How to Keep Italics or Bold When Applying Styles in Microsoft Word

This is a HUGE problem for writers, authors, and user’s of Microsoft Word. I am using Microsoft Word 2010, but this style issue applies to all versions, past and present. It turns out, sadly, that the designers of Microsoft Word failed to build a truly logical system of applying styles (unlike CSS on the Web) in their software, one which allows you to apply a simple “character style”, like ITALICS of BOLD on text in Word, and then apply underlying paragraph or other styles that retain the italics or bold formatting. It is neither a cascading system, nor a logical system that allows inheritance of styles. As a software engineer myself, this is simply what you call bad design and bad programming!

THE SOLUTION

I will get right to the solution…

The ONLY real practical solution I have found to retain italic or bold formatting on text in Microsoft Word, yet use the “style” solutions in the software, is to simply customize their default paragraph style called “Normal”. If you will go into the “Home” area of Microsoft Word, and look to the right on the top toolbar, you will see a panel called “Styles”. At the bottom right of this panel click the “styles window” button to open up the Styles dialog box or window. In there you should see, near the top, the “Normal” style that comes with Microsoft.

It turns out that this is the ONLY way to control the underlying “paragraph styles” in the whole document – the “default paragraph styles” – without changing what are called “character styles”. These include both the custom italic/bold styles you manually add to text in your file. And they include the styles with italic, like “Emphasis” and “Default Paragraph Font” that are both character styles that control individual text formatting outside the “Normal” or default paragraph formatting.

You should know that Microsoft Word “layers” character formatting and styles on top of paragraph formatting like “Normal”. That is why Normal honors or keeps those italic and bold formats even after you keep clicking the “Normal” paragraph style. The individual text retains its original formats despite “Normal”.

I spent days and days trying every combination of “custom styling” to try and recreate the same paragraph styling “Normal” has, where the italics and bold styles or formats were not changed when I applied them. Some worked for a minute then strangely, stopped working. Example: I created a custom paragraph style, that used “Normal” as its base style. I tried stripping all formatting out of it. I then clicked my text paragraphs that had a few italic or bold words in it, and they ALL DELETED THE ITALIC AND BOLD STYLES. lol

I then tried creating styles with no previous style association. Didn’t work. After “two clicks” the paragraph styles always overwrote the italic and bold text. I then tried styling my text using Microsoft’s built in “Emphasis” style for italics, which is pure italic formatting only! Applying “Normal to the paragraphs containing a single italic word formatted with “Emphasis” worked beautifully and didn’t alter my text. Any other format I created, paragraph, character, etc. all erased my italic and bold formatting. Terrible!

Finally, in frustration, I went back and customized the built in “Normal” paragraph style in Microsoft Word. Now all files have to default to that font and paragraph styling. But…..it worked!

I don’t know why, but now when I apply custom formatting to all paragraph-based text in my book, all the custom formats not related to FONT FORMATTING are preserved and kept, while all paragraph formatting “Normal” converts. This is perfect, because now I can simply change “Normal” to fit the text I’m working on and select the whole document and everything gets switched EXCEPT for individual text I’ve changed font on, changed font sizes, changed italic or bold, etc.

Here is what I would do:

  1. Go into the “Styles” dialogue or window and hide all other styles you don’t use or need.
  2. Go to “Normal” and change the default font you need, the default size, alignment, etc. Then go to the paragraph settings and set up all your paragraph formats as default.
  3. Rename “Normal” so you know you customized it. BUT BEWARE…..Microsoft will do the following to your new name: “Normal, Your Name”. It concatenates “Normal,” to the front. lol. That’s called bad programming logic!
  4. Go into styles and make sure you have only “Clear All” at the top and “Normal, Your Name”. Thats it! With those two you can either clear ALL FORMATTING or clear ALL FORMATTING BUT THE CUSTOM FONT FORMATS. Now you have two very clear ways to sweep clean your document yet know what will be retained.

I will  not go into how to create custom headings and all that. Just remember, Microsoft Word’s “Normal” style setting is the ONLY WAY to control all the paragraph-based text in your document, and customize fonts and paragraph layouts WITHOUT altering very tedious and time-consuming customized text formats on words and sentences. So, try to customize “Normal” and you can’t go wrong.

ps. One last word of warning…..Microsoft Word does have one strange rule. Whatever paragraph you select to reset to normal using the “Normal” default style, be sure less that 50% of the text has a custom format in it. Otherwise “Normal” will change it all to its own format and character formatting. But that’s not so hard to do. In my case, I rarely do that type of formatting in text. I have italic and bold sprinkled throughout, like most writers.

But it is my hope Microsoft and its engineers in the future will design a truly inheritable and cascading style and rule system, like we use on the World Wide Web in HTML and abandon these illogical and poorly designed text styling systems.

– E. M. Stokely, author



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  1. This was really helpful. Thanks a lot!

  2. The Author says:

    Thanks Jim. I will give it a try. In my strategy you don’t have to do search and replaces. The document formats will never change as long as you use the Word style setup I describe. But yours may be good for people that are at the end of a formatting cycle getting reading for publication. So good stuff, as well. Thanks again

  3. Jim says:

    Hi- I know you spent a lot of time trying to figure this clusterf*** of a problem out, and I’m grateful. BUT… I found it really hard and kept digging. I found a different work around, and it worked easier for me. Maybe for you too?
    At the risk of overstepping a boundary, here’s the link:
    http://wordribbon.tips.net/T009594_Retaining_Explicit_Formatting_after_Applying_Styles.html
    Keep up the great work!

  4. The Author says:

    Hey Dad! Thanks for testing the “blog” for me, as I was not 100% sure it accepted comments in WordPress.

    In terms of WordPad or RTF files, because Word does not pass through all its formats (like custom Styles) to WordPad, those formats are lost. Example, I opened my Word file with my customized “Normal” paragraph style in WordPad and saved it as an RTF. All the text formatting was there even though the Styles were lost. But when I opened the RTF in Microsoft Word 2010, the file defaulted back to the standard Styles that come with Word. In other words, all my carefully configured Styles for text are lost. I was able to set italic text in the RTF and then when opened in word, change the underlying text to the default “Normal” style, and it keep the Italics text unchanged after that. But its the loss of the “Styles” I created that did not get transferred.

    I wish Microsoft Word had used CSS Web Standards and style sheets to create their style system. Its clunky assigning Microsoft Word fields, custom headers, captions and all that based on “styles”. I just think that’s very confusing and poor design. Its why ASP.NET for years and years failed to display correct HTML on web pages using Visual Studio and their software, because their developers failed to understand and accept simple HTML markup and style sheet design. They only recently fixed that in their software. But it took them 10 years to get it right!

  5. Ernie says:

    If you save the file as .rtf does the issue persist?

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