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The key to manageable documentation is to do all formatting with styles. This ensures that the document is totally consistent from first page to last, and makes Word extremely easy to use. People ask me how I can format three 100-page manuals in 20 minutes and have them all look exactly correct: Styles!

Always set styles up according to what they are used for, not what formatting they contain. Those who have spent a lot of time in desktop publishing or printing will be more used to naming their formats by the formatting they contain: that's poor practice for word-processing. It makes excessive work and leads to problems.

There are four broad groups of styles in a long document:




Body Text




Special Purpose.

Styles are objects within Word's Object Oriented hierarchy. Think of a Word document as a set of Chinese Eggs; containers nested within each other. Each inner container inherits properties from its outer container. Styles are part of a template or a document. They inherit from the template or document. Styles can also inherit from each other. For professional use, they should be set up to do this. We set the Based on property on the Format>Style>Modify dialog to arrange this.

The default setting in a Word template is to base each style on the Normal style. This enables the entire document to inherit the properties of Normal style, so to change the font of a document you need change only one style, except in the case of any styles you have defined to use a different font from the Normal style, which won't change when you redefine Normal. In professional documents, Iprefer not to base styles on Normal.

However, you may want to change the font of all the headings as a batch, or you may want to switch the font of the body text in one operation. So we create at least two hierarchies in a template: one for the Heading styles, one for the Body Text styles. For convenience, I usually create another for the lists, and another for the miscellaneous or special purpose styles. It's just easier to do it that way.

Space Before vs Space After

Word comes out of the box with styles set to have both Space Before and Space After. This makes it very difficult to get a good-looking result.

I generally set my Body Text style to have Space After equal to 75 per cent of the font size. For small documents or a more modern, open, friendly look, increase this space to equal the point size. Style manuals tend to recommend space before or after of 50 per cent of the font size, and I use that for longer documents.

I always used to specify only Space Before in Word. I find this the easiest way to work. If you use only space above, you never have to worry about creating dummy styles for paragraphs such as the last item of a list just to get the spacing right. I have seen users setting style sheets up with a List first a List middle and a List Last style. Can you imagine the confusion caused after someone slings a few paragraphs around during editing? And in any case, if you want to use Word's automatic numbering feature, with styles linked to outline numbering schemes, then you can't do this. (On the other hand, if you only use space before, you have to use a special style for all paragraphs that immediately follow a heading, if you want less space between a heading and the following paragraph than between consecutive body text paragraphs.)

However: there is a bug in Word's pagination rules that means it does not suppress Space Before at the top of all pages. The rule should be that Space Before should always be suppressed at the top of a page. Every typesetter does this. But Word will suppress the Space Before only if Word causes the paragraph to move to the next page. If you do so (with a manual page break or by using a Page Break Before setting on the paragraph, or with a Section Break, or if you have Space Before set for the first paragraph of the document), Word will leave the space there.

So you get your top text margin bouncing up and down depending on whether Word has suppressed the space or not. It looks really ugly, and it's pretty embarrassing to be caught with it as a professional. It's sort of Pagination 101 :-)

The Compatibility Option Suppress Space Before after a hard page or column break doesn't suppress the Space Before for paragraphs that follow a Section Break, or that have a Page Break Before setting, or for the first paragraph in the document; and as discussed earlier, you should avoid using hard page breaks at all costs; so this option is not really much help at all, except in the case of hard column breaks in multi-column documents such as flyers.

This pagination bug has been around since Word 6, and Microsoft can't understand why we're complaining. Because inexperienced users never notice, they never complain – although you can, here

So I now specify space below only on all my body text and list paragraphs and set space above to zero. That way at least I get the page top even.

To avoid triggering the bug, do your pagination control using Keep With Next. This causes Word to move the paragraphs, and so Word correctly to suppresses space above on the headings. It's also much less work than filling the document with hard page breaks that you have to adjust every time you edit the document.

Professionals never use blank lines for spacing. One reason is that they get divorced from the thing they are supposed to space and create all sorts of misery when you are trying to paginate. 

The main reason is that in Word, a paragraph is not a blank line it is a container that stores a large number of document properties. In a blank paragraph, these can get set to strange values: if you have enough of them in the document, Word gets confused and starts crashing. It also does very unexpected things if you save the document to a different format such as a web page.

Train your users never to put a paragraph in a document unless they intend to put something in it (e.g. text!). Try to observe that as a rule yourself, and your use of Word will be a lot easier and more pleasant.

