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Getting past Normal

 January 10, 2017
by Paul Heron

“Normal”—as in “mainstream”—has a positive connotation for many. But in documents built on Microsoft Word, Normal also a style—one that should be avoided at all costs. This is especially true for large documents with several contributors.

Experienced proposal managers know this. This post is for those who don’t.

What is Normal?

If you open a new Word document and start typing, you’ll be using Normal style. In my version of Word, that’s Calibri 12 point font. Normal has many other attributes, including colour, paragraph and line spacing, tab settings, language, etc.

You can change the attributes of any Normal paragraph (body copy, a heading, list, caption, etc.) by selecting the text and using dropdown menus to make adjustments—change the font, change the size, make it bold, add colour, and so on.

And you can restyle other headings, lists, captions etc. to look the same by selecting one and using the paintbrush tool on other instances. This is an easy way to add structure and visual impact to a plain-looking proposal. Many people work in Word this way.

Here’s the thing

Working as described above creates temporary instances of Normal with applied changes. So, if you or another team member:

  • Works on the proposal using Word on another computer
  • Pastes submitted copy into the proposal and attempts to style it
  • Selects content and clicks on Normal in the styles ribbon
  • Modifies Normal using the styles menu

-- all of the changes you’ve made to customize headings, lists, captions, etc. could be lost. To recover, you’ll need to go back and restyle all the text in your document.

This may be small potatoes in a three- or four-page document, but it can be heartbreaking in a 20- or 30-page proposal—and we’ve seen it happen.

Getting past Normal

Here’s a better way. Set up the styles you need for your proposal, starting with body copy. Base your body copy on “No style,” not Normal, which is the default setting as in the image below. Then base styles for lists, captions, etc. on the body copy style.

If you want to use another font for heads and subheads, set up the first style, again based on “No style.” You can then base all subheads that use the same font on the first style you defined. That way, changing body copy later won’t affect the style(s) you’ve defined for heads.

Naming and managing styles

For convenience, begin all style names with a client or project identifier when setting up proposal templates. This ensures styles appear together in the style ribbon.

To keep unwanted styles out of your document, use the styles management window. Click on the icon at the end of the style ribbon, and then select “Styles in use” from the dropdown menu at the bottom of the window (see below).

You should only see those styles you have defined. If an unwanted style appears in the list, navigate to it and restyle the paragraph(s) to correct.

Which brings us to the final point. When importing text from a content developer, always paste the imported copy as “Text only,” and then restyle it. Avoid the temptation to select “Match destination formatting” to keep your document free of unwanted styles.

Happy editing!


Need help setting up and managing proposal templates?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





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