Formatting makes it much easier for me to work with the document, it looks professional, and it is much easier for the examiners to navigate (Richard Steele, 2023).   

In my last blog, I shared my 14-step formatting checklist and how to work through steps 1 to 6:

  1. Open the client’s formatting style guide to the page layout requirements.
  2. Switch to Reviewing mode or Track Changes: Off.
  3. Save the original document as a template.
  4. Set page size and margins.
  5. Set font.
  6. Set page numbering.

I explained that an added advantage of formatting before editing is that it requires multiple sweeps through the text. These give me an overview of what to expect, which is useful during the editing process. In this blog post, I share how to work through Step 7, which gives us the first sweep through the text. (Unfortunately, the blog post cannot be formatted like a Word document because of WordPress restrictions and the need to make it suitable for all screen sizes.)

Step 7, Sweep 1. Apply headings

You need to make the headings recognisable to Word so that Word can create an automatic, updatable table of contents (TOC). This means that if the heading text or page numbers change, the changes are reflected in the TOC at the click of an F9 button.

If Word cannot recognise the headings, you have to manually check that the headings in the TOC match the headings in the text, and that the page numbers in the TOC match the page numbers where the headings appear. And if you or your client add or delete text so that the headings move to different pages, you have to manually recheck the TOC. If this is what you currently do, I am sure you will be very glad to learn what comes next.

You can make the headings recognisable in two ways:

Option 1 – Heading styles: If the client has formatted the headings consistently, I use the client’s formatting as the template (pattern) for the heading styles; OR

Option 2 – Outline levels: If the client has been inconsistent or does not want me to change the format, I just apply the appropriate heading level to the existing paragraph. It is usually in Normal style and the indications that it is a heading have been manually applied. The headings are usually bolded and some are in capital letters; sometimes you can only tell they are headings because they are on one line and less than a line wide.

First, you need to know whether heading styles have already been applied, so launch the Navigation Pane (Ctrl+alt+n) in a panel on the left, and open it in the Headings tab. If there is a list there, use the Heading Styles option below; otherwise use the Outline Levels option.

Option 1 – Heading styles

1.   Put your cursor in the chapter heading, which should be in Heading 1 style.
2.   Press Ctrl+alt+shift+s. The Styles dialog box pops up, showing a list of styles.

Image about where to select Styles

3. The current style has a box around it. To use the formatting the client has applied to the text as the pattern for the heading:

3.1  Click in the space on the right of the heading style to reveal a dropdown arrowhead. Select it.
3.2  Choose the first option: in this case, ‘Update Heading 1 to match selection’.
3.3  Do the same for Headings 2 and 3 (and 4, if necessary).

4.  Scroll through the document and follow the steps below for all headings.

4.1  When you come to a paragraph that should be in a heading style, apply the relevant style using Word’s default shortcuts as follows:

4.1.1  Heading 1 (e.g. Chapter 1): Press Ctrl+alt+1 all at the same time
4.1.2  Heading 2 (e.g. 1.1): Press Ctrl+alt+2
4.1.3  Heading 3 (e.g. 1.1.1): Press Ctrl+alt+3
4.1.4  Heading 4 (e.g. and lower: Select the relevant style in Home > Styles.

4.2  Read through the headings in the Navigation Pane to make sure they are consistently capitalised and worded.
4.3  If you need to make a correction, click on the heading in the Navigation Pane to jump to it in the text.
4.4  Clients usually type Headings 1 and 2 in capital letters but I do not like to see all caps in the Navigation Pane or in the TOC.  It is also better to be in control of when the caps are displayed and when they are not. Therefore:

4.4.1  Put your cursor in the heading and select it by triple-clicking (or double-click beside it in the left margin).
4.4.2  Change the style to Normal style (Ctrl+shift+n) so you can see how it was typed.
4.4.3  Toggle through Word’s Change Case options (by repeatedly pressing Shift+F3) until you have all the words in Title Case for Headings 1 and 2, and all in lower case for Heading 3. Then:  for Headings 1 and 2, put your cursor in the words that should not start with capital letters and press F4 to toggle them to lower-case letters; and  for Heading 3 and lower levels, you usually want Sentence case, so press the Home button to go to the first word and press F4 to make just that word start with a capital letter. Of course, any proper noun must also be in Title Case.

4.4.4  Restore the correct heading level using the shortcuts described in paragraphs 4.1.1 to 4.1.4.
4.4.5  If the heading style has been set to display in capital letters (i.e., has the All Caps effect ticked in its Font setting), reselect the whole heading and press Ctrl+spacebar to restore the default character display. The heading will still appear as it was typed in the Navigation Pane and in the TOC.

Option 2 – Outline levels

If, for some reason, you cannot apply heading styles, just apply the appropriate outline level to the existing paragraph as follows:

  1. Put your cursor in the chapter heading, which should be Heading 1, go to the Home tab > Paragraph group and click on the dialog box launcher (the icon of a diagonal arrow in a box at the bottom right of the group). The Paragraph dialog box pops up.
    Image of paragraph settings
  2. Towards the top, under General, you will see that the Outline level is ‘Body Text’. Change it to ‘Level 1’.
  3. Click OK (or press Enter if the OK button has a dark border [the focus]).
  4. The words of the ‘heading’ will display in the Navigation Pane.
  5. In the paragraphs that you want to be heading level 2, change the Outline level to ‘Level 2’.
  6. For heading level 3, change the Outline level to ‘Level 3’.



In this blog post, you learnt two ways to make Word recognise headings.

In my next blog post, I will tell you how to format figure and table captions. It will be a much shorter post!



Images created on Canva.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About Anne Denniston

Anne trained as a librarian but then started editing agricultural reports, loved it, and so became a freelance editor of all sorts of documents. For three years, she edited for students who attended Exactica’s dissertation courses. For more than 11 years, she edited audit reports (among other tasks) for the Gauteng Provincial Government.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.