Choosing fonts

Readability studies I have seen show that Helvetica is the most readable font and that Palatino is the best serif font (it handles photocopying and Inkjets well – important in office documentation). Palatino is a licensed font: you have to buy it. Book Antiqua font, which comes free with Windows, is Palatino by another name.

Serif vs Sans Serif
Debate rages about serif versus sans-serif fonts. Let's hit the high points of the argument: 

Back in the days when paper was expensive, publishers searched for ways to make the letters smaller and smaller and pack them closer and closer together, so they could fit more words on each sheet. The end-point of this game was the Times Roman font. This was commissioned by the London Times to pack the most information possible into its narrow columns. The letters are packed so tightly together (kerned) that some letters actually overlap each other. A full copy of Times Roman contains f-ligatures. These are single characters that print two or three letters because the letters actually overhang each other: they had to be cast on the same block of metal to get them that close together. They typical ligatures are oe fi ffi etc. If you examine them, the tops of the f overhang the dot of the i. Times Roman was an extremely elegant, good-looking font that has since become probably the most popular font in the world. Times New Roman is the same thing in a True Type variant, kerned slightly less tightly so it doesn't need the ligatures. Times New Roman is Word's default font.

Serifs are the little curlicues on the ends of the lines composing the letters. They are a visual device designed to make the shape of the letter more prominent to the eye. Sans-Serif simply means without serifs. Arial is an example of such a font.

But let's not lose sight of the fact that the reason Times Roman was designed was to save space. And the reason the serifs were required was because the letters were too damned small!

Later, readability studies revealed that readers actually comprehend written type by the shape of the whole word, not the individual letters. In English, we do it by looking at the shape of the top of the line. Try it: cut off the bottom half of a line of text with a ruler: you can still read it. Cut off the top half: you can't.

The fastest text to read is the text in which the shapes of the words are plainest to see. So you can see that the easiest text of all to read is text that does NOT have serifs. They only get in the way and add noise that the brain has to remove before it can deduce the shape of the word. However, readers of my age (I'm 50) have spent their entire life looking at serif body text. Our brains have already done the work and stored the images of our working vocabulary with serifs attached. And our eyes are not as sharp as they used to was: so we can benefit from the serifs.

On the other hand, computer displays do not have sufficient resolution to display serifs. They simply make the letters look fuzzy and hard to read on screen. You should never use a serif font below 20 points size on screen.

I would resolve this debate by using sans-serif fonts for everything for text destined to be read by people younger than 45. For text designed to be used by older readers, I would use a serif font for the body copy. Whichever one you choose, choose the opposite for your headings to provide a contrast.

Personally I think Helvetica is nice for headings but too black for body text. I use Arial for body (because it's free...) and Book Antiqua Bold for headings (because it's free...) The attached template is set up with Arial Headings and Book Antiqua as its body font, which is the more conventional way of doing it.

Don't use non-Windows fonts in corporate templates or you will regret it. Windows and Macintosh machines have slightly different font sets as standard. They automatically convert between each other, so provided you stick to the standard font set for one or the other you will have no trouble. If you use a non-standard font, you will start getting weird characters displayed on machines that do not have the font. 

You can embed fonts in documents, but do so only when you are sending the document out to a typesetter: the embedded fonts massively increase the size of the file.

Indenting headings

In long documents, the biggest problem is enabling the reader to find things quickly.

So we notionally divide the page into two columns: the body text column, and the heading column. In a modern document, the heading column is an imaginary channel running down the left third of the page. The only things that ever appear there are the beginnings of headings and Caution, Warning and Note icons.

The idea is that the reader needs only to run their eye down the left hand heading column until they find what they're looking for. They then move right to read the description. This kind of design results in a document that can be quickly scanned.

Some people take this a step further: they encase the entire heading in a frame that places all of its text in a box to the left of the body copy. You do not have to put a border on the frame: it is much easier to read if you don't. This is now held not to be good practice. Further readability research showed that such headings became very slow to scan because the reader's eye had to move back and forth across several lines. Modern practice is to place the beginning of the heading in the heading column and let it run to the right across the page so the reader's eye can grab it at a single glance.

The fully-enclosed headings (called floating headings because they float in space) can be done in Word using Text Frames. You must use a Frame, not a text box. Anything in a text box is invisible to the TOC and cross-reference generator. And you can make a Frame part of your style: you cannot have a Text Box as part of a style. Both these are bugs they will get around to fixing maybe. However, the bottom line is that floating headings in Word can double the production cost of a document with all the fiddling around you have to do to get them in the right place. If you are going to do a lot of them, use Adobe FrameMaker. This does floating headings naturally as a built-in format. But before you go racing out to spend a lot of money buying, implementing, and learning FrameMaker; ask yourself why you are so determined to make your documents worse for your reader!

