How do I find out what the various built-in Word styles are intended for?

There are seven built-in styles that describe something along the lines of "normal base text paragraph":

  • Normal
  • Normal (applied to an object)
  • Plain Text
  • Body Text
  • Body Text 2
  • Body Text 3

Or they're like styles such as "List Paragraph," "List Continue," "Block Text," "Body Text," "Comment Text," "Balloon Text," etc.

How do I know which of these preset styles are to be used in what circumstances?

I know I can create my own styles and label them with more meaningful titles that make sense to me, but then I might be losing out on the benefits there are of using those that are packaged with Word (like having auto-generated table of contents by picking out when certain styles are applied).

Why are there so many styles that describe something as simple as "base text"? Which one is intended to be used (or act as a base) of a simple paragraph text?

The Normal (applied within a table) style does not apply here, since it is a table style (not paragraph).

I want to understand why a style is preset and what or when it is meant to be used for.

  • Previously (before Word 2007) I used Body Text, but now I mainly use Normal. I get the feeling that this is the natural choice in each version of Word. Still, there might be practical reasons to use Body Text even in Word 2007+ if your document consists of many other types of text. – Andreas Rejbrand Dec 31 '13 at 12:30

Built-in styles are supposed to make formatting more efficient and consistent. But when should you use them versus creating your own styles?

  • Use built-in heading styles? Yes.
  • Use built-in table styles? Maybe.
  • Use built-in list styles? Probably not.

Shauna Kelly and other Word MVP experts tend to recommend always using Word's built-in heading styles because they are stable and you can do so much with them. Based on personal experience, I agree. The following article gives 12 reasons:

See http://shaunakelly.com/word/numbering/usebuiltinheadingstyles.html

On the other hand, go cautiously if you are thinking of using the built-in table styles because of lack of documentation about how table styles work. See http://shaunakelly.com/word/styles/custom-table-styles-2002-2003.html

Her article cites specific problems with Word 2002-2003, and gave little hope for Word 2007 or subsequent versions due to a history of poor documentation from Microsoft on how table styles work. Her list of reasons for avoiding table styles would be a good checklist for you to use when deciding whether the built-in table styles are feasible for you.

Regarding lists, the built-in styles will probably not be sufficient because there are too few styles to work with and adapted built-in list styles are unstable. Better to just create your own list styles. This is based on personal experience.

  • Although the site is full of useful pointers on how to use styles in Word, it lacks the specific information I ask: what is the purpose of the built-in styles and which I should use for my own document (as opposed to defining my own). – Adam Ryczkowski Jun 28 '15 at 10:21
  • Adam, based on your clarification I changed my answer to at least give you ideas about built-in headings, tables, and lists. – RJo Jun 29 '15 at 1:10

From the Microsoft Press blog Why use styles in Word? I've learned the following facts:

Normal is based on document defaults, not a base style, so it will change only when you edit it explicitly or when you change the default font or paragraph formatting for the document or attached template.

You must note, that it is possible to override formatting in the Normal (just like in any other style) and to lose the property of using the document defaults.

you can also read that

The default base styles for character, table, and list styles—that is, Default Paragraph Font, Table Normal, and No List, respectively—are the only three built-in styles in Word that can’t be customized.

(Table Normal style is a synonym to Normal (applied within a table).)

OTOH Normal (applied to an object) can be customized and I fail to find any instance, when Word applies this style. At the moment it seems to me to be superfluous.

Based on the fact, that the Heading X styles default to the Normal style for the Style For Following Paragraph, I guess, that Microsoft envisions the Normal style to be something for the normal paragraph text. But there is a good reason no to do that: not all base text should be formatted as paragraph text. We need also a style for e.g. cell formatting of tables and we most probably don't want to have the same paragraph formatting for tables' cells and paragraph text... So we need a separate style for simple paragraph text and separate style for table cell that are based or on a common denominator, the Normal style.

And that's all. Pretty little on the subject...


I can't answer your questions, but I recommend that you create your own styles template and just load it when you open the document or create a .dotx with the styles already embedded. It's best just to customize your own and not rely on MS defaults.

  • Of course, one can always do that. But I am creating standard procedures for my organization, and hope for maximum interexchangeability also with customers external to our organization. I can't have a hope for it, if I use don't use built-in styles. See also: superuser.com/questions/694920/… – Adam Ryczkowski Jan 3 '14 at 1:12

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