You’ve got (dissertation) style, baby

How to save time and money using MS Word styles

The good thing about dissertations is that the format is rigid. Chapter 1 is this, chapter 2 is this, chapter 5 discusses this. Most dissertations are done using APA style which is also pretty rigid. There’s a style for everything. Headings. Type fonts. Tables. Figures. References. Tables of content (or is it Table of Contents?).

The problem with using “normal” for everything and changing the styles for everything else is that if anything changes you have to go back and change every single thing. For example, let’s say you messed up on the margins and had a 1” left margin and had to change it to 1.5”. That could throw off everything. It’s much easier to go to styles and click Heading 2 and change all the styles at once.


What are styles?

Let’s back up. What are styles? Microsoft ( says that “built-in styles are combinations of formatting characteristics that you can apply to text to quickly change its appearance. For example, applying the Heading 1 style might make text bold, Arial, and 16 point, and applying the Heading 2 style makes text bold, italic, Arial, and 14 point.”

Benefits of using styles

Here’s what I wrote to one client. “I assigned styles to everything so it doesn’t get all hinky [a technical academic editing term] when someone with different defaults in their word program opens your document. The references especially took a little while but using paragraph returns to line things up will be a huge problem later—might as well deal with it now.” And this. “I removed the hard paragraph returns and followed styles here. Everything could be reformatted if someone has different default settings so you always want to follow formats.”

The University of Illinois Springfield ( gives these benefits for using styles.

  • Easier to modify. If you need to change formatting you only need to update the style once; changes apply to all text formatted with that style.
  • Efficiency and consistency. It saves time to save a group of formatting attributes as a style so they can be applied multiple times throughout a document. It also helps to keep formatting consistent throughout the document.
  • Faster to navigate. You can navigate through your document using styles. That means you can look for all the heading 2s for instance and check and see if they’re consistent with your TOC.


Practical ( notes that styles are the DNA of doc­u­ment lay­out. Styles make it easy to con­trol ty­pog­ra­phy across a doc­u­ment and can also be reused across mul­ti­ple doc­u­ments or web­sites. The re­sult is bet­ter, more con­sis­tent ty­pog­ra­phy with less work each time. Other style benefits from include:

  • Styles let you de­fine sets of for­mat­ting at­trib­utes that get ap­plied to­gether. So in­stead of se­lect­ing a head­ing, chang­ing it to 13 point, bold, and all caps, you can de­fine a style that in­cludes these three at­trib­utes, and ap­ply the style to the heading. What’s the ben­e­fit? When you come across the next head­ing, you don’t need to in­di­vid­u­ally ap­ply those three at­trib­utes. You ap­ply the style you de­fined be­fore. The head­ings will then match.
  • Styles let you change for­mat­ting across a class of re­lated el­e­ments. Sup­pose you want to change your head­ings from 13 point to 13.5 point. In­stead of se­lect­ing each head­ing sep­a­rately and chang­ing the point size—a te­dious project—you can change the point size in the head­ing style de­f­i­n­i­tion from 13 point to 13.5 point. Head­ings us­ing that style will be au­to­mat­i­cally updated. What’s the ben­e­fit? Up­dat­ing the for­mat­ting is cen­tral­ized and au­to­matic.
  • Styles can in­herit for­mat­ting from other styles. A change to the par­ent style will prop­a­gate to all the sub­styles. But a change to the sub­style will only af­fect that one style. What’s the ben­e­fit? In­her­i­tance adds an­other layer of cen­tral­ized au­toma­tion—it’s like hav­ing styles of styles. You can de­fine a set of foun­da­tion styles and use them as the ba­sis for more elab­o­rate styles.

Software ( notes the same benefits of using styles.

  • Consistency – you can be sure that all of your headings are the same if you format them using a style.
  • Time saving – you can apply all the formatting that a section means in one go. No more changing the font, then the size, then the colour, then the alignment, etc.
  • Changes can be made globally – to make a change to all of your main headings would normally be a pain. You’d have to search through your document, find each heading and make sure you made the changes correctly each time. With Styles, you don’t need to worry. Just modify the style and your changes will be reflected everywhere you’ve used that style.
  • Advanced features. If your document is formatted using styles, then advanced features like Table of Contents can be created in a matter of seconds.

APA Style

Your dissertation will have maybe six styles with some having sub-styles.

  • Normal (12 point Times Roman, double spaced, first line indented .5)
  • Block style (12 point Times Roman, double spaced, left indent .5)
  • Headings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (See Purdue Owl below)
  • TOC (the TOC styles follow headings so you’ll have as many TOC styles as you have headings)
  • References (12 point Times Roman, double spaced, 2nd and 3rd lines indented .5)
  • Bullets (you can now use bullets in APA 6th; 12 point Times Roman, double spaced, hanging indent .5)

Tip: Change styles so they’re not based on normal. Instead base them on no style.


Purdue Owl – the be all and end all of APA.

Purdue Owl is probably the best source for all things APA. Check out their headings style pages


Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.

©2016 KathleenJCannon

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