Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

A guide for when and how to use styles instead of manual overrides in documents.

Styles are the chief feature that make office suites more than electronic typewriters. In, however, they are even more important than usual. Most word processors offer character and paragraph styles, but also includes frame, page and numbering styles. Even more importantly, extends the concept of styles to other applications. Impress, for example, has a system of styles, whereas PowerPoint, its MS Office equivalent, has none. The same is true of OOo's Calc and MS Excel. Once you understand why you should use styles and when, you'll find's tools for managing and applying styles second to none. You'll also start to unleash the full power of

Styles are the preferred way to format documents in an office suite. The alternative is manual overrides. To use manual overrides whenever you want to change the default formatting, you select part of the document--for example, a page or a group of characters--and then apply the formatting using the toolbars or menu. Each time you want to format something, you do it individually. This style of formatting is popular mainly because it requires no special knowledge. In effect, it involves using a word processor as though it were a typewriter.

The trouble is, as Robin Williams points out in the title of her best-known book, The PC Is Not a Typewriter. As Williams' title hints, you can do far more with a word processor such as Writer than you can with a typewriter. If you use manual formatting, you either cannot use many functions a word processor's offers or you can use them only partially. Therefore, for all their popularity, manual overrides are the least efficient way to work.

The chief feature that typewriters and manual formating lack is styles. Styles are a list of format settings. Their advantage is you set them up in one place and then tag the parts of your document that you want to use them in. If you want to change the format of all the tagged areas, you don't have to visit each area individually the way you do when using overrides. Instead, you change the style settings. Instantly, all the areas tagged with that style also are changed--at a speed with which manual formatting simply can't compete. If you are a developer, you can think of designing a style as the equivalent of declaring a sub-routine; tagging part of the document to use it is calling the sub-routine.

Basic Styles in Documents

ParagraphsPagesGraphic elements (including text objectsGraphic elements (including text objects
Why Should I Use Styles?

Several times, die-hards who refuse to use styles have posted to the user list. They have a right to work any way they want, they insist. should be redesigned so that users of manual overrides have the same access to features as those who use styles. At first, this request sounds reasonable. Yet, on closer look, it makes no more sense than insisting that all roads should be engineered so that pedestrians can go as fast as drivers. Although accommodates manual overriders in some ways, including several shortcuts found in Tools -< AutoCorrect/Autoformat, the advantages of styles require a regularity of input that manual formatting never could provide.

Basically, using styles offers four main advantages:

  • At the cost of extra preliminary work, you save time in the long run. Spend a couple of hours setting up styles, save the results in a template and you don't have to think about design for months at a time.

  • When you want to reformat, you have to change only the styles to reformat the entire document. Because styles are hierarchical, often you don't even need to change every style, only the ones at the top of the hierarchy.

  • Some tools in are either crippled or don't work at all without styles. In the Navigator, styles are right at the top of the window, acting as the basic milestones for moving about in the document. Want a field to pick up a chapter number or to have different styles of headers and footers? For both these tasks, you need to use styles. You want to build a table of contents or change page designs? You can do both without using styles, but this two-minute task will take you twenty minutes.

  • You use styles anyway. Indexes and tables and object frames all use paragraph styles automatically. By default, anything resembling a URL is formatted with the Internet Link character style. Add a footer, and you're using the Footer paragraph style. Unless you're deeply into masochism or are content to use an office suite at only the most superficial level, sooner or later you need to use styles. And because you can't escape them, you may as well learn how to use them instead of jumping through hoops to avoid them.


-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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I tried making my own

Sandra's picture

I tried making my own brochures so I started designing them just to save the money I had to pay a designer. All went well until I saw the printing services bill. I guess it would have been better to let some specialist do the brochures and printing in the same time.

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture

I created page styles so I could distinguish my front matter from my main content, but it appears I cannot have any two pages the same style. How's that? Can I fix this? I don't want headers and footers appearing on my cover page, front matter, and back coverm, but do want them on the other 40+ pages. Unfortunately, when I start a new page, OOo won't let me change the style!

Anyone knowing how to fix this , let me know. It seems to be the only real problem I have with OOo.

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture


I just went through this myself. I finally figured out that the 'next style' combo seems to Override manual changes of page style.

I don't think I have any multiple usage of a single style (except default) but I do have several defined and in use.


Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture

To make the next page have a different style .... Use Insert > Manual Break > Page Break and choose style needed for the next page. see for answers to similar issues.
David French

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture

I used Open Office for a while -- while I was still learning things was impressed. But using it for real drives me crazy now in the same way using Windows drives me crazy. I want full control over what I do and I have grown to hate styles. I want to be able to fine tune each page without necessarily having it change anything else in the document. Attempting this in Open Office is terribly frustrating.

Styles-use is almost like Windows mentality in the Linux world. At the very least please give the user control over the actual elements that are used in defining the styles (XML?), I could never use Word in the Windows world. Word Perfect at least let you have access to the actual codes using Reveal Codes.

It is sad, but I can no longer use Open Office.
I wanted it to succeed, but simply can't use it myself. If they would just add stuff for people with a Linux mentality... Modularity, complete control and knowing just what is happening are essential to us.

