How to use the styles menu in Word to edit and arrange a manuscript.


So you have your Word document. It’s a manuscript of poems, let’s say, a collection of 50, 60 individual works. You spend hours, days, years trying to arrange the order of these poems to make the manuscript just right.

If you’re like me, you’ve arranged your manuscript the old school way: you printed out that puppy, re-ordered poems, sections in different ways, maybe spread them out on the floor of the room, then cut and pasted your Word document to reflect that new order.

This method is fine. It works. For the more visual and tactile members of my tribe, this will continue to be the manuscript-ordering method forever.

But I’m here to tell you: there’s another way.

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I never used the Styles section of Word. I thought it was an annoying extra to a program I already regarded as larded with stupid features added to each update, all to line Bill Gates’s pockets. In the last couple of years, however, I have learned that Word, and the Styles feature in particular, is a lifesaver for writers who work with manuscripts–be it chapters, poem or essay titles, or even sections of a longer piece.

Here’s an tutorial.

Open your Word document. The Home tab should open with the “Styles” group in the toolbar. If you don’t see it, then you will have to open it manually (I use keyboard shortcuts: CTL + ALT + SHIFT + S).

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The generic, stock template of Word gives you several Style options. For this, stick with the headings: Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3.

In your manuscript go through all your chapter and poem titles, and assign it a style. Use Heading 2 or, preferably Heading 3. Why? Trust me. I will explain later, but you may want to have sections in your manuscript, or will want to group sections of your manuscript, and to do that you will need a hierarchy of styles.

So you have all your poem/chapter titles assigned to Heading 3. That’s great. Awesome. You can do a lot of things now, things you weren’t able to do with just a plain old Word document without styles.

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You can make a Table of Contents, for starters.

From the References tab, hit “Table of Contents.” On the drop-down menu, you will see a couple of what are called built-in templates for a TOC. Select one–I’ll pick the one called “Table of Contents.”

Shazam! Pasted into your documents will be a Table of Contents, one that you can update by selecting and hitting the “Update table” feature, or right-clicking and using the “update field” feature. You get a choice to update the page numbers only or the entire table, the former when you want to re-paginate or if you’ve switch a chapter/poem or two, the latter if you’re made more major additions/cuts/changes to your manuscript.

This Table of Contents feature is cool and all, and I’ve used it for years. I would use it in concert with the old school, throw-pages-on-the-floor-and-edit-my-manuscript method.

But then, one day, I used that CTL-F feature and something happened.

I must have hit something randomly with my mouse or typed something in wrong, because I could couldn’t see the search results in the Navigation bar that normally pops up to the left of my document.

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Instead, I saw all the titles in my manuscript, all in a row.

See it there, on the left?

For what follows, I would like you to hear the 2001: A Space Odyssey music.


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I started dorking around with the Navigation box. I selected one and moved one above the other. Then I moved another one below.

Slowly, I realized moving the titles changed the document to the right. I wasn’t just moving the titles. I was moving the title and the text to another part of the Word document.

I was, in short, rearranging my manuscript without cutting and pasting.

This made editing and rearranging manuscripts much a much more organized, efficient process.

The one trick is to make sure you use Styles religiously. Don’t insert a section without a Heading, for example, lest it become part of another section.


Used correctly, Styles and Headings work great. I tell my students who are working on a thesis or larger paper about these features, and the more computer-literate ones have their minds blown for the Table of Contents feature alone.

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For me, it’s the rearranging manuscript business that’s been a life-saver.

For my latest book, Shader, which you should buy, I had 99 chapters. That’s 99 chapters, an introduction, acknowledgements. I also used three sections, or Acts as I call them. I used the Heading 1 style for those.

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Using the Heading 1, 2, 3 hierarchy, I could move whole sections of the manuscript in a single move. I could also close up whole sections of the manuscript in the Navigation bar while working another one. In the screenshot above, I’ve closed up Acts One and Two and am showing only the chapters from Act Three.

This is all especially handy if you’re working with a large screen. You can even pop the Navigation over to second monitor if, like me, you’re a complete nerd who is not effing around.

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Here’s a screenshot of an essay collection I’m putting together. A couple years ago, I’d be printing out the whole manuscript, shuffling chapters. That works, but nowadays I’m using the Navigation almost exclusively.

I’ll keep working on this post to make it more clear, but I am so glad to get this off my chest. Tell the others!