Types of Word Styles

Types of Word Styles

There are five types of styles in Word:

  1. Character Styles

  2. Paragraph Styles

  3. List Styles

  4. Table Styles

  5. Themes

We have shown you how to “use” styles and explained why you would want to.


And we offer you the Styles Customizer - a free tool to help you manage your styles.

Now it’s time to get a little deeper in. Working in Word, you will normally concern yourself only with Paragraph styles, which is why we started there.

The word “style” is originally a printing/publishing term that refers to both the formatting and the content of a piece of text.

A typical example is the banner heading of your favourite newspaper: the whole thing, including the date and the weather and the edition number are a single “style” called as a single directive to the computer.

However, in the Microsoft world, the word “style” means simply “a named collection of formatting”. Unlike FrameMaker or InDesign, Word’s styles cannot (yet?) also contain text. The name enables you to find the style and use it again.

Word contains about 120 built-in styles, one for almost every imaginable purpose.

So you will very rarely have to create one, although we will tell you how for those times when you do. 

One of the most important things to understand about Microsoft Word is that ALL formatting is a style.

The reason for this is simple: speed!

What eventually killed WordPerfect is that it became very slow as the size of the document grew to around 100 pages. To work out how to format a word, WordPerfect had to read the entire file from the beginning, because the formatting was embedded in the text.

In Word, all of the formatting is held in a style table.

The only formatting component in a “run” (a string of text) is a pointer. The pointer is the name of the style, and indicates which row of the table stores all of the formatting properties for that style.

Since the formatting table is relatively compact, Word can keep the whole thing resident in memory, which means every time it needs to format something, it can get the recipe almost instantly (a microsecond or so).

The style table is stored in a Word document beyond the end of the document.

It is hidden after the last paragraph mark in the document: remember that — it will become very significant if your document corrupts.

Fun fact:

  • If you don’t give a style a name, Word will: but it will then hide it from you.

Less fun?

People who continue to “directly format” their documents will never see the thousands of styles Word creates to keep track of things.

Now, let’s have a look at the “types” of styles Word has:

Character Styles

Character styles contain only the character formatting of a style. 

But we mean a little more than font, face, and colour. Language and proofing and advanced typography are in there too.  We will cover character styles in depth in a future topic.

Paragraph Styles

Paragraph styles are what many Word users think of when they say “styles”.

They contain spacing and indents and such, and various properties that enable you to control how Word paginates your document. Again: in-depth in a future topic.

List Styles

List styles contain all of the bullet or number formatting.

To Word, bullets and numbering are the same thing, except that it does not “increment” bullets. List styles are quite tough to explain, and once you get the hang of them, you will find you rarely need them. Where they come into their own is when you want to copy bulleted or numbered text from one document to another. Expect a topic on those, too.

Table Styles

Table styles are an oddity (some would suggest they should never have happened…) I disagree, but they’re very tricky to understand.

One key to this is to understand that a “table” is in fact a special case of “paragraph”: it’s a paragraph that contains child paragraphs! So a table style contains an unholy mixture of font, paragraph, and border formatting. Word’s user interface makes understanding them almost impossible.  But not quite: wait patiently!


Okay, this is the one I believe should never have happened. What we (the MVPs…) wanted and asked for was “Cascading Style Sheets” for Word. The ability to attach more than one template, and have each contribute to the formatting. What we got was themes.

Apart from providing unskilled users with the ability to destroy your carefully formatted document in a single click, I cannot think of a use for them.

Microsoft seems to be slowly understanding the Frankenstein monster it has created — themes seem to be slowly being de-emphasised. I will try to tell you how they work, but I doubt if you will use them any place but PowerPoint.

OK, I have overrun my word-count again; I am very fortunate the Editor lives on the other side of the planet…  Catch you next time!

This blog post has been graciously provided by our Contributor at Large:
John McGhie.

Among other fine accomplishments, John is a Microsoft MVP (Word, Mac Word) and a Consultant Technical Writer at McGhie Information Engineering Pty Ltd in Sydney, Australia.

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