How to permanently change simple formatting defaults in Word

If you’re changing the same format attributes every time you open a new Word document, you’re working harder than necessary. Modify the template once and work smarter.

When Microsoft started pushing its products toward web content, it decided the defaults should be web (screen) friendly, not printer friendly. If you’re still part of the printer era, you might find the web-based defaults unsuitable. All Office apps come with defaults that you might not care for, but Word is probably the worst offender. Whether your organization has a set of formatting conventions you must meet or you just don’t like Calibri, you may find yourself resetting at least a few defaults every time you start a new document.

Fortunately, Word bases new documents on the Normal template, and you can customization that file to eliminate repetitive changes when creating new documents. Once you customize the Normal template, every new document you create will exhibit your customizations. In this article, I’ll show you how to change a few simple default properties: the font, the font size, and a web-based spacing property.

I’m using Word 2016 desktop on a Windows 10 64-bit system. You can update Word 2003’s template,, but there are no instructions in this article. There’s no downloadable demonstration file for this technique.

A good start

The best template begins with a new blank document. Click New on the Quick Access Toolbar or choose New from the File tab. In older (menu) versions, choose the New Template command.

You might be tempted to base a template on a content-filled document by removing the content and saving the empty file as a template file (.dotx or .dotm). I recommend that you don’t. Everything that’s in that document will be in your template and, consequently, every new document you create. That means your documents will contain all the good stuff and all the bad stuff—something you might not recognize as a troublemaker until later.

For the same reason, I recommend that you keep customizations to the Normal template to a minimum. Also, documenting your changes is always a good idea.

Modify Normal style

Modifying the template’s Normal style is the quickest way to reset all three of the properties mentioned earlier. (Normal is both the name of the template and the name of a paragraph style.) The template, by default, uses the Normal style as the base for several other styles. So changing the Normal style will affect all those descendant styles. That’s probably what you want; if it isn’t, this method isn’t for you.

To modify the Normal style, do the following:

  1. Right-click Normal in the Quick Styles gallery and choose Modify.
  2. In the Formatting section, choose Arial as the font and 10 as the size (Figure A). Notice that the list updates as you make changes.
  3. To change the spacing, choose Paragraph from the Format dropdown (Figure B).
  4. In the resulting dialog, check the Don’t Add Space Between Paragraphs Of The Same Style option in the Spacing section (Figure C) and click OK.

Figure A

Figure A
Change the font and font size.

Figure B

Figure B
Access paragraph attributes.

Figure C

Figure C
Omit the specialized web spacing.

You’re not done just yet. As is, the changes will be saved by the current file only. To update the Normal template, you must check the New Documents Based On This Template option (Figure D) and then click OK.

Figure D

Figure D
Be sure to make the changes permanent by updating the Normal template.

As you can see in Figure E, the default font is Arial and the default font size is 10. In addition, there’s no additional spacing between the two lines of text. Every new document you open will now exhibit the modified Normal style.

Figure E

Figure E
Word updates the Normal style immediately.

You might want to modify Body Text as well. This style is identical to Normal except for line spacing. The difference between Normal and Body Text is that Body Text style has no dependent styles, so you can alter it without changing other styles.

Quick template tips

If you modify the Normal template, keep a backup copy of the modified file. If the worst happens, you won’t have to rebuild the template. Instead, use Windows Explorer to find your working copy of the Normal template. For Word 2016, you should find it here:


Then, rename the template file and paste a copy of your backed-up modified template into the same folder, making sure to name it Normal.dotm (or Normal.dotx).

If you decide to modify the template file manually, or if you can’t find the template file, launch the Visual Basic Editor (VBE) and enter the following statement in the Immediate window:


Doing so will open the Normal template for you—you don’t need to know its location!

Simple but time-saving

Changing a few formats at the template level probably seems like a simple task to some of you, but it’s one of the questions I receive most about Word. If you spend time revamping each new document, consider modifying the Normal template instead.

However, I generally recommend that you not alter it too much. If you have a lot of specialized formatting needs, create a custom template and apply it as needed instead.

About the Author

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world’s largest publisher of technical journals.

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