Writing With Style

Many of us developed our computer skills in the business world. Although we are comfortable using word-processing and spreadsheet applications, we are often familiar with only a small number of the features available. Those features served us well to create letters, reports and memos. For those of us who wish to tell the stories our family research has discovered, our business apps can still support our efforts. However, it will require learning and using some additional features.

Many of these features relate to formatting text. They are called “styles” and they make it easy to maintain a consistent look throughout a long document. But that’s not all. Styles can also simplify table of contents generation.

Styles are pre-defined collections of format settings which can be quickly assigned to selected text. Not only does this speed initial formatting, it becomes even more useful when you want to make formatting changes to an existing document. Instead of setting each main heading with the font, alignment and color requirements you want, you create a main heading style with those settings. Highlight the text that is your heading and click on the main heading style. Your word-processor will do the rest.

Formatting panel in Pages for Mac

In this example, the selected text has been assigned the “Heading” style. The formatting panel shows all the settings related to this style – from font, color and size to alignment and spacing. Just trying to remember all these settings from one section to another would be a challenge. With styles, you set them once. Now your only decision is which style to use.

But that’s just the beginning. What happens if you decide you don’t want those headings in that color? Do you have to go through the entire document and change each one? No! You just change the color in the style and every title styled with that style is immediately updated.

There’s more! Most word-processing applications use heading styles to automatically build tables of contents. You can even have multiple levels of headings (heading, sub-heading, etc.) included in your table. The app pulls in the page numbers automatically and even adjusts them when your editing shuffles everything around.


Yes, building a set of styles for a document can be tedious. That’s where templates take over. A template defines all the formatting options needed to create a specific type of publication. In the example above you see templates for newsletters, photo albums and even a small placard. Your word-processing program comes with a small set of templates for various document types. There is also a growing market for custom templates. Find a template that fits your project, then make the changes needed to personalize it. It’s a whole lot easier than creating it all from scratch.

Where do you go from here? Pull out your word processor’s user guide and read up on styles, templates and table of contents. Then start experimenting.

You’ll soon discover how delightful writing with style can be.

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