All About Paragraph Styles in Microsoft Word - Part 1


Paragraph Styles are a big item in Word: just about the biggest there is. Smart Office workers format almost all of their documents entirely with paragraph styles, rarely using the other types of styles Word offers. So what are Paragraph Styles?

A paragraph style is a named collection of formatting that applies only to the paragraph properties of the text.

How do you Make a Paragraph Style? The short answer is “If at all possible, don’t!”

Because Word contains more than one hundred built-in styles, one for almost every purpose you may have. Thus, you likely will never have to “make” one. But you will frequently need to customise them to your requirements. 

How to Customise a Paragraph Style

Well, first you need to select a style to work with in in your Quick Styles pane on Word's Home tab ribbon, or bring up Word's Styles window.

Either way, right-click on the paragraph style and choose the option to Modify. You will see this dialog:

Before we go any further, let’s just say it: This is one of the most poorly-thought-out dialogs in Word (yes, there are worse, but not many). Sadly, most of what you will need is not on this dialog; and most of what is, you will not (or should not) use. If you think of the Word user interface as being set up in three “layers” then this dialog is the Level One layer, designed for use by undemanding newbies — but such users are unlikely to be using styles. Still it’s been this way from the beginning: all pleas to improve it fall on deaf ears.

Let’s follow the red numbers:

1. Name: If you are making a new style, type the name of it here. 

Word has three “groups” of styles in each type:

  • Default
  • Built-in
  • Custom


  • The default styles will not allow you to change their names, but you can add an alias to their name and hide the default name. I most often see this done with the Heading 1 through Heading 9 series of styles. But, adding alternative names is not a practice I recommend because:
    • it confuses users accustomed to the standard names
    • and if the name string gets too long it can corrupt the style table (above about 250 characters). If that happens you usually lose the entire document, and there’s no way to fix it.
  • Our AuthorTec Quick Styles Customizer utility enforces the Heading 1 to 9 name standards so the program can find them in the styles table, which also protects you from yourself!

2. Style type: If you are making a new style, set the type of it here.

  • Note: If you are customising a style, you cannot change the type.

3. Style based on: When making a new style, you can save a lot of thought and effort by setting the "Style to copy from".

  • When you do that, all of the formatting properties of the style you nominate are copied into the style you are making.
  • Be careful with this: don’t do it if either style has a number formatting included because that will confuse Word.

Having set a “Based on” style, any properties you change in the current style replace the ones that were copied. You use this to set chains of similar styles that all inherit from the master. I typically do this for the Heading series, if I am not numbering them. For example:

In Heading 1, I set a font of Calibri, then I base Heading 2 on 1, Heading 3 on 2, Heading 4 on 3 and so on, all the way down to Heading 9.

I also set any other properties that I want to propagate down the whole chain (e.g. Space After of 10 points).

If I then decide to change the font to Cambria, I need change only one style: Heading 1. All the others will inherit the change.

However, I will set a font Size for each of the nine styles. Each setting replaces the one inherited from above. Each property you set drops out of the chain of inheritance. This can get quite complex: for example, if I set a size in Headings 1, 2, and 3, the font size in Headings 4 to 9 will continue to inherit: but from Heading 3. If you get muddled, the only way to restore the inheritance is to unset, then re-set the Style based on setting.  You have to keep your mind on the job when setting up chains.

I don’t use inheritance chains very often these days: they are really useful only in large commercial jobs where you anticipate wanting to make global changes, say to re-purpose the text for both paper and internet use.

However... it is worthwhile to break the inheritance from Normal style. Whenever you get a completely default Word document, every style will be set Based on Normal style. It only takes one idiot to make a change to Normal style and your whole document may be ruined. You may consider it worth setting your important styles to be Based on “no style”.

4. Style for following paragraph: For paragraph styles, nominate here, the style to be automatically applied to the following new paragraph. Put some thought into getting this correct: it’s a massive time-saver.

For example, I set all my Heading styles to be followed by Body Text.

This means I have to touch the ribbon only once to put in a heading: I type the heading and hit Enter — the Body Text style is automatically applied ready to type.

