Why You Should Use Text Styles

Most people who use InDesign, Word, Google Docs and other page layout and word processing programs are missing out on one of the most powerful and time-saving features—text styles, or paragraph styles.

Paragraph styles apply to much more than just paragraphs of body text. You can—and should—use paragraph styles for headings, lists, quotes, sidebars and more.

Paragraph styles apply formatting to an entire paragraph. They apply to much more than just paragraphs of body text. They also give you additional options than character styles such as line spacing, space before and after a paragraph, and many other powerful options.

Character styles, on the other hand, are for applying a style (color, font weight, size, etc.) that is different from what has been set on the paragraph style to a letter, word or more than one word—but not an entire paragraph.


When you use paragraph styles to style your body text, headings, lists and other text, you save time.

You don’t need to select the entire paragraph to apply the style. You just click in the paragraph somewhere and apply it. That save a few clicks.

You don’t have to have to go back to refer to a heading you already styled to see what color, size, font, indent or alignment it had. You set those attributes on the style.

Also, if you’ve applied a paragraph style to text, then you don’t have to go back and change the styling one by one. For instance, if you want to change how all of your headings 2s look, if you’ve applied a style, you only have to make the changes you want in the style. You don’t need to go back to every single heading 2 in the document.

You can even set paragraph styles to not split paragraphs across pages or to make sure there are always a set number of lines before and after where a paragraph might break. That means you don’t have to check a document page by page for widows and orphans.

If you always want your body text to be hyphenated but not your headings, you can set headings to not hyphenate in the paragraph style.

To save even the time of setting up styles with every new document, you can set up default styles that appear every time you create a new document.

Using paragraph styles also makes for a more efficient layout process for your designer too. That’s because they can import those styles from Word or Google Docs exported in .docx format into InDesign instead of having to recreate them all from scratch and apply them one by one.

You don’t need to style how they will look either. The designer can do all that when they import the document with the paragraph styles.

Using paragraph styles makes it easier to change how the text looks throughout the document with a few keystrokes. If you decide to change the font, weight, size or color later, you just modify the style.

If you had styled them all individually, you’d have to go back and redo them all one by one. In a long document, this is a huge time saver!


Using paragraph styles also makes for a consistent looking and structured document.

When you style your body text, headings and lists individually instead of using paragraph styles, you risk them looking inconsistent. That means body text in one part of the document might be Arial 10 points and in another area it might be Arial 10.5 point unintentionally. You could also potentially have several second-level headings that are slightly different weight or size from one another.

But when you apply paragraph styles, your body text will be consistently styled throughout the document, your heading 2s will be consistently styled and so on.

Understanding of the Content

Designer Perspective

When you format the content with paragraph styles, it makes it easier for the designer to understand how the content should be handled in the layout.

For instance, you may have multiple levels of headings in your document or website.

Unless you use styles or some visible styling such as larger text size and heavier text weight to show the differences between the levels of headings, it can make it harder to understand the hierarchy of the content.

In other words, is this heading supposed to be a subheading of this section or should this be a new section?

When there are quotes or sidebars, you can simply style them with style such as Quote or Sidebar or something else that conveys this information rather than having to add a comment in the file to show where they start and end.

Then the designer will understand how that content should be formatted.

Accessible Content

Even more importantly, paragraph styles help users understand the content.

Styling content properly is not just important from a visual standpoint for sighted users. It also conveys to users of assistive technology the type of content that it is.

This means that those users can understand the hierarchy of the document and how some of the content relates to other content. They will be able to tell that some text is a heading, quote or a list, not body text, for example.

It also results in a cleaner document, which is essential for accessibility and also for EPUBs. “Clean” documents use the features found in a paragraph style instead of adding extraneous characters to the content.

For example, you add in extraneous characters when you:

  • add a tab to indent a paragraph,
  • add multiple tabs to center text,
  • add extra hard returns/paragraph marks to create space between paragraphs or above a heading, or
  • add extra returns or a page break to start text on the next page.

Some extraneous characters can cause issues for assistive technology and EPUBs—and not just from a technical standpoint.

They also can change the position of text if someone reflows text or zooms only the text.

What appears at the start of a new page in Word, for example, might look very different in an EPUB or using Acrobat’s reflow feature, both of which reflow text.

Reflow technology doesn’t take into consideration the concept of a page.


In addition to accessibility, paragraph styles help with general usability.

Many word processing or layout programs use paragraph styles to generate a table of contents—an outline of the document’s structure. So if you haven’t used paragraph styles, you won’t be able to create a table of contents until you create and apply them.

Using paragraph styles also makes it easy to add bookmarks to a PDF that will be viewed in Acrobat.

Both a table of contents and bookmarks allow users to select an item and jump directly to it. This makes it helpful for all users to easily find information in a document and jump quickly between sections, especially in  long documents.

Start creating more efficient, consistent and user-friendly documents today by using text styles!

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