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture

You are way off. Think e.g. latex/tex, docbook and similar. They're
ALL about styiling. If you want consistensy, and professional look,
this is what anyone SHOULD use.
If you want control, make every page look a little diffrent, etc.
you don't use styles. Your Choice.

But at any rate, it sounds like you want a desktop publishing program though..

And don't come here talking about mentality, you should speak for yourself. Not for the "linux" people.

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Bruce_Byfield's picture

Well, to each their own. But there are several issues here that you're not considering.

To start with, manual overrides give you no more control than styles. Both are simply ways of manipulating the separate XML files that make up a single file. In both cases, you are working at one remove from the tags that do the formatting.

Secondly, manual overrides give you less control, not more. Manual overrides give you no formatting choices that styles do not. Moreover, because you have to find each formatted element separately and change it separately, overrides are much more clumsy than styles. I don't know about you, but, to me, clumsy does not equate with control in any way whatsoever.

Third, the idea that styles are somehow a Windows concept, and foreign to the Linux world just doesn't add up. Styles were around long before Windows was even a concept. Popular Linux programs like LaTex have used styles for years. Not only that, but the Linux world has always admired elegant solutions. You wouldn't admire a piece of code that was uneconomically written, so why should you want manual overrides?

The idea of a Reveal Codes feature is another matter. Many people have requested it, and perhaps it will be an OOo feature one day. Given that you can view the raw XML code in an OOo file by using a zip viewer, it wouldn't be hard to implement at least a view of the XML.

Perhaps you would be happier not using a GUI program, in which case, fair enough. But even when you're dealing with raw XML, you'll still be dealing with styles. That's what an XSLT or a style sheet is.

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture

Schrieb Byfield (emphasis mine):However, the Catalog requires many more mouse-clicks or keystrokes than the Stylist to do the same thing. Being stuck in the menu, the Catalog is not as convenient as a floating window such as Stylist.

I actually find the Catalog much more convenient, once a handy keyboard shortcut has been attached to it. I'm used to doing as much from the keyboard as possible, as reaching over to the mouse tends to break my train of thought. One nice thing in Word is the ability to hit keyboard combos to jump to some of the formating dropdowns -- Ctrl-Shift-F for fonts, Ctrl-Shift-S for styles, etc. OOo doesn't work the same way, as there appears to be no way to make a shortcut for the dropdowns, but there are the handy dialogs. So a quick Ctrl-Shift-S for the Style Catalog, arrowing up or down to my pick, and a tap on the Enter key, and there's the style I wanted. Much quicker than futzing with the mouse. :)

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture

But I so miss being able to set CTRL+SHIFT+D for Default style, CTRL1-4 for Heading 1-4 etc. Please give me shortcuts directly to individual styles!!!

This is in OOo2! upgrade now

Rolf's picture

This is in OOo2! upgrade now or wait for it to become a stable release.

Re: Off-the-Wall: Style Is Everything, Right?

Anonymous's picture

Don't forget Adobe's FrameMaker. This also has styles like OO. Too bad Adobe pulled the plug on the Linux version. It filled a big need for me. I choose OO (SO, really) to replace FrameMaker because of the styles. Don't leave home without them!

OpenOffice Styles versus TeX, anyone?

Anonymous's picture

Anyone know how these Styles compare to LaTeX? One of the major advantages that I've always found with TeX and derivates (other than their far superior handling of mathematical formulas) was that the layout of the document could rapidly be changed. Glancing over this article, it appears that these Styles used by OpenOffice are attempting to achieve the same thing. I don't use Word Processors, Spreadsheets, etc. (except that my wife occasionally tries to get me to fix things for her when she uses them), but I was wondering if there was someone that was familiar enough with both these OpenOffice Styles and LaTeX that they could compare and contrast them...

Re: OpenOffice Styles versus TeX, anyone?

giosetti's picture

I started working with SO writer a couple of years ago. I started to appreciate the stylist's functionality when I wrote a 400 pages book where two sorts of styles including the appropriate headlines (one in italics one not) alternate 200 times. I could apply the styles comprehensively throughout the whole book, record the headlines and jump to them via the navigator.

Recently I discovered LyX which has exactly the same functionality, but appears simpler to me (i.e. more user friendly, less confusing possiblities) but I'm still discovering LyX.

It seems handling is more easy with LyX once you have worked yourself through the tutorial and LyX is lighter, starts quicker. OOo on the other hand has more intuitive handling and, more importantly, has more filters to various formats like M$ Word, rtf etc.

I like them both ;-)

Re: OpenOffice Styles versus TeX, anyone?

Bruce_Byfield's picture

It's been a while since I used LaTeX, but I think the possible formatting choices in would be roughly comparable. The main difference is that OOo offers a graphical front end for manipulating the formatt.

Re: OpenOffice Styles versus TeX, anyone?

Anonymous's picture

I've been using LyX, a TeX/LaTeX GUI frontend for about 8 years, see:

I think that with LyX, use of styles is more natural as LyX doesn't allow one to use anything else. If one wants to use e.g. spaces to do formatting (have more than one of them in a row), one needs to use a special character for that ("hard space" for example).

Re: OpenOffice Styles versus TeX, anyone?

Anonymous's picture

They're very similar.

The interface is different, because uses a gui, but the concepts are almost identical.

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