Linked Styles - Working with them in Microsoft Word

Linked Styles - Working with them in Microsoft Word

A linked style is a named collection of formatting that contains both the character properties and the paragraph properties as separate styles.

Some would argue that’s how styles should have been designed in the first place. Well they weren’t. So about ten years ago Microsoft implemented away to make it look as though they had been.

Here is an example of a Linked Style in a Word document.


There we have two heading styles applied to the same paragraph.

  • The orange one is a standard Heading 2.

  • The blue is Heading 1 Style, applied as a linked style.

This is what linked styles are most useful for: where you want some words emphasised in a larger paragraph.

A linked style is in fact two styles that are linked together by the same name. You used to be able to see this in Word’s Style Organizer. The example above would appear as two distinct styles: in this case, Heading 1 and Heading 1 Char. But this used to confuse everyone into applying the wrong one, so Microsoft has now suppressed the display of the linked styles.

How do you make a Linked style?

You don’t. Word will make them for you if you need one. 

  • If you select only a few words of a paragraph, and apply a paragraph style, Word will create a Linked Style of the same name, containing only the Character properties of the original style, and apply that instead. Thereafter, whenever you want just the Character half of the style, Word will apply the linked style.

If you have a whole paragraph selected, or you have just an insertion point in the paragraph but nothing selected, when you apply a paragraph style, Word will apply it as a paragraph style.

Recall that a paragraph style actually does contain the character formatting properties as well as the paragraph ones. A linked style simply creates a character style of the same name linked to the paragraph style.  Many people believe this is the way styles should always have worked. I am slowly coming around to that idea.

Updating a Linked Style

In the latest versions of Word, you never see the separate styles, so you make changes just as you would to any other style. If you change the font, both the Character and Paragraph halves of the style will get the change.

The only time you may need to be aware of this is if you are working in VBA. If you are, you may need to ensure that you are working with the main (paragraph) part of the style.


For a long time, I grumbled about this. When I apply a style, I need to know that the whole of it has been applied, throughout the document.

But, experience is a great teacher. I have learned to trust the mechanism:

  • If styles are linked, they behave as one style.

  • There is no way to unlink a linked style. 

In PC Word, you can disable linked styles if they really offend you:

  • In the Styles pane (opened with a tiny arrow at the bottom right of the Styles chunk) there is a Disable Linked Styles checkbox at the bottom.

  • If you check that box, linked styles are completely disabled in that document.

Word for Mac does not currently have this control.


Working with Linked Styles

If you apply a style to only part of a paragraph, it will be applied as a Character style. If the style you applied was a paragraph style, a linked style will be created to enable this.

Certain things that will work with a paragraph style will continue to work with a linked style:

  • advanced typography

  • cross-references

  • StyleRef fields

  • Tables of Contents.

Things that depend on paragraph properties to work will not work unless you apply the style to the whole paragraph:

  • Numbering

  • Bullets

  • Spacing

  • Indents

  • Tabs.

Uses of Linked Styles

List of Figures: A neat trick you can use linked styles for, is to have a shorter entry in the List of Figures than the caption. If you subscribe to the modern technique of “action captions” where the figure caption is so long readers do not have to read the text (and in some documents, you should…) then you can get an entry in the List of Figures that spans several lines and looks awful. Linked styles will fix that. Here is an example from a Word document.

  1. You use a style (which you might call “Caption Long”, or whatever enables you to find it easily) for the entire paragraph. The long style sets up the same font and spacing as the Caption style.

  2. Then you apply the “real” Caption style to only the part you want in the List of Figures (the bold bit).

  3. What you will get in the List of Figures is simply “Figure 21: The habitat of the waterhen.” But the reader will see the whole caption when they get to the figure.

StyleRef fields: The List of Figures trick works equally well for StyleRef fields in your running headers. If your heading is too long, apply the Heading style only to the bit you want in the header. Use a second style for the rest of the heading.

Run-In Headings: The real reason linked styles were invented was to do Run-In Headings, as shown in this example from a Word doc.


Run-in headings are a useful typographical trick to save space in certain kinds of documents (legal briefs, text books, etc).

FYI: In earlier versions of Word, you used to have to fiddle around with a strange device named a Style Separator. It looked like a greyed-out paragraph mark, and behaved like one, except that it did not start a new line. It was used to separate a paragraph style from the rest of the paragraph, so it could be used for a run-in heading. Style separators will still work in recent versions of Word, but you can’t create them or insert them. Use Linked Styles instead.

List Styles is our next topic, I promise! Pinky promise!

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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