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Tips for Using MS Word: Built-in versus Custom Styles

Templates are great tools, especially if you are creating a series of documents that require the same structure, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs) or engineering standards. Word provides built‑in styles, such as font size and color, spacing, and headings, which can provide consistency across these types of documents.

Some developers believe that customizing Word’s built-in styles, such as adding the company name to the styles, adds value because it identifies the owner of the document. This practice, however, often leads to confusion—not only with template users, but to Microsoft Word as well.

For example, Word’s built-in style called “Body Text” is often used for the narrative text in a document, and the Headings 1, 2, and 3 styles are applied to provide structure and organization. Some companies or writers create their own custom styles by basing them on Word’s built-in styles and then adding the company name (e.g., ABC Heading 1, ABC Heading 2, ABC Heading 3, and ABC Body Text). However, creating the custom styles does not remove the built-in styles, and some users may try to apply both the built-in style and the custom style. This could lead to file corruption and user frustration!

In other cases, we have seen complicated custom-numbered and -bulleted multilevel list styles that were created with complicated names and organization. Did you know that Word has six families of built-in, easy-to-modify multilevel list styles, each with up to 5 or more associated sub-lists?

The negative outcomes from creating unnecessary custom styles include:

  • Essentially doubling the number of available styles a user must choose from.
  • Confusion to the user as to which style to apply.
  • Word ‘crashing’ if built-in styles and custom styles are applied to the same type of content.
  • A higher risk of the template breaking.
  • Increased difficulty maintaining the template.

To prevent these outcomes, the best practice when creating templates is to use and modify Word’s already built‑in styles.

If you need a style that does not exist in Word’s repertoire of styles, then create a custom style and give it an easy-to-use name that intuitively describes it. Why complicate things by creating custom styles that include the company name or a complicated naming convention?

Use company logos and colors in templates for visual cues to identify document ownership. When creating templates, stick to using and modifying Word’s already built-in styles as a best practice, refrain from renaming the styles, and create custom styles only when it is absolutely necessary.


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