreciate your help although really don't understand the first paragraph (which is surely more an indication of me and my general grasp of Word).
However, I do find I am able to work with Styles providing the default (ie the Normal style that is active on opening a document) is ignored and all text / headings / titles etc are given seperate and obviously individual styles. Try as I might, atempts to modyfy this base/default style fail.



I assumed (probably incorrectly) that you were referring to style inheritance. The "Style based on" setting in the Modify Style dialog box determines which style is the basis for a given style. For example, in the screen shot below, the Modify Style dialog box indicates that Heading 1 is based on Normal. 





You mentioned defaults. What do you mean by that? How do you expect the defaults to work? Different programs may have different mechanisms for applying default settings...


In Word, each paragraph style defines default settings (font name, font size, attributes, line spacing, indentation, etc.). Those settings are applied to text when you apply the style. 


The initial appearance of a new document is determined by settings defined in whatever style is applied to text in the underlying document template. 


Thanks for persisting with this and apologies if I have not been clear; I must confess to having a block when it comes to ‘Wordspeak’.

To fully explain the “Modify Default Style” problem; I have been a full time writer for many years, originally delivering typed m.s. by post! I fully accept Word documents are far superior (and publishers now require e.mailed submissions). However, though I appreciate many of the features, I still tend to work with limited enhancements.

One would be to distinguish Chapter and other headings, which is easily achieved by adding a style, which can then be modified. However, on completing a m.s., if I wish to change the default / Normal style, which was present on starting the docukent, and used for my body text, any modifications to not “take”. (In modifying I am right clicking on the squared out style on the top ribbon then clicking on Modify, making the appropriate changes, and clicking ‘okay’.) Whatever changes I introduce, being they to the first screen, or later Format options, there is no change to the document.

The workaround that I have (recently) derived is to copy the entire document and put it all into another style and treat that as my base for text. Then click on Chapters / Author Notes and anything else that I would like to be highlighted / different and put that in a Heading style. That way I can modify the newly created inner text style if need be.

It works, but seems a long winded way to go about things (and I’m sure would not be approved of by those with more Word knowledge). It would be so much simpler to be able to modify the basic “Normal” style that comes as a default when starting a document.

Again, thanks for your help and sincere apologies if I am missing something obvious.




Here are some resources:

Like you, I thought styles irrelevant. They are not. In Word, they are at the heart of not only formatting but also document organization. The last link, above may explain what is happening to the copies you save, but they are all worth looking at. The first one gives some of my experiences. Here is the concluding language from that short page.


There are several reasons for using styles in a document:



Consistency — When you use styles to format your document, each section is formatted the same and therefore, provides a professional, clean-looking document.



Easier to Modify — If you use styles in your document consistently, you only need to update a given style once if you want to change the characteristics of all text formatted in that style.



Efficiency — You can create a style once, and then apply it to any section in the document without having to format each section individually.



Table of Contents — Styles can be used to generate a table of contents quickly.



Faster Navigation — Using styles lets you quickly move to different sections in a document using the Document Map feature.



Working in Outline View — Styles allow you to outline and organize your document's main topics with ease.



Legal Outline Numbering – Numbering, when linked to styles, allows you to generate and update consistent outline numbering in legal documents, even ones with complicated numbering schemes like municipal law, tax law, and mergers and acquisitions documents.



Efficiency of Word — Files which are predominantly manually formatted are less efficient than those which have formatting that has been imposed by styles: manually formatted files, such a converted documents which have been File, Opened, are bloated in file size (bytes) and do not render to the screen efficiently when you scroll through them. This is because Word is a styles-based application: it first reads the attributes of the underlying style, then has to broadcast anything contrary (e.g. manually formatted on top of that). As such, a lengthy document that has been predominantly manually formatted, will behave sluggishly because Word has to work harder at managing it. Additionally, the print formatting processes are equally labored as opposed to using styles.



HTML AND XML — What lies ahead? A fully structured, styled document will move into HTML and XML incredibly well.

Styles are an essential part of Microsoft Word. In fact, everything you type into a document has a style attached to it, whether you design the style or not.


When you start Microsoft Word, the new blank document is based on the Normal template, and text that you type uses the Normal style. This means that when you start typing, Word uses the font name, font size, line spacing, indentation, text alignment, and other formats currently defined for the Normal style. The Normal style is the base style for the Normal template, meaning that it's a building block for other styles in the template.

Sincere thanks, I will certainly follow up the links you list. I am progressing with Styles and do understand their importance.
I think your last paragraph might give an answer to the problem I have been having. From everything already read I had assumed that text entered in a new document was automatically attributed to the Normal style. However, on reading what you have written more carefully that might not be the case, and text would only be complying with the parameters defined by the Normal style and not governed by it. In which case it is quite reasonable that modifications would not be reflected until it is actually placed in that style.
Thank you for explaining this.