Did You Know: Word styles make briefs sing?

Sometimes, Word just… goes off.  The formatting isn’t what you wanted.  The spacing is all over the place.  When you start typing, the new paragraph doesn’t exactly resemble the previous one. We can help you with that.

Styles -There is a better way: 

Styles are the most useful tool you aren’t using in Word. You’ve seen them in the upper right of your Home tab.  They don’t look like something you’d ever want to use, so you’ve ignored them.  But those are just the defaults and you can change them. You can make them whatever you want.  And once you do, Word starts formatting everything exactly the way you want (well, more or less – it’s still Word).

With Styles, you’ll decide the font, the spacing, the colors, the indentations.  Whatever you type will stick to what you told Word to do.  Styles are one of the most useful tools for law students and lawyers, and we’ll tell you more about them below.  

Finding Styles

Styles are in the Home Tab, but you can only see a few at a time.  But there are more than just a handful. To see more styles:

  • Mac: Click the Styles Pane 
Word for Mac Home Tab, cursor pointing to Styles Pane
  • Windows: Click the small box in the lower right of the Styles pane
Word for Windows Home Tab, cursor pointing to small box at the bottom fo the styles section, which opens more styles

Want to see more even styles?  Switch from the recommended list to “All Styles”. This works slightly differently in Macs versus Windows.

Mac: Click the list dropdown at the bottom of the Styles pane

Word for Mac Styles Pane, cursor on dropdown to switch from Recommended Styles to All Styles

Windows: Click “Options” to see the more styles dropdown.

Word for Windows, showing "options" highlighted in the styles pane, and the dropdown list that appears to the left to select "All Styles".

Using Styles

To add a Style to text, highlight the text, then click the style you want to use. Say you want a line to be Heading 1, select that line, then click Heading 1.  

Word for Mac Home Tab, Styles Section, cursor pointed at Heading 1.  Below a sample of a highlighted heading.

The Normal style

Say you’re writing a brief. You’ve been told the brief needs to be in Times New Roman, size 12, double spaced.  But the defaults for Word are set to Calibri and single-spaced.  

You could change one paragraph at a time, but new paragraphs might use the wrong formatting.  You could use Control-A (Command-A for Macs) to select everything, but this might mess up the formatting you use for things like your Headings and caption.  

If you use the Normal style, you don’t have to worry about any of this when writing the text of your document.  You can do this in two ways:

Update to Match Selection

  1. Set the formatting you want in the first paragraph.  
  2. Highlight the proper formatting.  
  3. Right-click on the Normal style (Macs, you can also use Control-click).
  4. Select “update to match selection.
Highlighted text in a sample document
Word for Mac, Home Tab, Styles Section, cursor pointed at "Update Heading 1 to Match Selection."


  1. Right-click on the Normal style
  2. Change the formatting in the dialog box to match what you need.
  3. Click “OK”.
Word for Mac, Home Tab, Style Section, cursor pointed to "Modify"
Word for Mac Normal Style dialog box showing formatting options

Now when you type your text, you don’t have to worry about the formatting,  It’s already set! A quick hint though: You should add your brief caption after you set your styles, or any style modifications may mess up your work.


When creating legal documents, you are likely to use headings to distinguish one part of a document from another.  In a brief, for example, you will use headings for different sections as well as break down your argument into sub-sections.  

You could add these by hand, but like with the text of your brief, you may find yourself fighting the formatting more often than not.  But the Heading styles will give you better control (and they’ll let you use the Navigation and Table of Contents tools, which I’ll cover in a later post).

The default heading styles aren’t very helpful.  They aren’t in Times New Roman, they tend to be too large, and – worst of all – they use blue text. 

Word for Mac, Home Tab, Styles Pane, cursor pointing to Heading 1 using a blue font

 You can change them the same way you changed the Normal style.  You can set the formatting and use “Update to Modify Selection” or use the “Modify” dialog box to set the font, size, color, and spacing.  

Word for Mac, Home Tab, Styles Section, showing how t o use "update to match selection" to change heading one. There are 2 call outs. Call out 1: We changed the formatting to TNR, 12, single spaced, and  are now using “Update to Match Selection”.  Call out 2: We can use the same process to update Heading 2

You can update any heading this way – just be sure to change the blue font to black.

Beyond Briefs

Once you start using styles, you’ll find they are useful for just about any document.  Briefs, student notes, documents for work – all can be made better using styles.

More About Styles

If you want to explore styles further:

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