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Heading Styles explained – how using Style Sheets can improve your book!

So, you’ve decided that you want to write a book to position yourself as an expert in your field. You understand how this principle works, and you have your outline ready. You open up Microsoft Word, and your faced with a blank document… you feel daunted, but you’re keen to start. Your fingers hover over the keyboard… and you’re off… typing at full speed, feeling elated.


Wait! Just hold on for two secs…there is a little known feature in Word, that can make your writing process clearer and easier to manage. It’s a super easy tool that when used correctly, can transform the way you see your book. In fact, it can really help you organize your book into easy to see sections, and you literally have a birds eye view of your entire project – which will help your writing immeasurably.

In this post, I’m going to show you step by step how to use this tool. It takes about 5-10 minutes to set up, but once you have, you will then have a very powerful aid, that can be used in lots of other documents.

So, what is it? Well, it’s called style sheets, and it’s located at the top of your screen with a double A.

AA - Stylesheets

These style sheets will then allow you to use the navigation panel (explained at the bottom of the post) and will give you a much clearer view of your writing project. Word does come with styles already set, but I’m going to show you how to customise it, and give you a clear understanding on how it works… then you can set your own headings and subheadings to fit the tone of your work.

Step 1. Select the styles panel.

So, to get started, select the AA icon at the top of your blank word document. (Shown above.) When you select this, you get a menu of options to the right of your word document which looks like this;

Styles - Stylesheets

You will notice that the list comprises of Headings (up to 5) – and other type styles.

Normal? What’s normal?

Normal -> this is what your body text is, and I suggest a simple font like Cambria, or Times New Roman, set at 12pt. Body text just refers to the main text, like what you are reading now. I explain below how to change the style – as I think it’s automatically set to Times New Roman.

You then have other ‘styles’ options, including headings, title, subtitle etc. For this blog post, I’m just going to talk about title, headings, and normal styles. (If you wish to explore the other options, Google has a plathora of information on styles available, but unless you’re a designer by trade, then I suggest just getting to grips with the ones I outline today.)

Once you’ve set up these ‘styles’, you then simply highlight the text in your document you want to have as that style, and apply the correct style by clicking on the corresponding choice from the menu. And voila, the highlighted text changes to the style you’ve set up.

What is super great about this feature is, if you’ve written a chapter, and you realise that you’ve set up the heading 1 (for example) with too big a font, or you don’t like the font you’ve chosen, you can change the heading 1 in the style menu, and hey presto… all of the heading 1’s have now been updated with your new selection!

Getting to grips with headings

Before I get into the step by step instructions, I think it’s really important to explain what I mean by heading allocation. What do I mean by heading 1? – Well this is my rule of thumb for heading allocation – and will make your book writing super easy. You’ll see why later…

Chapter numbers and chapter name = Heading 1 (The title of your book, should use the ‘title’ style, you’ll see it right there, under the heading list.)

First important heading within that chapter = Heading 2

A subheading of heading 2, is heading 3. And you might need a heading 4, to show a title of a check list. Let me show you, so you can see what I mean.

Layout 1

and so on…

Step 2. Setting up your styles.

‘Normal’ Style

First, let’s look at your normal style. As I mentioned before, you want to use either Cambria or Times new Roman as your main font… why? Well it’s all to do with how the eyes read text, and if you’re writing a book which is going to be printed, then you want to use a serif font. Serif fonts are fonts which have little curly cues on the end of the letters, and they literally help your brain translate the letters into words… it’s a whole blog post itself and I talk in more detail here. So, to change the font, you simply hover your curser over the Normal option on the style menu, and you’ll notice a down arrow at the end of the box. Like this…

Changing fonts

This is where the magic happens, and applies to ALL the styles. Want to change the headings, then simply hover your mouse over the heading 1 option, and *tadaa* the down arrow presents itself.

So, once you click the down arrow (and we’re still in normal, at the mo) you’ll get a menu selection, and you’re looking for ‘modify’.

Changing fonts Modify

Click this, and another window will open in your document – and this is where all of your choices are for font selection. I’m going to show you the basic set up, but once you get more confident, or if you do any further learning, then you’ll realise that you have lots of choices to choose from.

So, for now, we are just going to tweak the formatting section (font choice and size) and the Format section for text alignment and spacing.