Positive and negative indents
Word allows either positive or negative indents from the margins. I find that it is more stable and easier to work with if you set the page margin to the far left and always use positive indents.

This is contrary to the common WordPerfect practice where you set the page margin three centimetres in and use out-dents (negative indents) for your headings. I find Word is unstable and fiddly to use set up this way.

Justified type
Before creating a style with Justified formatting, ask yourself whether you want your reader to admire your document or read it. 

Justified formatting causes Word to vary the space between words to produce a square right margin. (In WordPerfect, justified formatting is known as fully justified. Word's terminology is Left Aligned, Right Aligned, Centered, and Justified, whereas WordPerfect uses the word justified to mean aligned, which can cause confusion for those switching from one wordprocessor to the other. To justify is to space out lines of type so that both margins are aligned).

By varying the spacing between the words, you are subtly varying the shapes of phrases. The fastest readers read entire phrases by their shape: impossible if the spacing between the words is changing. Again, it slows the reader down and reduces their comprehension and retentivity. Full justification does not work at all on screen.

If you are going to use justified formatting, you should also hyphenate your text so that you never have to stretch a line by more than five characters. Word will do this automatically.

But I suggest that you do not bother: it makes more work for you and for the reader, and it reduces the effectiveness of the document.

Heading styles

You will find that Word has a set of built-in styles named Heading 1 through Heading 9. These styles have special, hidden, secret properties which make it a seriously good idea to use them for headings.

If you cannot see Headings 4 to 9, change the List setting in the Format/Styles dialog to All styles. You may want to put it back to Styles in Use when you have finished.

To speed the process of defining style, you can turn Automatically update on, then apply each style to a paragraph. You then format the paragraph directly and Word will automatically update the style for you. This is OK to use when you have the template open. If you work in a document like this, Word saves the changes only in the document so your template never gets updated. Remember to turn Automatically Update off before you release the template to production or your users will be inadvertently changing styles on you.

Using Format/Style you customise each of the Heading styles to the formatting you want. Remember to check the Add to Template box for each style, otherwise Word will not write your changes back to the template. This does not matter if you have the template open as a document as you do now, but it is critical later when you are updating the template while working on a document that is attached to it.

Go through the Heading styles Heading 2 to heading 9 and base each lower number on the one above it in the hierarchy.

Base Heading 1 itself on No style. This creates a break in the inheritance list that isolates the Heading styles as a group. 

Set the Style for Following Paragraph to Body Text for all Heading styles. This means each time the user creates a heading and hits Enter, he or she automatically gets a standard text paragraph to write in. You may have to create the Body Text style: although it is a built-in style in Word, Word won't show it to you unless you use it in the document. 

If you have set your Heading styles up as a group, you need to specify which font to use only on Heading 1. The Font name will flow through to the rest, on which you need only set their size.

To produce a nice-looking document, decide how big your Body Text is going to be, then decide how many is the maximum number of heading levels you will permit. If I am using a serif font (e.g. Book Antiqua) I would normally produce corporate documentation in 11 point. You have a much greater chance of getting corporate documentation read if people don't have to fumble for their glasses! If I am using a sans-serif font, (e.g. Arial) I would normally use 12 point. 

For a nice-looking document, define Heading 5 at the same size as the Body Text. Define Heading 4 to be a bold version of that. Define headings 3, 2, and 1 to be respectively 2 points larger than the heading below them. Set their line spacing in each case to single. Then set the space above to double the point size. So if body is 12 points, heading 4 is 12 pt, 3 is 14, 2 is 16, and heading 1 should be 18 points. Their space above is 24, 28, 32 and 36 points. 

Set 10 points space below on all heading styles.

For a nice-looking document, indent the lower-level headings. Heading 1 is probably your chapter title: you can centre it if you wish but I never do. I sometimes set it right-justified. If you want, you can set a large hanging indent to isolate the word Chapter. Try 4 cm. This will make the Chapter and number sit left and the heading text sit isolated to the right. You will need to set a tab at 4 cm also. If you are going to do this, set your Body Text indent to 4 cm also for the nicest look. You may find that 34 points is not enough space above for a Chapter title.

Heading 2 is your Section Heading. My style guide requires Sections to start a new page in all cases, so I define space above to be 0 and add the Page Break Before property to Heading 2. This document is being set up for the Intranet, where pages have no meaning. So I used a sexy grey line above Heading 2, so we know we're at the major subject start. Because it is at the top of the page and it begins a new topic, I do not indent Heading 2. Set it flush left (an indent of 0).

