The Styles UI


Styles (Word 2007 and later)


To use Word properly, one should use Styles. Whilst this can be a bit of a mantra, it is most certainly true: if you don’t keep your styles under control, you will, sooner or later, be unable to maintain your document as you wish, especially so if numbering is involved.

To effectively use styles you must understand what is presented to you. You must know what styles are shown where, be able to find the ones you have used, and those you want, and apply them where you want them.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has chosen to make it almost impossible for all but the experts. There will always be problems with every feature, and it simply isn’t possible to please everybody all the time, but with styles, and particularly the styles user interface, Word seems to be striving for a new low. There is no easy way to explain what is a large and significant part of the product, and I can only apologise up‑front for diving right in and trying to pull the strands together as I go.

After a look at styles, and some of the user interface, I’m going to take a look at the XML that is, now, the preferred storage mechanism for documents. Why not join me on my adventure?.

A Blank Document and Some Styles

When you start with a blank document in Word, the Styles available for your use are, at least superficially, a combination of those built into Word and those that exist in your Normal Template.

Your Normal Template is a bit like your DNA, bearing the scars of your personal history: the styles in your Normal Template bring with them all the changes you’ve made, deliberately or accidentally, over all your years working with Word. I can’t imagine what you see, so I will start from the beginning. If you start from scratch in Word 2013, this is something like what you will see at the top right of your screen:

The Built-in Home Tab in Word 2013
The Built-in Home Tab in Word 2013

There are several points of interest here, the first, perhaps, being how many styles you can see. The image above shows what a user of a typical modern wide screen is presented with straight out of the box: you may see more or fewer. In my own typical configuration I see just three: “¶ Normal”, “¶ No Spac…”, and “Heading 1”. This is what Word thinks important.

You will note that some of the names are truncated and followed by ellipses; this has no special significance; it only means that the names are too long to fit in the space available. If you hover your mouse over an individual style item, the full name will be shown in what used to be called a ToolTip.

Words often fail me when describing the Ribbon, partly because information is so hard to discover, but the styles are shown in the Ribbon in what Word calls the Quick Styles Gallery, or sometimes just the Styles Gallery. At the right hand edge of the gallery there are three small icons, the bottom one of which looks like an arrow head with a line over it. If you click on this, the gallery will expand, exactly how depending on your own screen configuration; in this instance it needs just two lines for all the default styles to show:

The Expanded Quick Styles Gallery in Word 2013
The Expanded Quick Styles Gallery in Word 2013

The styles included in the gallery are called Primary Styles. According to the official standard, primary styles are those designated as particularly important for the current document. The following styles are those that, by default, and on your behalf, Microsoft has designated as being of particular importance to your empty document:

I have tried to give accurate descriptions of style types as they have appeared, and to describe and explain the styles presented, but you may think some of my comments, especially the later ones, a bit terse. That is because I find it difficult to believe that a significant number of Word users will find it helpful to have these styles given such prominence in the user interface. If they were really useful they wouldn’t suffer arbitrary changes in each new release of the product and my best guess is they are, in some way, considered exemplary.

The Styles Pane

That’s it, anyway. That’s what you get for your money with Word. You will want to change this, so now it’s time to look a bit deeper. Underneath the gallery in the Ribbon is the name of the Group within the Ribbon: Styles. To the right of this, in the far right bottom corner of the group is an arrowhead even more miniscule than those at the side of the gallery. This one is called the Dialog Launcher; once you know its name it becomes a little easier to imagine what it might do. This actually launches a Task Pane, rather than a Dialog, but the difference is immaterial for the moment. Click on it and this Task Pane will appear, by default at the right hand side of your window:

The Default Styles Task Pane in Word 2013
The Default Styles Task Pane in Word 2013

Here, at the moment, with one exception, you can see the same styles you saw in the gallery in the Ribbon. There is one little bit of extra information: you will remember that Normal, and a couple of other styles in the gallery, were explicitly shown with a pilcrow to indicate that they were paragraph styles. Here, as well as the pilcrow, you can see a lower case letter “a”, which indicates a character style, and an underlined pilcrow and letter “a” together, indicating a linked style. These icons give some hint as to the nature of these styles, and here, though not in the Ribbon, you can tell the difference between a character style and a linked style.