So, go ahead and change the font allocation, to what you would like which is just under the formatting subheading. Click the down arrow to the right of the font name, and a list will appear of all the different fonts you can have.

Changing fonts formatting

You’ll notice I’ve used Cambria in this example, (use the sliding bar to the right of the font list, to get more choices), and it’s set to 11 pt. (The number 11 appears next to the font name) – you can change the size, buy clicking on the down arrow and selecting a per-determined number, use 12 for now. Press OK when you’re happy with your selection. This will take you back to the style menu.

We haven’t quite finished yet, so click on the Normal down arrow tab again (in your style list), and hit modify, and select the ‘Format’ box at the bottom of that panel, (step 1.) This will bring up a list of options, and you’ll want to choose ‘paragraph’, (step 2.) This is where we are going to set up text alignment, and spacing after paragraphs.

Changing fonts formatting format

After selecting Paragraph… you’ll get a box looking like this…

Changing fonts format paragraphAnd it’s from this panel, that you select text alignment (justified) and spacing after paragraphs (I use 10pt.)

Justified text means that the text goes all the way to the end of the margin, and creates a nice clean right hand edge. All printed books have this, and it makes for a much more professional look. Simply click on the right arrow drop down option, in the alignment field (circled above) and select ‘justified’.

The spacing after a paragraph is the space between the text, when you’ve hit the enter key on your keyboard. The default is 10pt, and I keep it at that, but if you want to make it bigger, then just alter the number in the spacing ‘after’ box, ringed in the above pic.

Remember to hit OK once you’ve made your selections, and that’s your Normal style changed! (Feel free to have a play around, but remember, once you choose your options, this will then become your normal template… and all future documents will have the same formatting!)

Heading Styles

Now that you’ve got to grips with changing ‘normal’ style, the same process works for your heading options.

Simply click on the down arrow* on the Heading 1 style, to the right of your document, select ‘modify’ and change the font, and size of your Heading 1. I always suggest using a contrasting font, one of my favourites is Myriad Pro, and I usually give it a size above 22 pt. There are several other little tricks I use as well, to make my headings even better…

Heading 1 works great centred (not ‘justified’, like we chose for normal body text) and there is a quick little shortcut you can use to choose this…

Heading1 justification

This group of icons (circled in the picture above) depicts how your text will look on the page. The first is ‘align left’ which will give you the jaggedy edge on the right of the text, unlike the nice clean straight line that is a result of using ‘justified text’. I have formatted this paragraph in ‘align left’ so you can see how it looks. I very rarely use ‘align left’ in any of my written projects in Word, but sometimes you need to do this, as Word can be temperamental!

The second option is centred – this will literally centre your text, so that it’s even on both left and right margins. I have centred this paragraph so you can see how it looks.
This is great for heading 1,
and for quotes throughout your document as it makes it stand out.

The third option is align right, and as you can see, it starts typing your sentence from the opposite side of the screen. This can be really useful if you need to type under photographs, or use for testimonials (alternate between ‘left align’ and ‘right align’ for some interesting flow. This paragraph has been formatted using ‘right align’.

And then lastly is ‘justified’. The little pictures are a clear indication of how your lines of text will look, and you can access this on the first drop down menu. Select which option you want for your heading 1, and have a play with what works for you. You can even change the colour of your text, by clicking the down arrow by the bar of black in the formatting area of the menu. But I wouldn’t worry with that for now… just stick with black.

I usually choose the bold option too, for all my headings. You can select that, by clicking the B button in the formatting section.

Heading 2, 3 and 4 can all now be changed in exactly the same way – and choose the text size to fit the hierarchy. So heading 2 might go down to 16 Bold (if the number is not in the list, simply highlight the number you want to change, and physically type in the number you want, like 15 for example.) heading 3 might go to 14 Bold and heading 4 might got 12 Bold and italisised. Have a play and see how it looks.

Once you have all your styles set up, and need to use the heading 1 option, you can either type in normal style, and then highlight the text, and select heading 1, or you can select Heading 1 and type your heading, just remember to select normal when you want to carry on typing your body text.

*A word of warning, when clicking on the styles… if you have your curser at the beginning of a written paragraph, and you hit the heading 1 selection (and not the arrow) the whole paragraph will change to Heading 1 style. Don’t panic… just click back on normal, and the text will go back to how it was!

