How Styles Impact Your Career, Marriage, and Temperament

Posted: September 25, 2016 | By:

For the past few weeks we’ve been discussing what styles are and how they can help maintain your hands’ health. Let’s be honest: telling people they need to change behavior in order to protect their health isn’t very effective. Gambling, drugs, junk food, television, social media—all are appropriate in measured amounts, but destructive in excess. Dedicating blog posts to the health benefits of styles will get through to a few people, but not to the millions of non-fiction writers out there.

Let’s take another angle. Using styles can save your business career, consulting career, legal career, academic career, or marriage. Depending on where you are in your life, none of those may be a desirable outcome.Nevertheless, let’s explore to what extent my claim is true.

Let’s take a very simple example of a style for body text. We’ll call the style Normal, and it has the following settings: typeface is Times New Roman, font size is 12 pt, the spacing before the paragraph is 0 points, spacing after the paragraph is 12 points, left aligned. We apply this style to all of our body paragraphs. (A paragraph style has many more settings than this; we’ll use these settings for an example.)

The next day we realize that 12 points is a bit too large, and we would rather go with 11 points. What are our options?

Some people select the entire document by pressing Ctrl-A, and then select 11 points from the ribbon. This technique works if all the text in your document can be 11 points in size; if your document includes headings, titles, captions, or text in tables, you probably don’t want them all to be 11 points, so this option isn’t viable.

Another option is to select each body paragraph individually, and then apply 11-point size from the toolbar or ribbon. This achieves the correct effect, but is very time consuming.

If we change the Normal style’s definition from 12 points to 11 points, then every single paragraph with that style automatically changes to an 11-point font. Those paragraphs without the Normal style are not affected by this change, so they retain their original size. This is an amazing capability built in to modern word processors, and an extraordinary time saver. Let’s see how we can use styles in many typical word processing scenarios.

Importance of styles in an academic setting

You are an adjunct professor. After years of teaching English at a prestigious university, whose endowment is inversely proportional to the salary and benefits it pays you, you have a shot an a tenure-track position in a small mid-Western college. The only requirement they have is that you have three publications in a peer-reviewed journal. Currently you have two publications, and your third manuscript is ready for submission. If you receive notification from a journal that your article is accepted, you have the tenure-track job and can kiss the abusive adjunct “life style” (which isn’t much of either) good-bye. The stakes are high.

Some journals to which you are submitting want copy to be “camera-ready” which means that you, the author, must do all of the typesetting. Those same journals often have mechanical and formatting requirements so that all of the articles have the same appearance. One journal may request body text in Times New Roman 12 point left aligned, and another journal may request body text in Times New Roman 11 point justified. One journal may require headings that are numbered and left-aligned, another wants headings centered without numbering.

This is a common scenario that requires the use of styles. If you apply the built-in styles Normal, Heading 1, and Heading 2 to each of your paragraphs, then you can change the style, and all those paragraphs appear with the new settings. Furthermore, you’ll be reformatting your article in a matter of minutes, giving you more time to review and polish your manuscript.

Importance of styles in a business setting

Your grandfather opened Bart’s snack factory back in 1955. It has been a regional success and boasts a loyal customer base within a 250-mile radius centered on Des Moines, Iowa. The bags of popcorn, puffed cheese balls, and pretzels are served at every high school football game and homecoming dance in the area. As it matured, Bart’s had developed quite a collection of advertisements, standard operating procedures, and accounting reports that it routinely uses. All of those items use 12-point Times New Roman, just like grandfather would have wanted.

Things had been going well at Bart’s for decades until a few years ago when a large, online-only snack shop started to squeeze out volume and profits. is offering the same pretzels as you are for ten percent less (because they are made with 3D laser printers) and no sales tax (because they are delivered from an alien mothership). Your accountants, managers, and most trusted advisors tell you that you cannot continue as an independent manufacturer, and that you need to be part of a larger organization that has the marketing and manufacturing clout to withstand this onslaught.

As part of a merger-and-acquisition investigation, you put out feelers to the Far East. One month later, a Chinese investment firm sends a team of M&A suits to see if they can purchase the factory. This investment firm already owns factories that sell dried squid, lychee jelly, and aloo bhujia, so an American factory selling pretzels is a natural value-added appendage to their offering. (This is how some M&A analysts really think.) They offer $20 million.

