How to format your Word document

cokefourDigital Products Lead


This tutorial provides instructions on how to properly format your Word document using the inbuilt tools provided.
The benefits of using these tools means your documents are more accessible and easily portable to other applications and formats.

Where to start?

I always recommend the best way to write a document in Word is simply  content and ignore the urge to style the document until you have entered all the content and are ready to format. I understand that some people find it hard to work this way as the document appears to lack structure and makes it difficult to know where you are. In that case I recommend you begin your document by typing out all the headings before adding any content; this gives the document structure and will also help you plan your document.
Using this method, type in your headings such as ‘Introduction’, ‘Requirements’, ‘Conclusion’ etc and convert each one to Heading 1 by putting the cursor anywhere in the word and pressing the key combination Ctrl+Alt+1.
If you wish to add sub headings to each section repeat the process but this time the key combination will be Ctrl+Alt+2.

Paragraphs and spacing and page breaks

When you’re ready to start adding the body text, simply type the way you would if you were using a Word processor (if you’re old enough to know what that is). What I mean by this is resist the urge to do anything more than type and then press ‘enter’ at the end of each paragraph. I find a lot of documents I receive have double spaces because the author pressed ‘enter’ twice. I also find documents where the author has pressed ‘enter’ multiple times tocontinue on a new page(you know who you are). These methods are wrong and should be avoided because your document would look different from pc to pc.

Paragraphs and spacing

Once you have finished typing your paragraphs, you can adjust the space before and after each paragraph by placing the cursor anywhere in the paragraph, right-clicking in the paragraph and in the context menu choosing  ‘paragraph’ then in the dialog box that opens you can choose how much space you want before and after each paragraph. 12pt would normally give you a double space after your paragraph.

Page breaks

To continue on a new page the correct way would be to place the cursor where you want the section tend then go to the menu under ‘insert’ and choose ‘page break’ . You can then choose whether to have the new page as a new section or simply to make it a page break. Creating new sections is useful if you might want to have different layouts within your document or different headers and footers.

Styles and formatting

Once you have created your headings, sub headings, created desired spacing between your paragraphs and decided your page breaks, you can save your preferences by using the styles and formatiing pane. This allows you to determine everything about your headings and paragraphs from what typeface, colour and size they will be to what spacing to apply before and after them.
I tend to include my page breaks in the formatting for my Heading 1 format so that a new heading starts on a new page without having to manually insert a page break every time. Another helpful tool is the Widow/orphan control which will keep your headings and a certain number of lines together so you don’t have that annoying thing of a heading at the bottom of a page and the text that comes after it on the next page.

Creating a table of Contents

One of the advantages of using the inbuilt formatting tools for creating headings is that it automatically creates bookmarks which can be used for useful things like an automatic table of contents.
To create your table of contents, place the cursor where you would like the table to be and go to the ‘References’ tab and click on the ‘Table of Contents’ icon. Towards the bottom of the drop down that appears you will see ‘Insert Table of Contents…’, click on this and a dialog box will open.
The dialog will give you the option to add a number of levels to your table with three being the default. If you only want your heading 1 level to appear in the contents, change ‘Show levels’ to 1. You can play around with the other options in the dialog to change formatting etc or just leave the defaults in place.
Click OK and your table of contents will be created for you. The advantage to working in this way means that every time you update the table, it will display the correct location of that chapter and the current spelling you have used. It also acts as a bookmark which will allow you to jump straight to the page by clicking (or Ctrl clicking) on the entry in the table.


Formatting your document this way increases the accessibility of the document and makes it easier for others to use your document and export it to different formats such as PDF, XML or HTML. In addition to that you can make DAISY files which are audio files created from Word documents for people who use audio to read documents.
I hope you find this article interesting and that it helps you in your work or study.
cokefourDigital Products Lead

Comments (12)


If the styles are already set up, then you don't have to concentrate on them much. You assign keyboard shortcut to heading styles; one keystroke and it's heading. Then when you hit "enter" to start new paragraph, it's already the style you have defined as "next", like Eric described above. I'm sure that after short period of getting used to it, the user will find himself very effective.

