A Designer’s Guide to Mastering Text Styles in Microsoft Word

Josh Norman
Josh Norman
Executive Vice President & Creative Director

… or, That One Time Word Didn’t Make Me Want to Walk Off the Job and Sell Used Tires for a Living.

There are a handful of phrases that make designers want to tuck their tails between their legs and run home to mommy: “Let’s fill up this white space to take advantage of the entire spread.” Or, “Can we make this pop more?” And, perhaps the king of them all, “Can you give me this layout in a Word document so I can make edits myself?”

Ah, Microsoft Word. The one piece of software that’s every designer’s furnace. And I don’t mean the delightful contraption that keeps you comfy and cozy in winter months. I mean a furnace, as in the one Ralphie’s dad battled valiantly in A Christmas Story, which inspired him to weave a tapestry of obscenity that still hangs in space over Lake Michigan.  

Don’t get us designers wrong, Word can process the living hell out of words. But trying to take advantage of its layout capabilities is like asking your dog to transcribe meeting notes. She’s just not cut out for it.

A couple weeks ago, I was looking that dog right in the face and needed those meeting notes … fast. I had created a fairly simple document in InDesign and needed to create a version of it in Word, including paragraph styles so others could work with it. Thankfully, it wasn’t much in terms of layout — it was a single-column document with headers, body copy, bullet lists, and some tabs with leader dots. I survived this, and you can too. Just follow these simple steps.

1. If you need a mild amount of design in your Word document, the last place you should start is Word.

Start where you would normally start to build a nicely styled text document: InDesign. Choose a typeface that’s cross-platform and legal to share. I started with Google fonts. Google fonts is a growing and fairly impressive open source font library that you can embed in websites or download for use on Macs or PCs, for free. While there are certainly a handful of Comic-Sans level fontastrophes in the Google fonts library, there are just as many gems with large families of weights and styles. I chose Open Sans, a very clean sans serif family with five weights plus italics, ranging from light to extra bold.

2. Design away, set styles, and keep it simple.

Set paragraph styles for your headers, sub-heads, body text, and bullet listings in InDesign. Avoid including anything overly complex in your styles, such as shadows, as Word will ignore them or worse, it’ll figure out a way to make them look ridiculous.

3. Copy-and-paste is your friend.

Here’s the part where I became completely floored. I was going back to my original InDesign document to copy and paste text into a Word document, figuring I had a rocky road ahead to assign fonts, sizes, leading, space after, paragraph rules, and colors again in Word and save them as text styles. I copied a block of text in InDesign, switched over to Word, and pasted. Not only did the copy maintain all its attributes, but the styles I had created in InDesign were immediately added to the styles palette in Word. It included my settings for everything, including leading, space after, colors, font weights and styles, and even a paragraph rule under my headings. It also maintained a style that included a right-aligned tab with leader dots. Unthinkable.

4. Mind the details.

You’ll need to manually adjust  some document settings in Word — the magic can’t all happen on its own. Make sure your page margins in Word are the same as your InDesign document, or expect your tabs and paragraph rules to roll over onto subsequent lines against your will. You’ll also have to deal with the long list of default styles included in all Word documents, removing them if desired to leave only the styles you’ve copied from your InDesign document. The process for this varies depending on your version of Word and whether you’re on a Mac or PC, but once again, Google can show you the way.

5. Sharing is caring.

Share your Word document with others and test out your styles. In my case, I went from Word for Mac to Word for PC and found absolutely no issues with the document. Of course, I made sure Open Sans was installed on that PC before testing the document, and I ended up clicking my heels in the hall after discovering how well it worked. I had expected to be weaving my own tapestry of obscenities.

Have any harrowing Word stories or tips to share? Let us know how you handled them.


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