Winning Strategies for Word Wrestling Part 3: Managing Styles and Stylists

By Robert L. Blacksberg, Esq. on December 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.

The prior two posts in this series (Winning Strategies for Word Wrestling and Winning Strategies for Word Wrestling Part 2: Getting Styles Right) demonstrated the power of Styles in Microsoft Word, showed how to apply them to a legal document, and restated the Seven Laws of Styles. Here are some strategies, tools and methods for creating, maintaining and supporting use of Styles. These are only highlights.

Tasks and Responsibilities Not Meant for Ordinary Users

The prior posts presumed a configuration of Microsoft Word in which appropriately formatted Styles are available to ordinary users, ready to be selected from a well-groomed Styles Gallery. This can require a good deal of work, especially in a law practice. That work should not be assigned to ordinary users. 

Figure 3-1
                                                                   Figure 1 - Styles Gallery (also called Quick Styles Gallery)

The standard templates from Microsoft may not satisfy this goal. Many unnecessary or inappropriate Styles may be included, and the Styles Gallery will appear bloated. Here are examples from the online templates for Microsoft Word[1] that demonstrate different solutions to this issue:

The Business Letter (Adjacency Design) uses six styles – Normal, Sender Address, Recipient Address, Salutation, Closing and Signature. There are no empty paragraphs. The Styles are named for their function. The template, though complicates the use of Styles by displaying 20 Styles in the Styles Gallery. On the default Ribbon, in the Home Tab, only a few of these may be visible, depending on screen resolution.

Figure 3-2
                                                                        Figure 2 - Styles Gallery from Business Letter Template
The Investment Club Partnership Agreement displays only five Styles, all of which are used – Normal, Heading 1, List Bullet, Signature and Title. That is the correct approach.
Figure 3-3
                                                          Figure 3 - Styles Gallery from Investment Club Partnership Agreement


A Team of Stylists

A law practice or any organization whose work requires the writing, editing, and production of formal and consistent documents should support good Styles usage by a team effort. The team requires Microsoft Word experts, whether internal to the law practice or organization, or engaged from an outside provider. They must also have a deep understanding of the formatting and presentation requirements for the documents and the ways they are written and edited by the organization’s writers and editors.

The team also needs support and commitment from senior business and practice leadership of the organization. The leadership must recognize that the quality of their documents is a mark of professionalism, effectiveness, and efficiency. To achieve this, document quality, including thorough Styles usage, needs to be owned by those with the relationships, understanding, and authority to work with lawyers, secretaries, practice leadership, document or word processing support, trainers, and information technology. The responsibility should be ongoing, not limited to the initial configuration of the Microsoft Word environment or a template project. There should be a continuing review of documents in production, with feedback to users and to the support team.

Such ownership is very rare. For example, the configuration of Styles may be delegated to a firm’s marketing department, to have the advantage of their skills and experience in the design of presentations. Often, though, marketing staff have little experience in the writing and editing of formal legal documents, nor the authority or responsibility for ongoing involvement.

A Tale of Templates

A law practice needs several types of documents, including correspondence, memos, agreements in several degrees of complexity, court filings (motions, briefs), disclosure documents, and regulatory filings. Templates should be created for each type of document. Businesses that specialize in creating these templates, such as the Innova and Forte offerings from Litera Microsystems, provide important resources to help law practices avoid reinvention.

Here are some guidelines for templates that carry out the mission for Styles articulated in these blog posts.

  • Templates contain only the Styles necessary for writing and editing the documents based on that Template. Other Styles should be removed.
  • Trim the Styles Gallery in the template so it only shows the Styles used to write and edit the document. Remove the Normal Style from the gallery.
  • Include the document’s content structure in the template and apply the appropriate Styles to the content.
  • Follow the Laws of Styles.

Normal Style Should Not Be Normal

The default operation of Microsoft Word, and most of the templates shipped with Word or available on the Microsoft website use the Normal Style for the base text of a document. That is the case even when templates incorporate and use styles with appropriate descriptive names for their other elements, as does the Business Letter template mentioned above.

