Levels of Editing in MS Word

When editing a document in MS Word, there are three levels of changes you can make:

  1. Character-level changes
  2. Paragraph-level changes
  3. Document-level changes

Character-level changes are changes made to individual characters. These include style changes such as font, font size, font-color, bold, italic, underline, character spacing, and much more. These changes do not have to affect anything more than one character at a time (although you can select as many characters as you wish and make changes to all of them at the same time). The tools for making character-level changes are found in the Font area of the Home tab, or in the Font Dialog Box.

Paragraph-level changes are changes made to whole paragraphs. These include formatting changes such as alignment, indent, line spacing, paragraph spacing, tabs, and other less-known effects. These changes do must affect at least one whole paragraph at a time (although you can select as many paragraphs as you wish and make changes to all of them at the same time). The tools for making paragraph-level changes are found in the Paragraph area of the Home tab, or in the Paragraph Dialog Box.

Document-level changes are changes made to the whole document. These include layout changes such as paper size, paper orientation, and headers and footers. These changes will affect every page in the document (unless you create Sections, a slightly more advanced feature we will not cover in this class). The tools for making document-level changes are found in the Page Setup area of the Page Layout tab, or in the Page Setup Dialog Box.

In this and the two following chapters, we will look at the types of changes possible at each level. These changes comprise the majority of editing you will do with Microsoft Word.

Font: Character Level Changes

The Font group in the Home tab on the Ribbon deals with Character-Level Editing Changes:

Users of Asian-language versions of MS Word should note that your Ribbon groups and dialog boxes will appear different. Some extra controls may appear, and dialog boxes may have additional areas to help with asian-language typography.

In the English-only "Font" panel, let's take note of the buttons/menus. In the top row, from left to right:

  • Font Face: Choose the font face from a drop-down WYSIWYG menu.
  • Font Size: Choose the size of the font in "point" size.
  • Font Size Increase/Decrease: Clicking on either button will increase or decrease the size of selected characters to pre-set font size increments.
  • Change Case: Allows you to switch between uppercase, lowercase, title case, and so forth.
  • Erase Formatting: Returns text to the base font format style (e.g., Calibri 11 pt.)

In the bottom row, left to right:

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Strike-through
  • Subscript: creates small, lowered text, as seen in expressions like H2O
  • Superscript: creates small, raised text, as seen in expressions like E=mc2
  • Text Effects: Allows Word Art effects to be applied.
  • Highlight: Create highlighted text, as if with a colored highlighter pen. If text is selected, the clicking this button will highlight that text only. If no text is selected (if, instead, you have a blinking cursor), then the mouse cursor will change to a highlighter cursor, and any text you select will be highlighted--until you click the Highlight button again to turn it off.
  • Font Color: Choose a color from the palette, or from "More Colors."

The FONT Dialog Box

You can also click the dialog box button (the tiny icon in the lower right of the Font group on the Ribbon) or use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+D (Command+D on a Mac) to get this dialog box, with two tabs:

Extra features in the "Font" tab of the dialog box include:

  • Underline Style: Choose from a variety of different underlines
  • Underline Color: Choose a color for the underline which is different from the text
  • Double Strikethrough
  • Small Caps: A special style where all letter are CAPITALS. However, when you type a Shift-Capital, "Small Caps" shows it as larger; characters typed as lowercase appear as smaller capital letters. For example: "These Are Small Caps" becomes "THESE ARE SMALL CAPS."
  • All Caps: All letters, no matter if they are typed as Shift-Capitals or as lowercase, appear as same-sized capital letters.
  • Hidden: This hides any selected text from view. The text can then only be seen if someone "unhides" all the text by turning off the feature in this dialog box.

Extra features in the "Advanced" tab of the dialog box include:

  • Scale: makes selected text thinner or fatter.
  • Spacing: increases (expand) or decreases (condense) spacing between letters. In some special cases (such as with a resumé), expanded text is considered stylish.
  • Position: raised text appears above other text; lowered text appears lower. This is similar to subscript / superscript, except here the font size is not changed, and you can control exactly how much the text is raised or lowered.


When you make changes normally in MS Word, they will only affect the document you have open. However, there are some times when you want changes to be made permanent. This is when you would use the Default... button in the dialog box.

For example, versions of MS Word since 2007 automatically open with the Calibri font, at the size 11 pt. However, academic essays use the Times New Roman font at 12 pt. You can change this in the Home tab, or in the Font dialog box, but that will only change the document you are working on.

What if you want the standard font to automatically be Times New Roman, 12 pt. for every document you open? In that case, use the Font dialog box to make the change, and then instead of clicking on the "OK" button, click on the Default button. MS Word will ask if you are sure; just click "Yes."

Not only will this document be changed, but every document you open from now on will have the new settings. The Default button is available in the Font, Paragraph, and Page Setup dialog boxes in Windows, but it is not available in the Paragraph dialog box for the Mac. On the Mac, paragraph-level changes must be made directly to the "Normal" template, which is located within the preferences for Word (the location sometimes changes from version to version; Google the location for your version).


The "Default..." button will take any changes you made and will install them into the "NORMAL Template," so that all new blank documents will have these new changes.

Terms to Know

Character-level changesChanges in the "Font" ribbon group or dialog box, which only affect specific characters which are selected. Examples include font color and size, superscript and subscript, letter spacing, or small caps.
Paragraph-level changesChanges in the "Paragraph" ribbon group or dialog box, which affect only whole paragraphs. Examples include indents, alignment, line spacing, and paragraph spacing.
Document-level changesChanges in the "Page Setup" ribbon group in the "Page Layout" tab, or "Page Setup" dialog box, which only affect whole sections or the whole document. Examples include margins, headers & footers, or paper size.
Small CapsA style where all letters are capitalized, but letters typed as capitals are larger capital letters, and letters typed as lowercase appear as smaller capital letters.

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