Indent Heading 3 by one centimetre (two if you are using a four centimetre body text indent). Set a left indent of 1 cm, a right indent of 0 and Special to None

Indent Heading 4 to align with your Body Text column: 2 or four centimetres.

For Heading 1, set the Text Flow properties to Page Break Before, Keep Lines Together, and Keep With Next. For heading 2, do the same. For Heading 3 set Page Break Before to off. This will flow through to the headings below it.

You should jump on anyone who produces more than four: the more levels of heading in a document, the less understandable it is. As soon as you feel the urge to create that fourth level, stop and fix your design: it's wrong!

To enable use of the Outline function, you need to define at least one more level of heading than you intend to use. So that makes level 5 your lowest level, and level 4 the lowest one in use.

Body text styles

Now for the Body Text styles... There's a built in set of them, too. Most users never find them, but they're the styles designed for professional use. I recommend you use them, because again they have special properties that will save you a lot of time.

Body Text is your standard paragraph text font. Body Text 2 and 3 are indented one measure and two measures respectively, by default. Again, break the Based on link to Normal, or you will chase your tail forever. In the case of these three, I would set Based On to No Style for Body Text and to Body Text for all the others – again, so you can instantly change the text font in a document just by changing one style.

Set the indent for Body Text to 2 cm, and the indent for Body Text 2 and Body Text 3 to 3 cm and 4 cm respectively.

In the case of Text styles, always set the Style for Following paragraph to Body Text. It is unusual for a user to want to create a series of indented paragraphs. For the body text styles, set the Text Flow properties to Widow and Orphan control and turn the others all off. This enables Word to split a paragraph across a page provided that at least two lines remain either side of the page break. If you do not like paragraphs split across page breaks, set Keep Lines Together. Widow/Orphan control then becomes redundant.

For the Body Text style let's set Book Antiqua, 12 points, 2 cm left indent, no right indent, no space above and 9 points space below.

For a more modern look, use a sans-serif body font (Arial) and open the spacing after up by 50 per cent (12 points).

To scare people off and prevent them reading the fine print, use a serif body font and close it up by 50 per cent.

You will find that if you set the space above each body text para to three-quarters of its line height, you will get a nice looking modern document. So long as there are no blank lines in it.

List styles

Now for the list styles. I'll tell you how they're supposed to work, and you fight with them. 

Bulleted lists
List Bullet styles are designed to be set with various types of bullets. The three List Bullet styles' bullet position should line up with the Body Text margin above them. So: List Bullet should define the Body text style's text margin as its bullet position, List Bullet 2's bullet should line up with the left-hand indent for List Bullet, etc... In the case of List paragraphs, you should define Based On to be Body Text and Style for Following to be the same style. 

People creating lists normally create more than one paragraph in them :-) You will find that setting the Space Below of all list paragraphs to half the leading you set on Body Text chunks up the text nicely and attracts the reader's eye to the list blocks without their even knowing you have done it :-)

Pedants would say that you should define a List Last style to set the spacing below the last paragraph of a list. And the anal-retentive would have one of each... In corporate documentation, use half-body space after for lists and don't bother with List Last. The effect is quite pleasing, and if the publisher of the coffee-table art extravaganza wants extra lead in there, his typesetter is quite smart enough to add it automatically...

I use the large bullet on List Bullet and a smaller one on List Bullet 2.


This is List Bullet


This is List Bullet 2


This is List Bullet 3

Numbered lists
Now to List Number, he said silkily... The idea is that you customise List Number, List Number 2 through 5 to impose your company's most common numbering format. By default they appear as: 1. 1. 1. ... etc. Law Firms etc will set them to A. 1. a. ... etc., depending on their type of business. 

NOTE, when setting these up, you must use Format/Style/Format/Numbering. Anything you do with Format/Bullets and Numbering is applied as direct formatting, and will not update the style (and will be highly unstable). Again, line the number positions up the same as you did the bullets.

That's all I am going to say about numbered lists here. For the true masochists, there are further articles on the website explaining the intricacies of numbered lists. The whole area is such a terrible mess in Word that it creates an enormous problem for corporate documentation.

List Continuation
The List Continue styles are used to provide non-numbered or non-bulleted subsequent paragraphs within a list. They're not used very often. Many users find it easier to retrieve the Skip Numbering command in Tools>Customise and put it on a toolbar. This enables you to continue a list without the bullet or number displaying. It's a toggle: hit it again when you want the counting to resume.

