When writing a document, particularly a longer one, you will want to ensure that there is a consistent style to it and one way is to ensure all the titles and headings have a common style. This is where paragraph styles come into it and these are simple to use which not only will ensure you have a consistent style but will allow you to add formatting very quickly. Here we’ll look at paragraph styles, borders and shading, the outline tool, and creating a table of contents.

  • What are paragraph styles?
  • Using a default paragraph style
  • Setting the style
  • Setting the default style
  • Borders and shading (recently added)
  • Outline
  • Table of Contents

What are paragraph styles?

The main use of Paragraph styles isn’t to change the style of paragraphs but allows you to control the style of the headers and titles that usually sit above them. To select them, go to the paragraph styles menu on the toolbar, which by default will be set to “Normal text”. This will open the menu below and as you can see you can set the title, subtitle, headings, and normal text (which for example, can be the paragraph).

Docs11 - 1

If you’re new to these terms, basically, on a page there is a hierarchy of headings. The title of the document is usually in the largest font. The subtitle is relatively small as this often includes more detailed information about the title and content of the document. Then you have different sized headings.

Heading 1 will be a main section of the document and headings 2 and 3 will be sub-sections. It will of course all depend exactly what is in your document, as for example, one document may only use a title and some heading 1s, whereas, a document with more sub-sections will use a few Heading 1s, but also a number of Heading 2s or 3s.

As we’ll see later, headings aren’t just about the way the document looks, with electronic documents they can also allow you to move around the document with ease, and also, can allow you to set up a table of contents very quickly at the start of your document.

Using a default paragraph style

The best way to show all this is with some examples. Let’s start off by using a default heading from the menu.

Here I have a heading to a paragraph “Working with images” and I want to use a default heading.

Docs11 - 2

Click anywhere on the line where it says “Working with images” (you don’t need to highlight the text). Go to the paragraph styles menu and click on “Heading 1”.

Docs11 - 3

As you can see, it’s change the heading to the style that was in the menu, i.e. bigger and with a different font.

Docs11 - 4

Setting a paragraph style

Using the default setting is fine if you quickly want to add some headings but usually you’ll want to set the style so it matches your document.

Let’s set the style for Heading 1. The way to do this is:

1) Select the text and change the font, the font size, colour, etc, to the way you want, using the tools on the toolbar. So, basically, you’re creating a master example, for Docs to use.

2) Open the paragraph styles menu and click on the triangle to the side of “Heading 1”. Then select “Update ‘Heading 1’ to match”.

Docs11 - 5

This has now changed the Heading 1 style to match the style of the text you highlighted.

Let’s do the same for Heading 2.

1) Select the text. Change it’s font, etc.

Docs11 - 6

2) Open the paragraph styles menu and click on the triangle next to “Heading 2”. Then select “Update ‘Heading 2’ to match.

Docs11 - 7

This has now created a new style for Heading 2.

Now we will want to apply that style to the other parts of our document.

1) Click on the line the text is.

Docs11 - 13

2) Open the paragraph styles menu. Notice that in the menu, the Heading 2 style example has changed, i.e. it’s underlined and in a different font. Just click on “Heading 2”.

Docs11 - 9

This adds the style to the text and makes it a heading.

Docs11 - 10

If you have created all your headings but at some point you want to change the style, all you need to do is change the font, etc of one of them and then in the paragraph styles menu, update the style of that heading and it will change the style of all those headings, so you don’t have to go in and change them one by one.

Setting the default styles

If you use the same styles across different documents, instead of having to set the styles up every time you create a new document, you can save them as your default styles.

First, set up your styles as above. Then in the paragraph styles, click on “Options” and then “Save as my default styles”. This will save all the different headings and title styles and will remember them even if you create a new document.

Docs11 - 12

Borders and shading

You can add borders and background colours to your texts by selecting Borders and shading. Here we’re going to add some colour to the text below to make it stand out.

Select the text then go to Format>Paragraph styles>Borders and shading.

Here you’ll be presented with a range of options. By default, it will add a border on all sides of your text, but you can select specific sides by clicking on the sides you want next to “Position”. You can control the border width, style (“dash”), and colour. You can then set a background colour. Finally, you have the option of adding some padding around the text, which adds some space between the border and the text.

Here I’m going to add a solid brown border 3pts wide, with a light orange background, with a little bit of padding.

As you can see this makes the text far more dramatic.


As I mentioned above, headings are not just for standardising the way the document looks but it can allow you to create links, so that the reader can find certain parts with ease.

By default, you should see the Outline of the document on the left of the screen. Docs will automatically pick certain parts of your document that it thinks are key areas. This allows the reader to click on an area and go directly to that part of the document.

Without using headings, some of the areas Docs chooses are a bit random, so it’s better to use headings, so that the outline lists all the important areas in your document. As you create a heading, it automatically appears in the outline.

Below I set up a heading 1 called “Working with images”, a heading 2, “Inserting images”, and 2 heading 3s “Uploading and image”, etc. Notice, it lays them out in order of heading number, i.e. “Working with images” is to the far left and the heading 2 is indented in a bit, and the heading 3s are indented even further. This provides nice visual structure of your document.

Docs11 - 15

If outline isn’t visible on the left, go to the “Tools” menu and click on “Document outline”.

Docs11 - 14

Table of contents

Finally, you can add a table of contents to your document, which like most non-fiction books, will list what’s in the document. This is based on the headings you’ve previously set. This is similar to the outline, but it only works with headings, it won’t try to guess what’s important like Outline does. It also has the added benefit, in that if you print the document out, the reader will see the contents.

Go to a blank page, usually at the start of your document. Then go to the “insert” menu and click on “Table of contents”.

Docs11 - 16

This will automatically create a table of contents for you based on the headings. It also includes hyperlinks to each of the sections.

Docs11 - 17

If you change any of the headings in the document, you will need to refresh the table of contents by clicking on the circular arrow.

You can change the format of the table of contents, but one downside is that if you’ve changed the format of it, when you refresh it, it returns back to the default style. So, my advice is to leave the formatting of it, until the very end when you’re sure you’re not going to change the document any further.

eBooks available on Drive, Forms, Sheets, Docs, Slides, and Sheet Functions:

Baz Roberts (Google+Flipboard / Twitter)