Set Font and Paragraph Defaults for Every Document

The analogy of covering weeds with rocks is a perfect way to illustrate the potential issues that arise when directly formatting text in Word without using styles.

Imagine you have a yard or garden with unwanted weeds popping up all over. Instead of addressing the root cause of the weed growth, you decide to cover the weeds with rocks to hide them temporarily. The weeds are still there beneath the rocks, and if you remove the rocks later, the weeds will resurface, and you haven’t truly solved the problem.

Similarly, when you directly format text in Microsoft Word by manually selecting all the text and making it 12pt (or applying any other formatting changes directly), you are covering up the existing Style and therefore the formatting issue temporarily. Here’s why this can be problematic:

  1. Lack of Consistency: When you directly format text without using styles, different parts of the document might have various font sizes, colors, or styles. This lack of consistency can make the document look unprofessional and messy.
  2. Difficult to Manage: If you want to change the font size or any other formatting attribute later, you will have to select and modify each section of the text separately. This can be time-consuming and prone to errors.
  3. Loss of Control: When you directly format text, you might not remember all the formatting changes you made. This can lead to unintended discrepancies in the document’s appearance.
  4. Style Overrides: If you later apply a different style to the text or use the “Clear Formatting” button, the direct formatting will be overridden, and the original formatting will resurface, just like the weeds reappear when you remove the rocks.

On the other hand, using Word styles is like weeding your yard or garden properly and addressing the root cause of the issue:

  1. Consistency: Styles ensure that all the text with the same style looks uniform throughout the document, creating a polished and professional appearance.
  2. Ease of Editing: By using styles, you can quickly modify the formatting attributes for an entire section of text by just updating the style definition. This is much more efficient than manually changing each part of the document.
  3. Control: Styles allow you to have complete control over the formatting of your document. You can easily see and manage the applied styles from the Styles pane in Word.
  4. Persistent Formatting: When you use styles, the formatting is applied at the style level, and it will remain consistent even if you apply a different style temporarily or use the “Clear Formatting” button.

Option 1: Set Font and Paragraph Defaults for Every Document

Often, individuals opt to apply their default formatting by selecting the entire text and then adjusting the Font and Font Size. While this is a convenient shortcut, it’s essential to be mindful of the potential for previous formatting to unexpectedly resurface. The inadvertent reappearance of formatting may occur, particularly when the clear formatting function is employed. In such cases, the outcome will consistently revert back to the default formatting embedded within the “Normal” style.

To achieve an immediate transformation of default font type, size, and paragraph formatting, consider altering your default settings to align with the “Normal” style. Instead of individually selecting and formatting text during typing, this method enables the chosen default formatting to automatically extend to all fonts, operating in accordance with the Normal style.

Personally, I make sure that this is configured for each document I work on, even if the document was started by someone else.  You can set document defaults for font and paragraph formatting in multiple locations, however, all of the default formatting is saved in the “Normal” style.

Set Default “Font” Formatting

Setting a default font and font size for any document is done more frequently in this manner. I suggest only adjusting the font and font size. Due to the fact that the default style cascades to all other styles based on the Normal style, therefore I don’t apply any effects, bold, or underlining to it.  I would create or modify a different style to include any additional formatting.

  1. From the Home tab | Font group,
  2. Click the dialog launcher button
    Displays the Font dialog box
  3. Change font and font size, i.e. Times New Roman, 13 pt
  4. Click the Set as Default button
    Displays the Microsoft Word dialog box
  5. Select This document only to change the default formatting to the current document only, or select All documents based on the Normal.dotm template to change the default formatting of all new (blank) documents.

Set Default “Paragraph” Formatting

I recommend altering both the default font and paragraph formatting for each document. Out-of-the-box defaults won’t work for legal documents. I suggest setting the Paragraph Line spacing to Single and the Paragraph Spacing before/after to 0″. Even if you might prefer Justified to Left aligned, I leave the default alignment as Left. Footnotes and envelopes, to name a couple of styles based on the Normal style, will alter if you change the alignment to Justified. Instead you can apply the spacing and justification to another built-in style called Body Text or create your own style.

  1. From Home tab | Paragraph group
  2. Click the Dialog Launcher button  Dialog Launcher button
    Displays Paragraph dialog box
  3. If necessary, change text alignment to Left
  4. Change the spacing before and after the paragraph to zero,
    i.e. Before: 0 pt.,
    After: 0 pt
  5. Change line spacing to Single
  6. Click the Set as Default button
    Displays the Microsoft Word dialog box
  7. Select This document only to change only the current document, or select All documents based on the Normal.dotm template to change all new documents.

Option 2: Modify Normal Style

All Word documents contain a built-in style called Normal. The Normal style contains the default font and paragraph formatting for the document. The “Normal” style is automatically applied to the text when you begin typing in a new document.

The Normal style can be updated by modifying the style or by setting the defaults from within the font and paragraph dialog boxes. In both dialog boxes, you find a “Set As Default” button. Clicking that button will update the Normal style with the modifications made in either dialog box.

  1. From the Home tab | Styles group | Quick Styles Gallery
    Right-click the Normal style
  2. Select Modify… from the list
    Displays the Modify Style dialog box
  3. Change font and font size to Times New Roman, 12 pt
  4. Click the Format button
  5. Select Paragraph… from the list
    Displays the Paragraph dialog box
  6. Change the Spacing before and after to 0″
  7. Change the Line spacing to Single
  8. Click OK on the Paragraph dialog box
  9. Click OK on the Modify dialog box
Pro Tip: You'll want to define the Font and Paragraph formatting in the Normal style.  Here are my suggestions.
Font Type: Times New Roman
Font Size: 12pt 
(This depends on type of document, so Brief maybe 14pt.)
Alignment: Left
Spacing Before/After: 0pt
Line Spacing: Single 
(However, in a Superior Court Pleading this maybe Exactly 12pt)


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