The importance of the text styles.

The majority of writers are unaware of the style properties of their word processor and their great importance in word processing. Find out more about styles.

This article is for:

To writers in general, but especially to those who will go on sending their work to editors and or graphic designers. If you are author of any type of written work (doctoral thesis, articles, books) you should invest a moment of your time to read, understand and practically apply this: it will be very useful to you as well as to those that will contribute to your work. The majority of authors that I know suffer from a quasi-pathological apathy when it comes to word processing programs. According to them it is enough to write using  word and to save what they write without knowing how or at times where. In addition they tend to be in the habit of changing fonts, sizes and colors in such a way that after trying to render the text pretty the result is usually a fragmented and ramshackle file in the style of I don t know what size to use for the title ,  should it be this or that color or  the space before the beginning of the paragraph should it be 4 or 5? until at the end nothing is left that resembles a coherent form.

The problem starts (to become irritating) when the text lands in the unsuspecting hands of a graphic designer, who is the one who must worry about fonts, colors and all things visual, however finds himself knee-deep in useless spaces and texts of different colors, having to guess what they refer to, often times falling into the trap losing time by changing a section for a chapter or styles in others which significantly slows down correction for all involved (and raises prices to exorbitant levels). Because of this I will share some recommendations for any writer and of course to those who consider themselves professionals and who don t want their texts to be destroyed at the hands of technical people such as me.

Use of Styles:

Word processors such as Microsoft Word and OpenOffice (I recommend OpenOffice for those who have a pirated copy of Word: Openoffice is completely free and works perfectly) have the options of applying styles. What are styles? A style is a combination of format (settings) applied to a text, table or image. When a style with properties is applied, the entire text will have these properties. What are they good for? (Within the editing process). They serve to identify the different parts of a text and to apply a set format. This allows the designer to set some parameters for each style, allowing for a uniform appearance. If the author (and this is the important bit) has set the style well, misunderstandings WILL BE AVOIDED at the word processing stage. 

How to proceed: The author must set a style for each level of his work (later I will explain how). With this I refer to creating a style for the chapter, section, sub-section, category, paragraph, photo caption, quotation/citation…this means determining that each text fragment for which you want to change properties (size, colour…) must have a fixed style. In this way the graphic designer will know what it is and will be able to process your work quicker (allowing more time to be dedicated to what is important as well as clarifying your work).

Important General Word Processing Notes:

  • Word processors come with default style titles: Don t use them as they are but rather create new ones with personalized titles. Use Chapter instead of Heading 1 and so on throughout all the levels.
  • Don’t focus too much on formatting: This is the graphic designer’s job. So use a font that is easy to use (Times) and use the formatting of styles as a way of visualising the different levels, which will make your work easier.
  • Don’t use spaces where you should use a tab. The tab (the button on the keyboard above caps lock-used for more than skipping fields in a form) is used to move the cursor to set points on the page. Use them in tables.
  • Forget indents at the start of a text. If however you insist on using them, set them in the style properties -but NEVER use spaces to start a new paragraph.
  • There s no need to press return more than once between paragraphs. To start a new paragraph only press it once (don t use it to create spaces). If you want to leave more space between paragraphs, change the style settings.
  • Be careful about content pasted from a web page, especially if it contains links (what you see is not the same as what others see). The designer will not know whether to put a title or a web address. So go through the trouble of writing the title of the link (or remove the link entirely)- especially if your work is going into print, where your links won t work on paper. 
  • Use  page break when you finished a page and want to start a new one rather than pressing return several times (this prevents everything else from moving when you modify something earlier in the text as well preventing as a possible panic attack).

How to work with Styles:    It depends on each program and platform where you will find the styles, however as a guideline you will usually find them in the format menu. These specific screen-grabs are taken from Microsoft Word (Mac version) and are meant to help you if you re working under other conditions. From Format>Style you can access a menu to create a new style. Press New… and add a style. Remember to put a personally selected title (chapter, section, caption). Don t worry too much about the formatting ( font, color) you can always press  Edit… to change it. Remember if you want to make any change AWAYS do it from here and not in the Text menu.

 Once you have the styles prepared, they will appear on the side in the menu. To use them simply select the text and then the press the style which you want to use. Easy! If you need new styles, all you need to do is create them. And don t be lazy about creating a new style- if you need it once chances are you ll need it again.  Remember: It doesn t cost much to get used to using styles but the advantages are great. You will have less problems with graphic designers and won t lose time remembering what formatting you used for your titles. So put your new knowledge into practice and share this link!

Javier Acebal

About the author: Javier Acebal

I'm a photographer based in Dakar (West Africa). I love to document cultures and people! (but also working for tourism industry).

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