Microsoft Word: Apply Built-In Heading Styles

A logical heading structure is one of the best ways to give all of your users access to content. Headings benefit all of your readers, sighted and non-sighted alike, because readers - both visual users and those using screen readers - can skip between headings until they reach a section that they want to access. Headings also help the audience understand the relationship between subtopics.

Applying a heading style

  1. Select the text you want to apply a heading style to.

  2. On the Home tab, select a heading style. For example: Heading 1 or Heading 2.

Modifying your heading

If you want to use built-in headings but change the way they appear to visual users, Microsoft Word has a variety of pre-set styles for you to choose from. Different versions of Word have different styles, which are applied in slightly different ways depending on whether you are using a Mac or a PC; but they are always found in the Styles Pane, which is located next to the styles menu.

  1. Write and then select your heading text.
  2. Navigate to the styles pane. You may also be able to right-click (ctrl-click on a Mac) on the heading style in the styles menu, and select Modify.
  3. Modify allows you to change the font, color, and size of a given instance of heading. 
    Note: you can stop at this point if you want to change only this instance of the heading.  If you'd like to give the same styling to all of your H2s, H3s, etc., continue to step 4.
  4. Select Update Heading to Match Selection to apply the changes to every instance of that heading level. For example, if you change H2 in one section of your document using this method, all of your H2s will change as well.

Headings at the University of Minnesota

University Relations has developed a set of branded templates in order to give you a head start on designing your next document. They contain heading styles that already match University colors and font choices.

Heading Dos and Don'ts

DO

  • Do use a heading hierarchy

    • First, apply the page title or main content heading (sometimes called H1). It is the most important heading, and should generally be used once per page.
    • Next, apply major section headings, sometimes known as H2.
    • Lastly, apply headings to the various sub-sections. Those are sometimes known as H3-H6, depending on their level.
    • Text that does not have its own subsection is usually called "normal" or "paragraph text". 
  • Do use headings in order
    Do not skip levels!

DON'T

  • Do not use text formatting alone - use actual headings (H1 - H6). 

    Sighted users might be able to see the differences in font or color, but assistive technologies and other browsers cannot tell the difference.

  • Do not use headings just to make your document look different.  

    Make meaningful use of your headings. If you use headings just to change the look of the page, anyone using a screen reader may be very confused about the meaning of the page.