Step 3. Adjust your ‘before’ and ‘after’ spacing

So, you now have your style sheet set up, and your headings all nicely formatted. The next little trick will make sure that your navigation window works at its best… so bare with me while I explain the last few steps with you.

Get the spacing right!

So, you now have selected a bit of text, and applied a heading 1 style to it. Your natural response is probably to manually put in a space (by hitting the enter key) before you start typing in normal. BUT that is technically wrong… so let me show you how to set up each heading, that automatically puts in the spacing for you (and in doing so, will set up your navigation window correctly).

Click on the down arrow, next to the heading 1 option, and choose modify. Then go to the format option at the bottom left hand corner, and select paragraphs, like we did for choosing our font. The take a look at the spacing section; you’ll notice a ‘space before’ and a ‘space after’ category. Now, for heading 1, you don’t need a space before, because your chapter number and name should be at the beginning of a page, but your space after is how much space you want before you start typing text. I usually have this at 24pt. This gives a nice clean space between your chapter title and text.

Now, your heading 2, 3 and 4 all need to have a space before, because this usually is inserted within normal text, like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, porttitor urna, feugiat est enim nisl nunc lorem montes, velit venenatis suspendisse lectus sed accumsan sed, est et rhoncus tempus aliquet, eleifend dui lobortis laborum sodales class.

Space before

Why great design is important

Space after

Ut mi id et omnis, ut nec neque parturient, enim integer, gravida pellentesque cras sit leo nec. Nibh est dui tincidunt, ut nec interdum netus pharetra, mauris urna lobortis in maecenas, purus et metus fringilla posuere purus, enim sapien nec volutpat.

So, for heading 2, I usually allocate 10pt before and after, heading 3, 10pt before and 6pt after and heading 4 the same. But you can have a go, and see what works for you. When you hit enter after you’ve written or styled your heading text, your style should automatically go back to ‘normal’ and your spacing should be set.

Step 4. Using the Navigation Pane

So, what has all of this setting up been for? Well, now we’ve done the hard work, you’ll be rewarded with being able to see your project, in full, with all the relevant headings listed in its hierarchy order. Plus, if you feel a section of text is in the wrong place, you can simply drag and drop that particular section, and it moves it for you, in your document as well.

Let me show you what I mean. So for this document, when I view the navigation pane, I see this…

navigation pane shown

All my headings are catalogued, in the order they are given, so you’ll notice that ‘Normal? What’s normal?’ is slightly indented… that’s because it’s a heading 2. ‘Get the spacing right’ at the bottom is indented slightly more, that’s because it’s a heading 3.

To view the navigation pane, click the view tab at the top of your screen, and select Navigation pane, which is listed in the second block to the left. The navigation pane will appear to the left of your document.

Navigation pane

Now you can see your whole project, in one go… magic! Also, if the list is quite long, and you want to get to a particular section quickly, simply place your curser over the relevant heading title in the navigation panel, click once and you’re taken straight to it, in your document. No need to scroll with your mouse.

Step 5. Moving sections with ease

If you feel that a section is in the wrong place, you can simply drag and drop the heading with precedes the section, to where it needs to go, and the whole section has been moved in your document. No need to cut and paste – and you can see exactly where it needs to go, as you do it all in that pane.

So, for example, if I wanted to move the section ‘Heading Styles’ above ‘Normal Styles’, instead of cutting and pasting that whole section in my document, scrolling to the correct place, and then pasting, I can simply place my mouse over the ‘Heading Style’ section in the navigation pane, click and hold the left button, drag the bar and place it over the ‘Normal Style’ section. You’ll notice a thick line will appear and a shaded rectangle (my print screen doesn’t show this, so I can’t take a screen grab) let go of your left button, and voila, the section is now above the Normal Style, and you’ll notice that in your document, your text has been moved. All done for you!

Birds eye view

This is a super convenient tool to use, once you’ve written your book, as you can clearly see the whole thing, in one go, and make sure your sections are all in the correct place, and set at the right level.

So have a go at this tool and see how you get on. It’ll make your writing projects much easier to see and edit, and will help you with clarifying your books content.

Let me know how you get on.