Implementing good typography can be a chore and a bore.
A full tutorial on implementing styles, either in your word processor or in CSS, is beyond the scope of this book, because so many details are software-specific.
But I can tell you the advantages of using styles, which are the same everywhere.
Styles are the DNA of document layout. Styles make it easy to control typography across a document or website. They can also be reused across multiple documents or websites. The result is better, more consistent typography with less work each time.
Thus, it’s always curious to me that so many writers don’t know how to use styles. They format their documents the old-fashioned way: word by word and paragraph by paragraph.
Do you verify your spelling by having a human being read your draft? No, you use an automated spell-checker. Do you copy a document by putting each page on the photocopier glass? No, you put the whole thing in the sheet feeder.
If you plan to have a long-term relationship with good typography, I recommend you learn how to use styles too.
Styles let you define sets of formatting attributes that get applied together. So instead of selecting a heading, changing it to 13 point, bold, and all caps, you can define a style that includes these three attributes, and apply the style to the heading.
What’s the benefit? When you come across the next heading, you don’t need to individually apply those three attributes. You apply the style you defined before. The headings will then match.
Styles let you change formatting across a class of related elements. Suppose you want to change your headings from 13 point to 13.5 point. Instead of selecting each heading separately and changing the point size—a tedious project—you can change the point size in the heading style definition from 13 point to 13.5 point. Headings using that style will be automatically updated.
What’s the benefit? Updating the formatting is centralized and automatic. You can experiment with formatting and layout ideas with little manual effort.
Styles can inherit formatting from other styles. A change to the parent style will propagate to all the substyles. But a change to the substyle will only affect that one style.
What’s the benefit? Inheritance adds another layer of centralized automation—it’s like having styles of styles. You can define a set of foundation styles and use them as the basis for more elaborate styles.
In word processors, character styles can incorporate attributes of words and sentences, like font, point size, letterspacing, bold or italic, all caps, and small caps.
Paragraph styles can incorporate those attributes and also layout attributes like line spacing, first-line indents, and rules and borders.
(CSS doesn’t make a distinction between these two kinds of styles, but it’s analogous to styles applied to inline elements (like
<em>) vs. block-level elements (like
As a rule of thumb, any time you have two document elements that should be formatted identically, you’ll want to use a style.
Initially, you may be inclined to define styles like
Word processors come with a long list of built-in styles. Word, for instance, has
When you do this, you’ll also notice that many built-in styles are woefully ugly. For example, Word’s