The “Word styling” ward of the asylum

dgzjbh33_80fxgv6gcv_bAt Exari we take Microsoft Word styling seriously. Your documents depend on styles not just to look good, but also to remain error-free. With templates, it’s garbage in, garbage out. If templates aren’t well styled, then the documents you create from them are at risk.

The importance of good styles

Properly styled contracts, letters and other documents ensure:

  • Your outline numbering remains intact, and updates correctly when changes are made
  • Cross references and tables of contents are automatically generated and maintained
  • Changes to branding and look-and-feel can be implemented quickly
  • It is easy to retain a consistent look-and-feel across related documents

That’s why our training classes always include a segment on getting styling right in Word.

Outline numbering – Word’s problem child

As anyone who’s ever drafted legal documents knows, Word outline numbering is a minefield. This is because Word tries to hide complexity from its users – and outline numbering is unavoidably complex. As Word styles guru, Shauna Kelly puts it, “You seem to go round and round in circles, and never end up with what you want. And just when you get close, it falls to pieces.”

It’s essential that you use styles for outline numbering. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending years of your life fighting Word. (Unfortunately, even when you have set up your styles ‘100% by the book,’ there are still some risks. This last week alone, we’ve found three new bugs in the way Word’s outline numbering handles particular scenarios. Trying to report these issues to Microsoft is worthy of another blog post…)


Any organization serious about streamlining document production must invest in Word styling capabilities. The upfront effort in ‘getting it right’ will be repaid many times over in the long run.

Have you discovered any tips or tricks that help with outline numbering? Please share in the comments below.

This post was authored by Justin Lipton, Exari’s Chief Technology Officer.


Peter Domke says:

Yes, you may write a whole book about the problems with Word numbering and the possible solutions. Unfortunately, few users and still fewer managers (or partners in Law firms) are ready to pay attention to this issue. I’ve remarked two reasons, which hinder proper styling in law firms today – in comparison with the nineties (when documents were produced in-site and were mostly sent out

Justin Lipton says:

All good points Peter. While you can’t control documents that are “out in the wild”, I think it’s much harder to justify badly styled templates and precedents. There are also some scary examples we’ve seen where incorrect styling can change the interpretation of provisions.

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