Winning Strategies for Word Wrestling Part 2: Getting Styles Right

By Robert L. Blacksberg, Esq. on November 21, 2017
Robert L. Blacksberg, Esq.

Bob’s experience spans more than two decades of technology leadership for lawyers, following a law practice that included partnerships at two Philadelphia law firms. Bob is principal of Blacksberg Associates, LLC and leads engagements with law firms in strategic technology planning and implementation, creates and delivers CLE training programs, and works with leading technology vendors to explain, promote and train leading-edge technology products for lawyers. An author and speaker, Bob has appeared at the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) conference and on ILTA Roadshows. His column, “The Word of Law” appeared in Woody’s Office Watch and helped establish standards for best use of Microsoft Word and protection against the risks of metadata. He can be found on Twitter at @rblacksberg and on his website.

In part two of a three-part series on using Styles in Microsoft Word, Bob Blacksberg illustrates how to apply Styles and updates his "Seven Laws of Styles."

Winning Strategies for Word Wrestling, the first post of this series, showed the power of Microsoft Word’s Styles[1] to create, navigate, view, and edit legal documents based on their substantive structure. This post examines how to select and apply Styles to a legal document to make it work that way. The “Laws of Styles” are republished here to assure that the Style structure of the Word document works properly.

Starting from a view of the entire document helps us see its structure. Then we can zoom in to examine the detailed operation of the Styles used to organize and format the document.

The Securities Purchase Agreement that is illustrated in Winning Strategies for Word Wrestling consists of a title, introductory paragraphs, two levels of numbered or lettered paragraphs, and a closing. For simplicity, the signature blocks and exhibits have been removed.

Figure 1 shows the whole agreement. Figure 2 lights up the styles that organize it.

Figure 1 - Agreement Overview.png                  Figure 1 - Whole Agreement

Figure 2 - Agreement Overview Organized.png                                Figure 2 - Agreement Overview Organized

The Anatomy of a Paragraph Style

To function in the ways illustrated in the prior post, the paragraphs of the agreement must:

  • Have appropriate spacing and alignment.
  • Be in correct fonts.
  • Be numbered or lettered appropriately.
  • Appear in the correct outline level for navigation and table of contents.
  • Have headings or titles that appear correctly in the table of contents.
  • Combine into functional units for editing, such as articles, sections or clauses.

Figure 3 shows some of the ways that the Agreement Level 1 Style formats, numbers, and outlines the paragraph containing the first section title in the agreement. The Style sets the indentation of the paragraph (1 inch from the left margin), the spacing before and after the paragraph (6 points before and after), the numbering format (1, 2, 3 …), the outline level (here level 1), and the font (here Times 10 pt, underlined). Figure 4 displays the Modify Style dialog that reports and controls the settings for the Style.

Figure 3 - Agreement Level 1 Style.png               Figure 3 - Agreement Level 1 Style

Figure 4 - Modify Style.png                                    Figure 4 -- Modify Style

Figure 5 expands the view to show a full page of application of text with the associated Styles. To make the pattern stand out, the text of the Agreement Level 1, Agreement Level 2, and Agreement Preamble styles have been shaded green, yellow and light red. In the real document, of course, these fill colors are not used.

Figure 5 - Full Page Application.png              Figure 5 - Full Page Application

This use of Styles can and should be understood as an approach to constructing, not just formatting a legal document.

Using the Lego™ block analogy from the last post, the application of Styles to this Agreement might look like Figure 6. Like Legos, the paragraphs with their applied styles snap together to construct the agreement, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 6 - Building Blocks of Styles.png                                                                                 Figure 6 - Building Blocks of Styles

Figure 7 - Building Blocks Snapped Together.png                                                                                                     Figure 7 - Building Blocks Snapped Together


The Laws of Styles, Updated

To use Styles consistently and thoroughly, I once wrote the Seven Laws of Styles. Here they are updated.

Law 1. Format paragraphs with Paragraph Styles. Use little, if any direct formatting.

Use Styles to apply the required formatting of the paragraphs of a document including fonts, indentation, spacing before and after, numbering, and outline levels. Styles apply these elements consistently. Changes should be made by modifying or replacing the Styles, which will apply consistently throughout a document. Direct formatting works only where it is applied, and causes much extra effort to make changes or repair errors.

Law 2. Use no empty paragraphs.

Do not use paragraphs without text. A continuing relic of composing and editing on a typewriter, empty paragraphs hinder consistent formatting. Using the paragraph spacing setting of the Styles to control white space. To assure that there are no empty paragraphs, edit with paragraph marks and other hidden formatting displayed. Click on the ¶ button in the Paragraph section of the Home ribbon (Keystroke - CTRL + *).

Law 3. Employ Styles to apply numbers and outline levels.

Styles can include number formats. They can also set the associated outline level. With this usage, the substantive organization and navigation of a document described and illustrated in Winning Strategies for Word Wrestling comes alive.

Law 4. Fix the format locally, let the Style fix the document.

Editing Styles can be complex. In the next blog post, we will explore how a team of document specialists can help lawyers and secretaries work with their documents without mastering all the details of editing and managing Styles. The Modify Styles dialog shown in Figure 4 is not intuitive. It offers only a very limited connection to the resulting format.

Revising paragraph Styles can be simplified by making changes to the format of a single paragraph. Changes to fonts should be applied to the paragraph mark so they apply to the entire paragraph. Then right click on the name of the Style where it appears in the Ribbon.[2] If there has been a local change to the paragraph format or font, an option will be presented to “Update [Name of Style] to Match Selection.” Once selected, the format of all paragraphs to which that Style has been applied will be changed, and the local formatting change will be removed.

Law 5. Format follows function.

Styles and their associated formats should be applied based on the substantive function of a paragraph in a document. So, a heading should be a “Heading” style or a “Level n” style (n the level number) and a paragraph in the body of a document should be “Body Text.”

Law 6. Reserve Normal Style for global settings.

A practical rule for the construction and organization of styles is to base many of the settings of a series of Styles on a specific Style, to ease global changes in a document. Fonts, for instance, should be a global feature of a document’s formatting. Normal Style is usually used for this purpose, and other Styles are based on Normal Style. By using “Body Text” as the Style for paragraphs that form the body of a document, it becomes easier to manage any special features of those paragraphs without spreading them throughout a document.

Law 7. Name Styles consistently.

If, for example, the spacing of text or between paragraphs should be different in one kind of document from another, then the settings for those functional Styles should be different, but the names should stay the same. Then a document can be transformed in appearance by connecting with a template that gathers the formatting for the reusable Styles, instead of changing the Styles.

It has been harder to persuade folks to adopt this Law than some of the others. For many people, Styles seem to remain a rule for formatting, rather than document construction.

In the next post, I will present a team approach to building Styles resources for a law practice.


[1] The discussion of Microsoft Word Styles in these blog posts is limited to paragraph styles. Paragraph Styles do the heavy lifting in the overall formatting of a legal document. Other types of styles include Character Styles, Linked Paragraph and Character Styles, Table Styles and List Styles.

[2] The portion of the Ribbon that displays Styles is called the Styles Gallery. Include Styles used most frequently in a document in the Style Gallery and omit Styles used infrequently or not at all. A check box at the bottom of the Modify Styles dialog specifies “Add to the Styles Gallery.”

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