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?


12 Responses to “Formatting Guides in Word for Mac 2011”

  1. August 5, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    That looks very cool, Robert. Unfortunately, it’s not something that’s available in Word 2010 for Windows — as far as I can tell.


  2. August 7, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    Maybe for the next release. I hope so, because I suddenly have a job where I use Word for Windows!

  3. November 4, 2011 at 4:58 am #

    Hi Robert
    Yes, I have been using this feature. It’s lovely. I’m a big fan of styles, having worked with GML, SGML, and Framemaker in the past, before coming to Word. This is a really cool feature. But I came to your blog looking for the answer to the question: ‘how can I find a “hidden” footnote text style in a client’s document?
    This is in a document where EVERYTHING is hand-crafted – the author uses Word like a typewriter. And some of his footnotes are NOT in ‘footnote text’. But the style does not appear anywhere: it is ‘hidden’. Do you know anything about this?

  4. November 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Catherine, I’m so sorry I didn’t see this note earlier. I’m not sure I know how to answer the question, and it’s probably too late anyway!

    When you select the footnote text, what appears in the Toolbox’s “Current style of selected text” box?

    It should, of course, be the style that you’ve selected. If not, then I don’t know what’s going on…

  5. January 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Yes, this is a handy feature in 2011, especially since the style palette no longer shows “plus formatting” (e.g. Normal + 12 pt) in the main pane when both “List > Styles in use” and “Preferences > Edit > Keep track of formatting” are selected. (Or if this feature is available in 2011, I’d love to know how to activate it.)

    I’ve found the “Show Direct Formatting Guides” to be inconsistent, though. When checked on, it highlights a handful of instances where local formatting has been applied to text, but not all. Any thoughts on why this feature would skip over some locally formatted text and identify others? I’ve double-checked and confirmed that various paragraphs which the feature skips over are in fact locally formatted, and not wholly driven by a style sheet.

  6. January 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    Meredith, I haven’t noticed that inconsistency myself, so far. I’ll definitely pay more attention.

  7. July 20, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    Now if you could only lock all that hard work you’ve put into styles before you send the document out to some style zombie in your team.

    Nothing worse than getting a 5 minute copy edit back with an hour worth of “undoing” to the mess they made of styles.

    Any tips for Mac 2011? Apparently you can’t lock formatting or styles in this version. Sigh.

    • August 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

      Matt, I don’ really know. I think that you can create a template that locks the styles, but I haven’t had to do that myself, so I’m not sure how.

  8. October 28, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    Thank you!

    I have been driven mad, and wasted hours, by Words fifty? built-in styles cluttering up the drop-down list when I only want to use four or five styles.

    This isn’t ideal as I have to keep the toolbox open all the time. But it does work for me.

    Thank you

    • October 29, 2012 at 12:30 am #

      Giles, have you tried changing the “List” drop-down menu from “Recommended” to “Styles In Use” or “In Current Document”?

      If you make that change in the toolbox, it changes the drop-down box as well. (At least, it does for me.)

  9. July 18, 2018 at 8:23 pm #

    AAAAAAH! How I wish I had found you before I attempted to format my novel! I can see now where I screwed up, but I don’t know how to fix it. I need to change the footer format, because when I tried to print out the novel, I got the message that there was text outside the printable area. I don’t know how to fix this. Back to Google.


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