The one exception is the item, “Clear All”, at the top. You may be able to hazard a guess as to what this does, and you probably wouldn’t be too far wide of the mark. There used to be a way to remove this, and still is, with VBA, or by manipulating the underlying XML, but I cannot find how to do so in the user interface. I shall, for the most part, ignore it for the rest of this discussion.

At the bottom of the pane are three icons, none of which are instantly recognisable. Hover over them each in turn and you will discover that they are identified as “New Style”, “Style Inspector”, and “Manage Styles”: whether this knowledge helps you on first sight is questionable, but I hope I will be able to help throw some light on it shortly. Beside these icons you can see the text: “Options…”; the ellipsis is following a convention that pre‑dates task panes by many years, though one that may be unfamiliar in this context, and indicates that there is more to see, probably via a dialog, which should be revealed by clicking it. This is, in a sense, confirmed by noting that the text is underlined when you hover over it, suggesting that it is probably a hyperlink. As task panes are built with HTML, it is, technically, a hyperlink, but it doesn’t behave exactly like one as the dialog that is invoked prevents further interaction with the task pane.

Just before looking at the Options dialog, you will note that there are two options deemed important enough to have pride of place in the main pane: “Show Preview”, and “Disable Linked Styles”. The Disable Linked Styles option affects behaviour on the document surface, and will be addressed later: it is hard to see why it has been placed here. The Show Preview option will change the presentation of the pane as shown below:

The Styles Task Pane in Word 2013, showing Style Previews
The Styles Task Pane in Word 2013, showing Style Previews

Here you see samples of the styles, in much the same way as the swatches are presented in the gallery. This option is, fairly obviously, relevant here but why it is not presented as part of the options dialog (see below) I have no idea.

Clicking on the Options… hyperlink brings you this:

The Styles Pane Options Dialog in Word 2013
The Styles Pane Options Dialog in Word 2013

Being recommended is a confusing notion that, in the two places it is used, means two different things. You can not recommend a style: being ‘recommended’ simply means that a style is not being explicitly hidden (or what is called semi‑hidden, of which more, later). You can not recommend a sort order, either: styles are assigned priority numbers, and sorting ‘as recommended’ means no more than sorting in ascending numeric order of priority. The order in which the default styles are sorted, both in the gallery and in the task pane, is a result of the somewhat arbitrary priorities that Microsoft has assigned those styles.

Instead of showing recommended styles you can, apart from “All styles” show styles “in use”, or styles “in current document”. You may, on occasion, be surprised at what Word considers to be in use or, indeed, in the current document, but, selecting either, on a default system with a blank document will give a short list.

The Styles Pane showing Styles in Use in Word 2013
The Styles Pane showing Styles in Use in a blank document in Word 2013

If your document is blank, you might be surprised that the list is not even shorter. How can two styles be in use, or in the current document, when it is empty or, more accurately, as I’m sure you know, contains but a single terminal paragraph mark? The paragraph mark does, by default have a style of Normal, but the Heading 1 style is, in fact, not in use at all.

Word, to an extent, structures documents around headings, and considers them important in various ways, so important that it tells you, by default, that they are in use when they are not. Word lies because it wants you to be able easily to select Heading styles, but it has taken a drop of truth serum, and there is a special option that affects their visibility. If you look back at the Options dialog you will see a checked checkbox with the legend: “Show next heading when previous level is used”. Heading 1 is there right in front of you, almost demanding your attention. If you use Heading 1, Heading 2 will then appear in the list, and so on, not quite ad infinitum, but all the way to Heading 9. If you don’t want this you can uncheck the checkbox and Heading 1 will no longer be listed.

If you choose to see All Styles, you will get a list of over 100, many of which may make little sense to you. If you have Show Preview checked you will get a glimpse of how they will appear, but if you have them sorted ‘as recommended’, the order will appear arbitrary. For the most part, they do have fairly descriptive names, and some of them will be automatically applied by Word when it thinks them appropriate: Footnote Text, for example, for text in footnotes. It is unlikely, however, that you will use many of them as provided. There is just one final point worth making, and that is that the only styles you see here are paragraph styles, character styles, and linked (paragraph and character) styles. There are other types of style that are presented elsewhere.

