Formatting Guides in Word for Mac 2011

I’ve talked before about the importance, nay, the joy, of using styles with a word processor.

If you’re not sure what I mean by “styles,” then have a look below for a link to my earlier post (and very short video) on what styles can do for you.

Once you’ve embraced styles, Microsoft Word has a couple of brand new features that make it easy to maintain your styles within a document.

[I apologize in advance to anyone using Word for Windows. I don’t know whether these features exist for you, or how to find them if they do. My quick research implies that they don’t as of Word 2010, but maybe they’re coming soon.]

One of these features is called “Show Style Guides,” and one is called “Show Direct Formatting Guides.” I love the second one most, but in the interest of delaying gratification, let’s talk about the first one first.

Show Style Guides

Here’s what you do. Open a document that has a bunch of styles applied. (Or just read on and see my images.)

While the doc is open to  Print Layout view (View > Print Layout), choose Styles from the View menu. The Toolbox will open to the Styles section.

Down at the bottom of the Toolbox, there are two checkboxes.

For now, just check Show Style Guides.

Kapow! That’s right, Kapow!

Suddenly, the page is filled with colorful bits and numbers on the left side. These bits let you know just what styles you’ve applied to each portion of your document.

There’s also a legend (on the toolbox itself) showing you which color and number applies to which style.

You’ll see in the image above that the top heading is numbered a sort of red 2. The paragraph text is blue 3. And then, there’s some text in italics, and that has a little 1 next to the 3. And so on.

Why is this helpful?

Well, what if you have two styles that look exactly alike, or very similar? When you scan your doc, you want to know if that 11 pt Arial is the “body” style or the “paragraph” style, because you want to know which text in the doc will change when you change the style itself.

When the styles each have their own colored bit on the side, it’s a lot easier to check them. You let your eye go down the page, making sure that each pea-green or lemon-yellow style is in the right place.

“Show Style Guides” helps you make sure that you haven’t misapplied a style somewhere. But the tool I really love is the other checkbox: “Show Direct Formatting Guides.”

Show Direct Formatting Guides

Now, in your document, check “Show Direct Formatting Guides.”

What do you see? Well, depending on your document, you may not see much at all.

Word puts a little box around every bit of text that is not completely controlled by a style, so if you’ve applied styles to everything in your doc, then you won’t see any changes at all.

But if you’ve made formatting changes to text without ruling those changes with styles, then you’ll see a box.

In the image above, you’ll see a little box in two places. The first box is around a slightly larger font than the surrounding text, and the second is around some bold text. In both cases, there’s no style attached to those changes. I’d just made the font bigger, or added bold, without creating or applying a style.

Why is this helpful?

If you understand the power of styles, then you’ll understand that you don’t really want a lot of text with direct (i.e., unstyled) formatting. The main idea is that the directly formatted text won’t be automatically updated when you update a style.

Those little boxes show you right away which text has been changed directly (using the Bold command, for example), rather than through a style. Then you can decide for each case whether to change it or keep it the way it is.

In either case, you won’t be surprised by the results when you modify a style someday down the road, and this stuff just stays as it is.

Does anyone else use these checkboxes? Are they useful to you?


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