There’s one catch to closing the deal. Upon becoming part of a “family” of homogeneous snacks, Bart’s will need to redo all of its documentation, including those advertisements, operating procedures, and accounting reports. The M&A team members do have their particularities, and one of them is body text must be set in the font Stempel Garamond. “Everyone else in our snacking family uses Stempel Garamond, so we expect you to do the same.” You object, saying that this is a snack factory, not a word processing sweatshop. You’re willing to change the shade and shape of the pretzels, or to change the relative concentration of cheddar to Gruyère in the puffed cheese balls, but you are not going to waste your time or your employees’ time with changing typeface in materials that a happy, snacking customer never sees. “Besides,” you say, “changing all of those typefaces from Times New Roman to Stempel Garamond is labor intensive.”

The leader of the M&A team has heard this type of whining before, and was well prepared to deal with it. “Here is an envelope with $20,000, Mr. Bart. This should be enough to change the body text styles in all of those materials. After all, all of those body-text paragraphs are set in styles, right? All you need to do is open the document, change the style, and then close it. Shouldn’t be more than one minute for each file, I see you have 500 files here, so this $20,000 is more than adequate.”

At this point you realize that, instead of taking over grandfather’s snack factory, you should have become a jiu jitsu teacher as you had always dreamed when you were a child. You know full well that each of those body paragraphs in all of those 500 files, perhaps 10,000 paragraphs in all, do not have a dedicated style. Most of them have style overrides accumulated after years of clicking the B, U, and I buttons on the ribbon. The $20,000 advance won’t cover changing the typeface on 100 files, not to mention all 500 of them. In fact, you now realize that most of the purchase price of $20 million for Bart’s snack factory will go to rehabilitating all the documentation.

Importance of styles in a collaborative setting

“Hi, Don, it’s me. What do you mean ‘Who is this?’ Don’t you recognize my voice? It’s your wife, Jenny. Yes, we are still married. Yes, I’m afraid I need to stay late again tonight. Listen, you think I like these long hours? This is our firm’s biggest proposal ever, and the submission deadline is just a few days away. Don, I’m really sorry, but my office has to coordinate with all these ‘strategic partners’ who aren’t much of either, quite frankly. You know how important this deal is. The government is offering a 10-year contract for 50,000 donuts. We make the batter, but we need a partner to make the holes. Our company simply doesn’t make holes, so we need to find a reliable supplier for them. We are collaborating on this proposal with that supplier. We are submitting the overall bid, and the partner is supposed to contribute the part about the holes. Yes, Don, holes. Now that I’ve been dealing with them for the past few weeks, there’s actually quite a science involved in making holes. They need to have a precise diameter, and they have to be totally transparent. Otherwise they aren’t holes and we could be fined for delivering defective product. Anyway, when I pasted their part of the proposal into my file, it looked like what happens when you have too much alcohol at a party. Don, I realize you haven’t been to a party since the English left India. No, I won’t explain to you what happens when you have too much alcohol after eating one kilogram of munchies. Anyway, I pasted their part of the proposal, and now I need to clean up all the formatting. What they call body text looks like a heading; what they call a header looks like a title. They gave us 30 pages. Yes, it does require 30 pages to describe the manufacture and specification for a donut hole. I’ll probably be here for another five hours. No, I’m not having an affair! Why are you accusing me? Besides, you don’t think I saw you getting a little too friendly with Lakshmi at the drumming circle last week? Trust me, she’s not the vegetarian she claims to be! Don, did you hang up on me? Of all the nerve!”

As is so often the case in instances of marital discord, the source of the problem is not what the couple exposits. This particular argument has nothing to do with the strategic partner, donut holes, or Lakshmi at the drumming circle. Jenny truly is having long hours trying to integrate the donut hole supplier’s proposal into her master copy. The reason she is having such a difficult time is that she, as the proposal coordinator, did not communicate the list of styles all the proposal’s contributors must use for body text, headings, titles, tables, and captions.

This is what happens when people “collaborate” without paying attention to formatting. Company A, writing the first half of the proposal, has a ruthless lead who insists that every body text have the Normal style, and that style is 12-point Times New Roman, single spaced, with 6 points of space before and after the paragraph. Company B laid off their editor a few months ago, and since then their proposal writers use a lot of style overrides. Every single paragraph in their documents has the Normal style, but they spend a lot of time selecting text, then pointing-and-clicking text on the ribbon to select a typeface and font size. Even the section headings are created using the ribbon. As a result, when Company B sends their file to Company A, where Jenny works, she needs to peel off all those style overrides and then apply her company’s own styles. There are worse jobs, of course, but this activity does take a bit of effort which could have been avoided. Had Jenny told her strategic partner what the list of styles is and how to use them, it would have been her next to her husband at the drumming circle and not Lakshmi.

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