5.  Add to template: If you check Add to template, the style you spent so much time creating will be available for use in other documents you create. You may choose not to set this, if the style change you are making applies only to the current document. 

6. Add to Quick Style list: If this is a style you will use several times an hour, add it to the Quick Styles gallery so it’s near to hand. But if it’s one of those styles you use once per document, uncheck this: no point in cluttering the styles chunk with useless stuff.

This setting is what the Quick Styles Customizer actually does, setting or unsetting this property is how it works.

7. Automatically Update should ALWAYS be OFF, except for the TOC styles.

If it is on, whenever you make any formatting change to any paragraph that has this style, the style and all the paragraphs will instantly adopt whatever change you make. A classic horror story is about the poor souls who set this on for Normal style. The moment they bold a word, the entire document turns bold, and they have no idea what caused it, or how to recover from it. Now you know better!

Next time -  we will dig down one layer in the user interface to the Power User tools.

This blog post has been graciously provided by our Contributor at Large:
John McGhie. 
Among other fine accomplishments, John is a Microsoft MVP (Word, Mac Word) and a Consultant Technical Writer at McGhie Information Engineering Pty Ltd in Sydney, Australia. 

Reusable Modules & Lessons - Best Practices for Building


Base your Modules and Lessons on your terminal and enabling objectives.

If you follow these best practices for setting up your modules and lessons, then they will be easy to re-use.

Let's begin with terminology.

  • A chunk is a discrete component of content that can stand on its own.
  • A Module is a topic chunk within a training program, like a chapter in a book.
  • A Lesson is a sub-topic chunk within a Module.
  • A Terminal Objective is a specific statement that describes in measurable terms what a learner will be able to do as a result of engaging in a learning activity.
  • An Enabling Objective is a statement that describes a step that the learner must achieve in order to meet the terminal objective; again, in measurable terms.
  • A Learner Achievement Activity is a method by which the instructor and the learner determine whether or not, and to what degree, the learner has achieved mastery of the objectives being taught. 

Best Practice #1

Structure your facilitator guide with a Module for each terminal objective.

In so doing, each Module is a discrete topic chunk that completely and concisely provides the directions, a.k.a. sheet music, the instructor must follow to lead the participants to the desired instructional outcome.

In keeping with the best practice of chunking, include Lessons that address the enabling objectives within each Module.

Here is an example of how a Table of Contents might look like when structuring a Facilitator Guide this way.


Best Practice #2

Begin each new Module with a module overview page.

Include the following categories on the first page of each module. This information will quickly refresh your memory when you are considering reusing the module. And, it serves as as an advance organizer for the instructor. 

  • The Module Name - A concise descriptive phrase that captures the essence of the topic being taught.
  • The Module Goal - The Terminal Objective. 

  • The Module Time - Precisely how much time is required to teach the module.
  • The Module Overview - A brief description of what the instructor will be doing and the activities the learners will engage in. In other words, the process of instruction.

  • The list of Materials Needed  - Specific, complete, and limited to just the Module.

Here is an example of a Module Overview page.


Best Practice #3

Create a Lesson for each enabling objective.

The number of lessons within Modules will vary, depending on how many enabling objectives are associated with each Module's terminal objective.

Begin each new Lesson with the following information:

  • the Time required to complete the Lesson
  • the Enabling Objective the Lesson will teach

  • a very brief Overview of the process of instruction for the lesson.

Then, structure the Lesson pages by setting down:

  • specifically what the instructor is to say and do
  • in the logical order required to effectively deliver the instruction. 

For example, if the instruction involves a slide, the participant workbook, and an activity, your Facilitator Guide Lesson page might look like this:

A-Example Cropped Page_1.jpg


Best Practice #4

Include a Learner Achievement Activity as the closing Lesson of each Module.

This is important when your intention is to build reusable Modules. Otherwise you will need to store and cross index to your Learner Achievement Activity Lessons in a logical way so that they are easy to find and grab when you are reusing a Module.


Best Practice #5

Automate the development process as much as you can.

