How to Create Custom Word Styles

Driving a race carAre you tired of the the default Microsoft Word formatting? Creating custom Word styles puts YOU in the driver’s seat when formatting your documents.

In this tutorial, I show you several ways to create your own custom styles and apply them to text. If you don’t know what styles are, or have never used them before, start with the Microsoft Word Styles Basics tutorial then come back to this page.

This tutorial will take some time, so grab your favorite drink then let’s get started! For the following tutorial, open Word 2007 or 2010 to start a new document.

Creating custom Word styles based on existing styles

Note: The instructions and screenshots for this tutorial are for Word 2010, but using styles in Word 2007 is the same except where noted.

Step 1: Create a sample Word document

As in the previous tutorial, we need to insert some dummy text into the blank document so we have something to work with.

Here is the easy way to enter lorem ipsum text into a MS Word document:

  1. Type the following code including the equal sign: =lorem(5,3)
  2. Press Enter.

This code inserts five paragraphs of text containing three sentences each of lorem ipsum text into your document.

Step 2: Apply a style

The easiest way to create custom Word styles is to modify an already existing style. Let’s take the first paragraph and turn it into some lead-in text.

Follow these steps to format the dummy text by applying a pre-made style:

  1. Place the cursor within the first paragraph.
  2. On the Home tab in the Styles group, click the Subtitle style. The style is applied to the paragraph.

If you are using the default Style set, the text should now be formatted as 12pt, medium-blue, italic, Cambria font. That formatting looks nice, but what if you want something different? We can modify the Subtitle style and apply it to the text.

Step 3: Modify the style

You modify a style from the Styles pane. Here is how to access it:

  1. Open the Home tab on the ribbon.
  2. In the Styles group, click the launcher The Microsoft Word 2007 or 2010 launcher icon located in the lower right corner of the Styles group.. The Styles pane opens.-OR-
    To open the Styles pane from any tab on the ribbon, press Alt+Ctrl+Shift+S.

Note: If a style is located in the Quick Style Gallery, you can modify it from there instead of opening the Styles pane. Right-click any style in the gallery and then select Modify.

Now we are going to make the following changes to the introductory text:

  • enlarge the font
  • change the color
  • add borders to set it off from the body text

We could change the formatting manually, but what if you are working on a 500-page document with 15 chapters, each with introductory text? Don’t waste time manually formatting 15 paragraphs when you can change them all at once.

To modify (all instances of) the Subtitle style, follow these steps:

  1. Place the cursor within the paragraph of Subtitle text.
  2. In the Styles pane, find the Subtitle style. (It should be highlighted.) Hover over the style name, then click the down arrow that appears.
  3. Click Modify. The Modify Style window opens.
  4. In the Formatting section, select a font size of 14 from the drop-down list.
  5. The color picker is to the right of the underline symbol. Select an olive green color from the color picker.
  6. Click Format, then click Border.
  7. Click Custom then make the following selections to create green borders:
    • In the color picker, choose the same green you chose for the font.
    • Select a border width of 1-1/2 pt.
    • In the preview section, click the right and left border buttons to remove the side borders.
    • Under Apply to, select Paragraph.

      Borders and Shading formatting window
      Borders and Shading Window: creating borders for your custom Word style
  8. Click OK to save your selections and close the Borders and Shading window.
  9. Click OK again to save all of your formatting changes.

You now have an introductory paragraph that is set off from the main text. How does that look? The nice thing is if you don’t like it, you can change it any time you want.

Sample document with modified subtitle style
Sample document with modified subtitle style

Congratulations! Your just created your first document using custom Word styles.

You can change virtually every aspect of selected text from the Modify Style window. It is important to understand what options are available, so open the window again and take a detour to learn more about this important tool. (If you cannot remember how to open it, follow steps 1 – 3 above.)

Bonus tip: Get familiar with the Modify Style window

To effectively use Word styles for formatting documents, you should be familiar with the options available in the Modify Style window. The window contains a preview pane that shows you how the changes you make will look in your document. The current formatting selections are listed directly below the preview pane.

The Modify Styles window
The Modify Style Window


  • Name: name the style. If you are modifying an existing style, I recommend you keep the current name, especially for heading styles.
  • Style type: select either paragraph, character, linked, list, or table. Linked styles are what I call “combo” styles that contain formatting for characters (fonts) and paragraphs within the same style.
  • Style based on: this is an important selection to control how style changes are inherited from parent to child. If you do NOT want your style to change when you change the formatting of the style it is based on (the parent), select (no style). Otherwise, select the style that you want as the basis for the new style.
  • Style for the following paragraph: you can control the style of the paragraph that follows. For instance, if you always want a normal paragraph to follow a Heading style, select Normal.


  • Quick formatting toolbar: use the toolbar for fast formatting such as font family, size, style, and color, or paragraph alignment, spacing, line height, and indents.
  • Add to Quick Style list: selecting will add the new style to the Quick Style gallery on the ribbon. Note: verify your selection every time you open the Modify Style window to make changes.
  • Automatically update: clear this option! If this option is selected, when you manually format this style, it will update every instance of it in your entire document. Did I mention to CLEAR THIS OPTION? Leaving it selected will result in messed up documents, possible swearing, and ultimately you will hate Microsoft Word. Note: verify your selection every time you open the Modify Style window to make changes.
  • Only in this document / New documents based on this template: this is a toggle. Select Only in this document if you only want to change the style in this particular document and no others. If you want to change the style in the default template (Normal.dotm) or the document is saved as a template file (dotx), then select New documents based on this template. Note: verify your selection every time you open the Modify Style window to make changes.
  • Format: click this button to access all of the formatting options:
    • Font – bold, italic, underlined, color, size, special effects, and character spacing such as kerning.
    • Paragraph – alignment, line spacing, indents, before and after spacing, tabs, line breaks, widow/orphan control, page break before, line numbering, and hyphenation.
    • Tabs – tab stop positions, alignment, and tab leaders.
    • Borders – border style, color, alignment, effects, and shading.
    • Language – proofing language options for the selected text.
    • Frame – if text or an object is positioned inside a frame, use this option to change text wrapping, size, spacing, or to remove the frame.
    • Numbering – define numbering or bullet styles or create a new numbering format from scratch.
    • Shortcut key – assign or reassign a shortcut key for this style.
    • Text Effects – (Word 2010 only) I assume this is for formatting font effects such as drop shadows, but I cannot select in my copy of Word, so I have never tried it.

When finished making changes in the Modify Style window, click OK to save them.

Creating a custom Word style based on formatted text

There is another way to create custom Word styles and that is to format text using the manual tools, then apply the changes to a pre-existing style. You can use any of the formatting tools on any tab on the ribbon to make changes.

Note: If you have a lot of changes to make, it is probably faster and easier to use the Modify Style window.

In your sample document, use the manual formatting tools (on the Ribbon in the Font group) to change the subtitle text to a different color. Then follow these steps to apply the manual changes to the Subtitle style:

  1. Place the cursor within the Subtitle paragraph, then open the Word Styles pane.
  2. Hover over the Subtitle style, click the down arrow, then select Update Subtitle to Match Selection.

All instances of that style are automatically updated.

Congratulations! You finished the tutorial and are now a Microsoft Word power-user… one of the minority of Word users who know how to use one of the most powerful features of this software. But don’t stop there. You can create beautiful documents combining custom Word styles with different themes. Go to the Office Themes tutorial. I will see you there!

Photo credit: © Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs –