Create robust styles in Microsoft Word

Hilary Cadman Update Leave a Comment

Using ‘keep with next’ and ‘widow/orphan control’

Have you ever formatted a document in MS Word, only for the layout to fall apart when changes are made to the text? For example, headings may suddenly be split over two pages or be separated from the text that follows them, or a page may start with a blank line. This post explains how to create formatting that is robust and will withstand changes to the text.

Reliable headings using Microsoft Word styles

When you format a document, you want any headings that continue for several lines to appear on a single page, and all headings to stay with at least a couple of lines of the text that follows them. It is easy to achieve this by:

  • using styles for the headings (if you’re not sure how to do this, see my blog post Three reasons to use styles in MS Word)
  • setting the styles to have ‘Keep with next’ and ‘Keep lines together’.

Here is one way to set up a robust and reliable Heading 1 in Word:

  1. In your document, put your cursor in some text and apply the style ‘Heading 1′.
  2. On the Home tab, click on the Paragraph Settings button at the bottom right-hand side of the Paragraph box.
  3. Paragraph Settings button on Home tabThe Paragraph dialogue box appears. Under the ‘Line and Page Breaks’ tab, ensure that the first three boxes are ticked:
    • Widow/orphan control
    • Keep with next
    • Keep lines together

    Line and Page Breaks tab in the Paragraph dialogue box

    Then click ‘OK’ to get out of that box.

  4. Now, with your cursor still in the Heading 1 text that you have modified, right click on Heading 1. From the list that appears, select ‘Update Heading 1 to Match Selection’:
    The drop down list that appears when you right click on a style on the Home tab, with Update Heading 1 to Match Selection selected

Now all your text that is styled as Heading 1 will have those settings. You can repeat this process for Heading 2, Heading 3 and so on.

These settings ensure that your headings will not split across two pages and, where necessary, they will automatically move to the next page, to stay with the text that follows them.

Well-spaced text

When I receive a document from a client, it generally has spaces between paragraphs of Normal text. The document may look fine, but if I show the hidden formatting (by clicking ¶ on the Home tab), I often find that the spacing has been added using hard returns, so it looks something like this, with two paragraph marks between each paragraph:

Text showing use of hard returns to create spaces between paragraphs

This approach can lead to messy formatting, such as a new page starting with a blank line or unevenly spaced text. A better option is to use spacing for your styles. For example, to amend the Normal style, I could:

  1. Put my cursor in some text and apply Normal style.
  2. Open the Paragraph dialogue box (as described above), but this time click on the ‘Indents and Spacing’ tab.
  3. Set the spacing after to be 6 pt (using the up and down arrow next to ‘After’ moves in 6 pt increments – if you prefer a different spacing you can just type in a number):
    Spacing options under Indents and Spacing, showing where to select spacing of 6 points after the text in a particular style

Once you have applied 6-pt spacing after the text, your Normal text will be nicely spaced, without the need for extra paragraph marks.

Tip: When working with a client’s document, I fix the style, then use a shortcut from Editor’s Toolkit Plus to remove multiple paragraph marks.

You might find it a huge relief to understand how to fix these issues with headings and spacing. Some of my clients have come to me in frustration after hours of trying to wrangle spacing in Word. The ‘widow/orphan control’ and ‘keep with next’ are not obvious. Hopefully, next time you can apply these settings in advance and avoid formatting frustrations.


If you’re keen to learn more about tools to help you save time and improve the quality of your editing, you might like to take a look at my courses in PerfectItEndNote and a variety of editing tools. You can also book a coaching call with me to hone your skills in MS Word or EndNote.

Hilary CadmanCreate robust styles in Microsoft Word

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