Well, this one is going to be a hands-on exercise for anybody who hasn’t used styles before. I’m going to describe it for Word 2000, but other word processors should be fairly similar. If in doubt, search the built-in help for keywords like ‘apply style’ or ‘edit style’ to find where they’re hiding.

1) Start your word processor. Begin by selecting a headline style – in Word that can be done through a drop-down box on the toolbar. It should default to ‘Normal’ – click on the arrow next to ‘Normal’ and select ‘Heading 1’ instead. Type a short headline and press return (only once!) to start a new line.

2) Type anything you want until you have a fairly solid paragraph – say three to four lines. Press return (again, only once) and create a second paragraph of a similar length to the first one.

Now you probably have something fairly uninspiring – the body text isn’t indented, there is no spacing between paragraphs… The only thing looking vaguely like it should is probably the headline. Not to worry, we’re going to fix all that in a moment. first, though, please do the following: click anywhere in the headline and take a look at the drop-down box you used to select it. It should still say ‘Headline 1’. Now click anywhere in the body text. The drop-down box should read ‘Normal’ now. If not, please make a note of what it says instead before you go any further.

3) On the main menu, click on ‘Format’, then select ‘Style’ from the drop-down menu. That will open the style dialogue window. On the left should be a list of styles, with one highlighted (probably ‘Normal’ – if it isn’t, click on it to select it.) On the right you should see a paragraph preview and font preview window. Click on the ‘Modify’ button to open the style editing window.

4) Click on the ‘Format’ button and select ‘Paragraph’ from the drop-down menu. This will open yet another window, this one specifically for formatting paragraphs. There are too many options here to discuss in detail, so I’ll just explain the basics and leave you to experiment with the rest.

5) In the ‘Indentation’ section you’ll notice a label saying ‘Special’ just above a drop-down box. Click on the box and select ‘First line’. In the next box (labelled ‘By’) you can now enter the first line indentation you want, either by using the up and down arrows (which takes ages) or by typing a value directly into the box.

6) In the ‘Spacing’ section use the up and down arrows to set the spacing after the paragraph to 6pt (or whatever you want.) The preview window at the bottom should now reflect your changes. Click ‘OK’ to save your changes and close the window.

7) The description of the style in the style editing window should now show your changes. Again, click on ‘OK’ to save and close this window.

8) Only one window left. Click on ‘Apply’ to apply your changes to the document. The window will close and – voila! – your paragraphs should be indented and have a space in between! Anything new you type now will also conform to the new style settings.

You can use the same method to change other things, of course – and you may have to. If your document is set so that the headline style is based on ‘Normal’ you will find that your headline is now also indented. In that case, go back to step 3 and repeat, only this time select ‘Heading 1’ from the style list and change the indentation from ‘First line’ to ‘none’.

One thing to watch out for is that sometimes headings are set to follow with ‘Body Text Indent’ instead of ‘Normal’ (that one bit me in the bum with the book I’m currently writing.) So before you start on your next manuscript – just take a moment to check that the headline styles you’re planning to use have the correct following style set. The following style can be set in the main edit style window.

This is a really, really useful tool but can be a bit much to take in all at once – there are just too many things you can change. Please do yourself a favour, sit down with your word processor, a dummy document and a cup of coffee and just play around with style formatting until you feel you’ve got it!

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