Use a Body Text style, not the Normal Style for base text.

Why? Unless explicitly changed, Normal Style is the Style on which all other Styles are based. This causes any customization of the Normal Style to cascade or flow through to the rest of the document structure. That either breaks the formatting of the other Styles, or requires that they all be modified to correct for any changes made to the Normal Style. For example, if a particular font or paragraph spacing is required for the Body Text of a document, incorporating those changes in the Normal Style would make them apply to the other Styles based on Normal.

The best strategy is to have no settings in the Normal Style. In that case, the fonts and spacing set in Document Default will apply to any paragraph for which no Style other than Normal has been chosen, or to any Style based on Normal without other specific settings.

This may seem to create more work for the Styles and Templates team, but it will pay off in fewer errors for users when writing and editing documents.

Numbering Requires Extra Help

Lawyers number paragraphs in many of their formal documents. The numbering schemes may include many levels. In the best of cases, paragraph Styles include the numbering associated with the paragraph. Most unfortunately, the Word’s programming for numbering includes several methods. These result from the entire history of Microsoft Word to allow Word to keep using or updating some of the oldest of its documents, now approaching 35 years old.

The Styles and Templates team most likely needs to incorporate a third-party numbering solution to make numbering work correctly, and to fix errors that may arise. Properly created, repaired, if necessary, and maintained, Styles with attached numbering will keep a document in order.

Tools for Styles

The Styles team may want to expose one or more of these Styles tools in their Microsoft Word environment.

Figure 3-4.png

                                                                              Figure 4 - Style Area displayed in Draft View

Draft View can show Styles next to their paragraphs.

One of the Ribbon elements called “Style (Style Gallery Classic)” will show the Style applied to the paragraph in which the cursor is located, and a pull down to apply other Styles. The newer Quick Styles Gallery only highlights the Style for the paragraph in which the cursor is located if that Style appears on the ribbon. Depending on the size of the Word window and the number of Styles, the applicable Style may be hidden. Apply Styles opens a floating window with similar information to the Style Gallery Classic. Manage Styles helps the Styles team control the details of Styles.

Styles in Word Online and Word for IOS

Word Online incorporates a Styles Gallery in the Home Tab of its Ribbon. There are no controls to modify Styles or select which of the Styles will appear in the ribbon.

Figure 3-5

                       Figure 5- Styles in Word Online

Styles can be accessed to a limited degree in Microsoft Word for IOS. There is a Styles button to the right side of the Home tab on the ribbon. It opens a drop-down selection of the Styles in the Styles Gallery of the current document, as illustrated in the figure below. There are no tools for creating or modifying Styles in this version of Microsoft Word.

Figure 3-6

             Figure 6 - Styles in Word for IOS

Bottom line – Styles must be worked out in the desktop version of Word before trying to edit a document that incorporates them in the Office Online or IOS versions of Microsoft Word.


Charles Kenyon annotated and updated the Styles section of the Microsoft Word Legal Users Guide, originally published in 1997. Find it at Understanding Styles in Microsoft Word.

Two important blog posts about Styles in Microsoft Word can only be found in the Internet Archive (aka The WayBack Machine). Jonathan Bailor, then the Program Manager for Microsoft Word wrote Behind The Curtain: Styles’ Order Of Operations and Behind The Curtain: Styles, Doc Defaults, Style Sets, And Themes. Thanks to Timothy Rylatt for alerting me to these.

The Why Behind Our Styles and Lists Designs,” a 2010 blog post by the Word Team post that illustrates the challenges faced by Microsoft to incorporate Numbering with Styles, and the need for expert help.

[1] To view these templates, select File, New in Microsoft Word. In the Search for Online Templates box, enter “Business Letter (Adjacency Design)” for the first example. Enter “Investment Club Partnership Agreement” for the second example.

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