I don’t want to dwell too much on every option, and will leave you look at the effect of different sort orders; it is only really the default ‘as recommended’ that cannot be easily understood, although sorting by font may throw up a surprise that I may touch on later. Briefly, the other options will not make any difference in the blank document I have been using thus far, but in a document that has been worked on for any length of time, choosing them can give a good indication of the professionalism of the author, and can often overwhelm.

Managing Styles

You may remember that the tip, when you hovered over the right hand one of the three icons, was “Manage Styles”. If you click on this, you get a dialog:

The Edit Tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013
The Edit tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013

What is far from obvious here is that the sort order and ‘show recommended styles only’ checkbox are options that relate only to this dialog, in fact only to the first three tabs of this dialog. The same sort options are available as for the task pane itself but they affect only the list of styles within the dialog. What is equally far from obvious is that the sort order you choose is not remembered but whether or not the checkbox is checked is remembered (in the Word Data key in the registry).

The tab that shows first is the Edit tab, about which I have little to say; from here you can, well, edit your styles. It isn’t really the most intuitive location for the functionality, but it is only two clicks away from the Ribbon, which might be thought to make it, in the jargon, discoverable.

Some of the styles you see listed may be unknown to you, and some of them will certainly be a surprise if this is your first visit here. If you have ‘show recommended styles only’ checked, you will see, at the top of the list, the same ‘recommended’ styles as are shown in the Styles Pane. You may be confused by Heading 2, parenthetically described as “Hide Until Used” but, as noted earlier, Word exhibits some unique behaviour with heading styles, and its listing here is of no real consequence.

A bigger surprise awaits when you scroll through the list: after the styles shown in the pane, you will see styles called “Table Grid”, “Table Grid Light”, and over 100 more, all prefixed with a small 2x2 checkerboard symbol:

Table Styles in the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013
Table Styles in the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013

These are styles of another type: Table Styles. Table styles are not presented in the styles pane, even when you choose to show “All styles”, and their appearance here as recommended styles just makes the list difficult to navigate. To look a bit further and see another different type of style, uncheck the ‘show recommended styles only’ box, and scroll down to these oddly named List Styles:

List Styles in the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013
List Styles in the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013

Word wants you to see these and it isn’t going to make it easy to escape.

Recommending Styles

The next tab is the Recommend tab:

The Recommend Tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013
The Recommend tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013

One nice feature of new dialogs is that they are resizable, and this is indicated by the small patch of grey hatching in the bottom right hand corner. I have resized this one to show a little more than you see by default and here, at last, you start to get a hint about how ‘recommending’ works.

Unfortunately, Word does not show you the style types on this tab, but it does have an unexplained number beside each style instead. If you uncheck show recommended styles only, and scroll to the bottom of the list (assuming you have the list sorted as recommended) you will see many of the styles say “last” instead of a number. The numbers (“last” being equivalent to 100) control the recommended sort order; if you look at the list you will see that the styles are in the same order as those in the Styles Pane.

Below the list of styles is a clutch of buttons. Selecting “All” or “Built‑In” will both have the same effect until you have created some of your own, non built‑in, styles, and it is difficult to imagine many actions you would want to do en masse to either selection. You can select as few or as many styles as you wish, using standard mechanisms, and a little experimentation will soon show you the effect on the selection of the four buttons in the ‘set priority’ section.

What may not be immediately obvious is that, if you select one of table styles or list styles, all the buttons will be greyed out indicating that you can’t actually do anything with these. If you select one of these styles along with one, or more, of the paragraph or character styles, the buttons will not be greyed out but they will not have any effect on the table or list styles. The table and list styles really do just get in the way of doing what you want to do.

The buttons to select whether or not styles show as recommended styles, have legends that reflect the settings that can be applied and you may recognise “Hide until used” as parenthetical text that appears after many style names in the list. Hide Until Used is a useful setting that stops you getting drowned in a sea of styles you neither need nor want to see. Hide, on the other hand, seems rather pointless: there can be very few circumstances where you really want to hide a style you are using. To see the effect of hiding a style, however, choose, and select, a style you are using and click on “Hide”; the style name will turn (or remain) grey and “(Always Hidden)” will appear after its name in the list. The style will then stop appearing in the Styles Pane and the Styles Gallery.

