All About Styles – Updated

Any writing project becomes easier to manage once the writer understands and exploits the features of his writing tools. Larger projects like family histories take advantage of word processing features not normally used in short, everyday projects. These features – table of contents generation, indexing, footnotes and endnotes and bibliographies – take advantage of another handy feature . . . styles.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

From the Archives: Tabs and Indents

e-StyleKeeping columns of text aligned can be a challenge. Proportional fonts make it impossible to use the spacebar to straighten a line. It might look perfect on the screen, but all over the place when you print it. Take heart! Forget the spacebar and put your word processor’s tools to work for you. Here’s how.

Let’s start with indented paragraphs. By taking advantage of the styles feature in your word processor, you can have indented paragraphs without lifting a finger. In Microsoft Word, most paragraphs are automatically styled with the “Normal” style. A few quick modifications will automatically indent each paragraph and add a bit of white space between each paragraph to provide even more definition. To get started, open your styles palette (Word 2003: click the Styles and Formatting button in the formatting toolbar; Word 2008: open the Styles pane in the Formatting Palette). Select the Normal style then choose the Modify Style command.

A window similar to this (this example uses Word 2008 for Mac) appears showing the current settings for the Normal style. At the bottom of the pane, choose the Paragraph option from the Format menu.

On the Indents and Spacing section of the Paragraph pane, I’ve chosen First Line from the Special menu and set a measurement for how much I want each first line indented. Notice too that in the Spacing section, I’ve added a 12 point space after each paragraph. I’m using a 12 point font so this is the equivalent of one blank line. In the Preview area, you can see what your format changes will look like before you commit to them. Once you press the OK button, your style is updated and everything in your document styled with that style will also be updated. An example of my results are displayed here. Now, every time I press Return to end a paragraph, a blank line will be added and the new paragraph indented for me automatically.

Tabs

While tabs are no longer needed to indent paragraphs, they do still have many uses. Most word processing applications offer multiple tab types: left, center, right and decimal. Word offers what they call a bar tab which will draw a vertical bar at the tab stop. This can be used to draw boxes or tables, but there are other options available that are much easier to manage. Below are examples of the left tab, center tab, right tab with dotted leader and the decimal tab. Notice that the leader only functions from the next closest tab – in this case the center tab.

You are probably asking, “Isn’t the decimal tab the nearest tab?” Not in this case because the tab wasn’t added until I moved down to the line where it actually appears. Tab settings take effect at the point of the cursor when you set the tab. If you set tabs before you start typing your document, those tabs will be in effect throughout the document. You can set a new tab at any point while you’re typing and it will be functional from there on down. When dealing with text that has already be typed, you must first select all the content that will be affected by the new tabs before you set them.

Tabs and indents are easy to use once you know how they work. Take a few minutes to experiment with these features and you’ll soon find they become second nature.