Use as many of the advanced features of Word as possible to speed up the document layout and formatting, and to ensure consistency. 

Consistent use of styles is one of the hallmarks of professionalism. There's a new app to help you set up reusable Quick Styles in Word that is free and easy to use. It's called AuthorTec™ Quick Styles.


Consistent document formatting and the use of icons to cue instructional actions is another hallmark of professionalism. An easy way to automate development is to use either Elements Pro or LeaderGuide Pro. Both of these tools are specifically designed for the Development phase, to build facilitator guides and participant materials. Both can be affordably licensed on a month by month basis, or annually. Download LeaderGuide Pro to try both tools for free for 3 days each.


Best Practice #6

Get a head start.

We all know that waiting until the last minute is a recipe for stress. Use these best practices and you will be able to hit the ground running the next time you are tapped to be a miracle worker or have just run out of time.


Types of Word Styles


There are five types of styles in Word:

  1. Character Styles

  2. Paragraph Styles

  3. List Styles

  4. Table Styles

  5. Themes

We have shown you how to “use” styles and explained why you would want to.

And we offer you the Styles Customizer - a free tool to help you manage your styles.

Now it’s time to get a little deeper in. Working in Word, you will normally concern yourself only with Paragraph styles, which is why we started there.


The word “style” is originally a printing/publishing term that refers to both the formatting and the content of a piece of text.

A typical example is the banner heading of your favourite newspaper: the whole thing, including the date and the weather and the edition number are a single “style” called as a single directive to the computer.

However, in the Microsoft world, the word “style” means simply “a named collection of formatting”.

Unlike FrameMaker or InDesign, Word’s styles cannot (yet?) also contain text. The name enables you to find the style and use it again.


Word contains about 120 built-in styles, one for almost every imaginable purpose.

So you will very rarely have to create one, although we will tell you how for those times when you do. 

One of the most important things to understand about Microsoft Word is that ALL formatting is a style.

The reason for this is simple: speed!

What eventually killed WordPerfect is that it became very slow as the size of the document grew to around 100 pages. To work out how to format a word, WordPerfect had to read the entire file from the beginning, because the formatting was embedded in the text.


In Word, all of the formatting is held in a style table.

The only formatting component in a “run” (a string of text) is a pointer. The pointer is the name of the style, and indicates which row of the table stores all of the formatting properties for that style.

Since the formatting table is relatively compact, Word can keep the whole thing resident in memory, which means every time it needs to format something, it can get the recipe almost instantly (a microsecond or so).

The style table is stored in a Word document beyond the end of the document.

It is hidden after the last paragraph mark in the document: remember that — it will become very significant if your document corrupts.

Fun fact:

  • If you don’t give a style a name, Word will: but it will then hide it from you.

Less fun?

People who continue to “directly format” their documents will never see the thousands of styles Word creates to keep track of things.


Now, let’s have a look at the “types” of styles Word has:

Character Styles

Character styles contain only the character formatting of a style. 

But we mean a little more than font, face, and colour. Language and proofing and advanced typography are in there too.  We will cover character styles in depth in a future topic.

Paragraph Styles

Paragraph styles are what many Word users think of when they say “styles”.

They contain spacing and indents and such, and various properties that enable you to control how Word paginates your document. Again: in-depth in a future topic.

List Styles

List styles contain all of the bullet or number formatting.

To Word, bullets and numbering are the same thing, except that it does not “increment” bullets. List styles are quite tough to explain, and once you get the hang of them, you will find you rarely need them. Where they come into their own is when you want to copy bulleted or numbered text from one document to another. Expect a topic on those, too.

Table Styles

Table styles are an oddity (some would suggest they should never have happened…) I disagree, but they’re very tricky to understand.

One key to this is to understand that a “table” is in fact a special case of “paragraph”: it’s a paragraph that contains child paragraphs! So a table style contains an unholy mixture of font, paragraph, and border formatting. Word’s user interface makes understanding them almost impossible.  But not quite: wait patiently!


Okay, this is the one I believe should never have happened. What we (the MVPs…) wanted and asked for was “Cascading Style Sheets” for Word. The ability to attach more than one template, and have each contribute to the formatting. What we got was themes.