Restricting Styles

I’ve tried to go through the presentation of basic styles in the Ribbon, and in the Styles Pane, and give you some idea of what you see and why, which is really all I want to look at, at the moment. For some sort of completion, however, I will take a brief look at the other tabs in the dialog. On the next, tab, “Restrict”, we find this:

The Restrict Tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013
The Restrict tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013

Here you, again, see your list of styles. Below the list are some buttons for some generic selections; you are still able, of course, to make your own selections but it isn’t easy from the long list. Having made your selection you can permit, or restrict, the styles. By default, styles are permitted, and if you restrict one a little padlock will appear beside its name, but that is all! On this tab you can restrict any, or all, styles, including the table styles and list styles even though, thus far, you know nothing about them.

Below the buttons there is a checkbox labeled “Limit formatting to permitted styles”. For your restricting to have any effect you must check this. When you do so you will see that the “Allow AutoFormat to override formatting” becomes enabled. This gives you a hint about the complexities to come: styles can be applied by other features of Word and it is clearly going to take a lifetime to master this feature! Look at the checkboxes below and you see “Block Theme or Scheme switching” and “Block switching to a different style set”. Themes? Schemes? Style Sets? What are these? I’m sorry to say that I’m not going to tell you, not yet anyway; these complications are far beyond the scope of this overview.

What I am going to tell you, just because it is so ridiculous, is a little bit more about restriction. Invoke the Manage Styles dialog, select the Restrict tab, select a style – say No Spacing – and click “Restrict”; as noted above, a little padlock will appear beside the style name. Now check the “Limit Formatting” checkbox and click “OK”. You will be shown this dialog:

Start Enforcing Protection in Word 2013
Start Enforcing Protection in Word 2013

Here you can set a password so that, you might think, the styles you have restricted cannot be used without entering the password. Word does warn you that ‘malicious’ users can remove the password, and I’m sure I have said before that this is child’s play. This superficial kind of protection, however, can serve a purpose in tending to stop users accidentally undoing all your good work. Enter a password (twice) and press OK.

You can easily check to ensure that your restrictions are protected. One way is to return to the Restrict tab in the Manage Styles dialog, uncheck the Limit Formatting checkbox, and click “OK”. This time you will be shown this dialog:

Password Input to Unprotect a Document in Word 2013
Password Input to Unprotect a Document in Word 2013

In order to remove the protection, you must enter the password; this is entirely in keeping with what one would expect, but ‑

Cancel the unprotect dialog and return to the Manage Styles dialog while your restrictions are still in effect. Here you can permit the style you previously restricted and, if you wish, restrict some others; in other words you can completely change the restrictions without ever being asked for the password. I did not know this, I stumbled across it entirely by accident as I was preparing this article but it seems to be the case in Word 2007, Word 2010, and Word 2013. Put another way, this feature has, presumably, never been used. I can only speculate as to the reasons for this, but it seems somehow representative of the Styles user interface, as it currently exists.

Setting Defaults, and More

The final tab is the “Set Defaults” tab:

The Set Defaults Tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013
The Set Defaults tab of the Manage Styles Dialog in Word 2013

Document defaults are not a style; you cannot format text or paragraphs as document default; document defaults are, however, what all paragraph and character styles are based on. The user interface, as you can see above, gives a very limited set of attributes but, as far as I know, all paragraph and character attributes can be set as document defaults, if you know how to do it (which I may describe later).

Just before moving on, a brief word about the options at the bottom of the dialog. Most of the time you will want the changes you make to affect only the document you are working on but there may be situations where you want changes made in the template; all I will say is: be careful!

Finally, the “Import/Export” button takes you to the old Organizer Dialog, now with just two tabs: the Styles tab, of which more in due course, and the Macro Project Items tab, which has nothing at all to do with styles. The jump to this separate dialog is one way: you cannot come back.

The Story So Far: A Quick Summary

I like to think that readers of my ramblings know, at least, the basics, and I have not shown you how to use styles at all. I have told you a little about the styles that come with Word, and the way in which Word presents them to you, and I have gone in to some detail about what Word calls Managing Styles. I had intended to show you what happened when I asked for help by clicking the question mark icon in the top right hand corner, but that bit of uselessness will have to wait for another time and another article. There is much more to come, but now I want to take a look behind the scenes to try to understand what should happen, what is happening, and what might happen when documents are changed in ways that cannot be achieved through Word. The next page, to be found herehere [link to the next page in the series at LatentStyles.php] is about what the standard calls Latent Styles.