Even Bogart Didn’t Have This Kind of Style

Posted: September 7, 2016 | By:

In one form of parlance, “style” pertains to fashion. What is this year’s style? Who has style? When offered free candy that was stolen from a defenseless three-year-old, you would probably reply, “Thanks, but that’s not my style.” In this context, “style” has the connotation of individuality, distinctness, discernability.

In word processing, “style” means just the opposite: conformance, consistency, harmony to the point of suffocation. Word processors use styles to ensure text looks the same, smells the same, and even tastes the same. When a high schooler pining for acceptance or love takes a fashion magazine to a hair salon, points to the cover-page model, and says, “Make me look like that,” she is using styles with the same connotation as a word processor. Apply that model’s style to me, she is thinking, so that she and I can look the same.

(I do the same thing when I go to the barber shop. More often then not, when I take my seat, the barber asks me, “How do you want your hair cut?” In my condition of advanced male-pattern baldness, I take the barber’s copy of Gentleman’s Quarterly, point to the cover model with the obscenely full head of hair, and tell the barber, “Make me look like that.” The barber always laughs, as if he thinks I’m making a joke.)

In the human world, it is tragic for someone to want to look or behave like someone else. In the word processing world, there is nothing more praiseworthy and emotionally healthy.

After positing all the possible metaphors and similes regarding the benefits of a word processor’s styles, we need to fully understand what a style actually is. This is the best definition I can conjure:

A paragraph style is a collection of settings that determine its appearance.

Other people, including those who work for companies that make word processors, have similar definitions, some of them better for different contexts.

Looking at this paragraph, the one you a reading now, let’s identify the components of its appearance. There are the letters which have a particular typeface and size; those letters have a particular spacing between them; the indents are also part of the appearance: this paragraph has no indent from the left and no indent from the right. The right side of the paragraph is jagged, not straight. There is a given amount of space above and below the paragraph. There is no border around the paragraph or under it. Before the advent of modern word processors, authors barely paid attention to these details, and they were all under the purview of professional editors and typesetters. Today, many authors must also serve as their own typesetters, so it is a good idea to understand what exactly goes into a paragraph’s appearance and how to control it.

We can segregate the components of a paragraph’s appearance into a character group and a layout group. The character group contains characteristics pertaining to individual letters. These typically include the following:

  • Typeface (font)
    • Size
    • Normal/bold
    • Roman/italic
  • Underlines
  • Strikethrough
  • Shadow
  • Subscripting or superscripting
  • Kerning
  • Language
  • Color

The layout group contains characteristics applicable to the overall paragraph. These characteristics typically include the following:

  • Indents
    • Left
    • Right
    • First line
  • Spacing
    • Above
    • Below
  • Alignment
    • Left
    • Right
    • Centered
    • Justified
  • Pagination
    • Widow/orphan control
    • Page break before
    • Keep lines together
    • Keep with next
  • Borders around paragraph
  • Background color

The above lists of character and layout groups are actually rather elementary. Modern word processors have settings for specifying advanced features which you can read about in their documentation.

Our next blog posts will discuss what you do with styles, define style overrides, and explain why you should prefer styles over style overrides. In particular, styles help us pass the Carpal-Tunnel Test and Distraction Test.


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