Microsoft Word

How Word’s formatting works

In this tutorial you’ll learn the best ways to apply formatting to your document.

Word offers enough formatting options, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Styles
  2. Direct Formatting
  3. Page Layout Formatting
  4. Section Formatting
  5. Themes


A style is a collection of formatting for a regular paragraph, a list paragraph, a table cell, or one or more characters. For example, a Heading 1 style for top-level headings might use a different font than normal body text, a larger font size, different indentation, and extra space before and after it. Microsoft Word support five types of styles:

  1. Paragraph
    Apply formatting to the entire text paragraph.
  2. Character
    Apply formatting to the selected text.
  3. Linked (paragraph and character)
    Apply formatting to the entire text paragraph if nothing is selected, or to just the selected text.
  4. Table
    Apply formatting to different table parts.
  5. List
    Apply formatting to the bullets and numbering lists.
Create new style from formatting dialog box

Styles are the preferred way of applying almost all formatting in Word, because you can quickly find or change a style globally in your documents.

Direct Formatting

Direct formatting is formatting that you apply directly to an object, such as a word or paragraph. For example, you might apply bold or italic formatting to a word or change the alignment or line spacing of a paragraph. When you use direct formatting, which you should do seldom rather than as a rule, use it in addition to applying a style (rather than instead of applying a style).

Page Layout Formatting

Page layout formatting controls the overall layout of the page: the paper size and orientation (portrait or landscape), the page margins, the header and footer position, and so on.

Section Formatting

Section formatting controls the layout of a particular section (subdivision) of a document. The page layout of a document can vary from one section to another. You have to create new sections when you want to vary the following kinds of formatting within one document:

  • Headers and footers
  • Footnotes
  • Margins
  • Orientation
  • Paper size and source
  • Column style


A theme is a suite of canned elements (such as a background image, bullets, and icons) and styles (for headings, the Normal style, and hyperlinks) designed to give a document a particular look. The styles in a theme override those in the document’s template. When you choose a different theme, styled elements in your document change automatically. Click Design > Themes to choose a different theme:


The theme settings influence the format of the document in the following ways:

  • The font style and color used for the paragraph text
  • The font type, style, and color used for the bullet list
  • The fonts used in the table headings and row values
  • The table style applied to the tables

Best ways to apply formattings:

  • Create a template that contains the styles you need. (See, Create a Template.)
  • Apply a paragraph style to each non-list and non-table paragraph, as your primary means of formatting.
  • Apply a list style to each list paragraph.
  • Apply a table style to each table paragraph or cell.
  • Apply a character style when needed to pick out a particular element in a paragraph. For example, if a word must be bold and italic, you might apply a Bold Italic style that you have created.
  • Apply direct formatting only when absolutely necessary. If you need to apply the same direct formatting to multiple items in the same document, create a style for it.