Exposing Your Style Overrides

Posted: October 16, 2016 | By:

Previous posts in this blog have presented good arguments for using styles and equally good arguments for avoiding style overrides. The reality is, of course, that most documents include style overrides, and addressing them is a cost-benefit trade-off. Finding them, and then either eliminating or fixing them, requires effort that may not be worthwhile. One class of letters in which style overrides are excusable is personal letters to family and friends. Because personalized text is not copy-pasted from one file to another, there is no need for styles. (Although I tend to boost my productivity when writing holiday letters by either using mail merge or, in the case of announcing weddings and births, using the salutation “To whom it may concern.”)

The situation is quite different in a “production” environment that involves specifications, contracts, reports, resumes, or proposals. In such environments, we re-use content by collating collaborators’ contributions into a master document or by copy-pasting content into different documents. When reusing content, it is important to find the style overrides and either eliminate them or replace them with actual styles for the reasons we’ve discussed in previous posts. The question now becomes, how do we find those style overrides so necessary to expunge?

Microsoft Word has an excellent tool for identifying style overrides: the Styles pane. The Styles pane can list all styles that are used in your document. (See the bottom of this post for search terms to learn how to use the Styles pane.) When you apply that filter, you see, shameless yet vulnerable, a listing of every single style you’ve used as well as every single style override.

Styles pane showing style overrides

In the above screen shot, lines 2 and 3 indicate the following:

  • Text formatted at 10 point. This typically indicates that the Normal style is 11 point, the Word default, and the author selected the entire document and changed the size to 10 point from the ribbon.
  • Text formatted at 10 point, colored black. This typically occurs when someone pasted text from a different file that had a color other than black. The author selected that text, and applied black from the ribbon.

The remaining overrides in the example are caused by similar circumstances. In fact, the vast majority of style overrides occur when you click button on a ribbon to achieve a particular effect, or when you paste text from another file already infected with style overrides.

The purpose of this blog is to make its readers better users of their word processors. We attune you to what you need to do, not how you need to do it. For the latter there are other dedicated web sites. To find out how to list style overrides in your document, use the following search terms:

word style pane options “in use”

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