On the contrary, if you from the beginning type everything in plain text, it means that you never place new paragraph twice - because otherwise, when you apply the styles, you will have to remove it. Equally, you'll never hit two spaces twice, because then later you will be removing them and replacing by the tabs. So with this method, you end up with completely unformatted text, like a solid brick, before you go back and begin applying styles.
PortletPaulEE Topic Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2014
Awarded 2013

content over presentation -v- presentation over content

It seems have inexorably been driven toward valuing presentation over content (sigh). I can remember when "font" was performed only by typesetters but we managed to communicate.

I really liked this brief article, I do wish there was far less concentration on style/presentation. Take for example this website, this article, this comment chain, this comment. We typed and added just a little, or no, presentation. Word is to blame, there is just too many features and almost everyone feels compelled to exploit a good number of them, often with horrid results.

I do truly hate formatting by brute force (e.g. normal + bold + helvetica + size 18.4 + indent 1.5 + space after 12pt, followed immediately by something entirely different). Tabs! Curse those who align information by an endless supply of tabs!!

Please, "Keep it Simple". OK, do use a few styles, especially those that help structure the document such as Headings 1,2,3 - but content is the real purpose, without content you are drawing.

cokefourDigital Products Lead


Great comment PortlettPaul and it would make a great article all by itself. The number of times I get asked to design websites and brochures before the client has even given thought to the content.
Distinguished Expert 2020

Good points PortlettPaul. I think many users would be far better off sticking to something simple like Wordpad to prepare their documents. With all its features, Word is overkill for straightforward letters and basic documents.

That being said, Word's features do make it possible to prepare a well-structured document with functional elements such as tables of contents, indices and page headers.

In almost all cases of a book being published in the pre-1975 era, designers, proofreaders and editors were key parts of the process -- and only specialists set the type. New tools -- like Word, but also more advanced layout applications like InDesign -- make it possible to do the layout part more efficiently and with more options. However, it also means that anyone able to run the SW can use it to "produce" a book: sometimes it works; often it doesn't.

Whenever possible, I strive to have clients agree to paying for a designer to spend some time up front to set up a minimal set of rules for the layout, and then work through a style guide (as in grammar, spelling, editing, etc. versus formatting styles). The results can be used for more than a single book, and if done properly, can be part of how an organization presents itself more widely in print.

I can then work with the layout design and style guide to come up with appropriate template(s) for production.  This certainly includes Word styles, but also may include custom tools like macros or autotext.

My objective is to make it easy for keyboard operator(s) to keep their focus on the content, so for most jobs I use a pretty generic template with standard styles aimed at formatting for editorial and proofreading efficiency. This means a simple layout, with minimal pagination features but well-planned styles so the operator can get presentable content without getting bogged down in the complexities of document structures.

When it comes time to prepare the final layout, a different template -- using the same named styles, but now with the designer's specs -- can be attached and a layout specialist can go through and implement the document structural elements.

In my experience, without this sort of approach occasional users of Word (and similar programs) end up spending far more time fussing with things they don't understand, at the expense of tasks they can do well. If I am being paid to produce a scientific publication, I want to make it easy for the researchers to focus on their specialties (i.e. the content) and leave the layout to other specialists.

That, in a nutshell, is why I am such a fan of Word's styles and templates for formatting documents!

PortletPaul, if the goal is content, then Word shouldn't be in the picture at all. There's Notepad. Yes, whenever I need to create a note, I open Notepad. It's even in my QuickLaunch toolbar. Word is only when I actually need Word.

Same as when you send plain email, plain text format is sufficient - which means that plain text should be the default, and you switch to HTML only when you actually want to make something fancy. So the end result is not your 2 sentences plus 50 kilobytes of CSS. True aesthetics should be not only on the visible surface.

"Keep it simple" means also choosing the minimally sufficient tool for the purpose. But once chosen, you have to be on the level with it. If you need to drive to the supermarket, you take your old Toyota and in the parking lot you park near the garbage bin, it's OK. If however you took your Lexus, then you have to be on the level, and you'll have to find another place to park, and even use and tip the valet - otherwise it's disrespect to Lexus. Word is about the same.

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