To define List Continue styles you set their left margins to line up with the Text margin of their respective List Bullet and List Number styles. 

Special purpose styles

There are several types of style that you need in a long document for special purposes. I'll describe each briefly.

Some people create special purpose styles for things like zeroing numbered lists or setting Chapter numbers. The temptation is to make them one point high or white so they do not show in the printout. I caution you against this: it makes the document unmaintainable.

Base the Header style on Body Text. 

It's normal to set the Header style to three-quarters of the body text font height. Some use the same font as the body text: I prefer the opposite type (sans-serif if Body Text is a serif) for contrast.

Set its left and right indents to zero, its space below to half its font height, and two tabs: one in the centre of the page column and one to the extreme right.

I set the thinnest possible border below it to separate it from the body text.

For the footer, I base it on Header, and simply reverse the position of the space below to space above and the border to above instead of below.

The truly pedantic amongst us define a Character style for Emphasis and one for Bold.

People making websites and SGML must have these styles defined for use with some output filters (they're not needed in Word). People who do this normally customise their keystrokes to call little macros to apply these styles.

Set Emphasis to be Underlying Paragraph Style plus Italic. Name the Bold style Strong and set its property to Underlying Paragraph Style plus Bold.

The advantage of having these styles is this: On screen, italic text does not work as emphasis: it's usually faint and hard to read. So when you transport the document to HTML or whatever, you simply redefine the Emphasis style to be bold and some colour other than black so it stands out. Every italic bit in the document will change automatically.

If you are going to make an Emphasis style, you will also need a Citation style. Citations are normally done in italic in print, but it's not appropriate to turn them all bold on the web.

Tables of contents are formatted by adjusting the properties of TOC styles TOC 1 through 9. You MUST set your TOC format to be From Template on the Insert>Index and Tables dialog before you begin, otherwise Word ignores your changes and overwrites the format of the TOC styles with the hard-coded defaults for its built-in TOC layouts.

Base TOC 1 on No Style and 2 through 9 on the one above.

Normally you would set TOC 1 style to have the same font as your Heading styles but a size two points larger than body text (in this case, pick 14) and bold. Warning: Do NOT base TOC 1 on Heading 1, otherwise you will get some nasty corruptions if you attempt to use Heading Numbering. Set the left indent to 0 so TOC 1 sits flush left, and add 10 points below and none above.

TOC 2 then becomes the same size and font as Body Text and half a centimetre indented. TOC 3 is based on TOC 2 and indented half a centimetre more. If TOC 4 appears in your TOC you may have a document design problem: if not, indent it another half centimetre.

Set a space after of 9 points for TOC 1 and 4 points for the rest.

Now to set the tabs: The idea is to put leader dots in that stop at a uniform distance to the left of the page number.

First set a flush-right tab on the page boundary (15 cm). Specify no leader dots.

Now set a left tab at 14 cm, and this time specify leader dots. There is currently a bug in Word that prevents this from working properly. You should be able to use the \p switch in the TOC field to insert two tabs between the heading and the page number. This currently doesn't work. To see the result, you have to search/replace the TOC after generating it to turn the single tab into two tabs. Your leader dots will then line up nicely, stopping just short of the page number with a nice square border.

If you are using folio by chapter it is normal to remove the page numbers from the level 1 heading. Use the \n switch in the following field code to do so: { TOC \o "1-3" \n "1-1"}

Indexes are formatted by adjusting the properties of Index styles Index 1 through 9. You MUST set your Index format to be From Template on the Insert>Index and Tables dialog before you begin, otherwise Word ignores your changes and overwrites the format of the Index styles with the hard-coded defaults for its built-in Index layouts.

Base Index 1 on Body Text and 2 through 9 on the one above.

I use an indented format with a 0.25 centimetre indent. You need to keep the index styles indents pretty small or you will have problems with the lines wrapping badly on the entries.

I always set my graphics in line with the text so that they do not wander aimlessly around the document every time the wind changes.

To do this, I define a Picture and a Picture Wide style. 

I set Picture with a 2cm indent and centred with 10 points below. This centres the graphic in the text column. I set Picture Wide the same except that I remove the 2 cm indent so it is centred across the whole page.

You need a series of table styles. These are without the left indents so you can use them in Table Columns.

Table Heading is normally a 12-point variant of your Heading font. Four points before and after with Keep With Next. Note: not based on any headings or you will get severe problems with numbering.

Table Body is normally the same as Body Text (or two points smaller) with 2 points before and after and no indent.

Table bullet is the same as List Bullet with a half-centimetre indent. Note: not based on List Bullet or you will get severe problems with numbering.

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