Apart from providing unskilled users with the ability to destroy your carefully formatted document in a single click, I cannot think of a use for them.

Microsoft seems to be slowly understanding the Frankenstein monster it has created — themes seem to be slowly being de-emphasised. I will try to tell you how they work, but I doubt if you will use them any place but PowerPoint.

OK, I have overrun my word-count again; I am very fortunate the Editor lives on the other side of the planet…  Catch you next time!

This blog post has been graciously provided by our Contributor at Large:
John McGhie. 
Among other fine accomplishments, John is a Microsoft MVP (Word, Mac Word) and a Consultant Technical Writer at McGhie Information Engineering Pty Ltd in Sydney, Australia. 

The Myth of Convenience


"I can do that myself"

And you can make a cup of coffee and bring it with you to work every morning instead of buying one. And you can walk instead of driving. And you can chop your own vegetables for that stir fry instead of spending more on pre-cut veggies.

Our software automates Word and PowerPoint to eliminate hours of tedious drudge work and frees you to do your best work... "I can do that myself." Yes you can, but do you really want to? Wouldn't you rather be doing other things? Is it the best use of your time? Using our software ensures consistency, improves productivity and allows you to better manage your work.


"Where was this when we slugged our way through that big project?"

We demo our software a lot. Every Monday it starts all over again. The most seasoned professionals ooh and ahh. "Where was this when we slugged our way through that big project?" they ask. We sigh together and agree that our software would have been a game changer.

We talk about all the wasted time and less than stellar results they have been struggling with. 


"I'm starting a big project. We don't have time to learn how to use your software but we need it. Tell me it will be okay."

The time for action on any matter of importance is before a project reaches crisis mode. You know that.


"This is so much better."

Our software helps you to work smarter along with faster. It removes many of the tedious tasks in projects that have to be done, but often take too much time and energy. If they are not done right, they can lead to many of those project "crisis" everyone knows all too well.


The myth of convenience is that "convenience" actually has a high price. It happens when your old convenient method takes longer and produces less professional output. Having to learn something new may on the surface look less-convenient but with good productivity software, like ours, the time saved when using it more than compensates for the time you invested to learn it.  


Immediate payback.

In other words, your upfront investment in learning our product, pays you back immediately on the very first project where you use it... Now that is really convenient!


User Support is included. Tutorials and videos are built into the software, and available 24/7 on our website at


The Styles Customizer

Today we offer you the “Styles Customizer”. Your easy-to-use method for managing styles in Word like a pro. If you haven't downloaded this app yet, it's time to take care of that. It's fast and free. Then read on to see why I call it "lazy perfection".


The first version of the macro I attached to the draft of my article Lazy Perfection and sent into the Great Circle Learning Blog Editor was a relatively simple program that put MY favourite styles on the Styles chunk, and hides all the rest. Like this:


What if you do not like MY selection of styles? Or their arrangement?

Well… Rich Michaels got to work and “improved” it.

Rich is a commercial-quality programmer who has improved the original to an unbelievable degree. I think there are about ten lines of the code I wrote left. It’s more of an “application” than a “macro” now, it even has a dialog. And a button on the Home tab Ribbon:  


This dialog appears when you hit the button:


Yes, for the observant, I AM running PC Word on a Mac. So sue me! And the reason that screen-shot comes from the PC is that the Styles Customizer does not yet “quite” work properly on the Mac. Now, back to the topic at hand...

When the Styles Customizer opens up, it presents two columns of styles.

On the left is every paragraph or character style in the document, in alphabetic order. Each document stores its own unique list of styles. Many of us wish they wouldn’t, but that’s another story.

On the right, is a list of the styles already in the Styles chunk, again, in alphabetic order. To tame your Styles chunk, you simply use the Move and Remove buttons to move the styles you use into the right-hand column, or remove the ones you don’t use to the bottom of the left-hand column. Easy!

How you arrange your styles is very personal to you and to the type of work you are doing on the document you have open.

My suggestion is to place the ones you use most often in the places where they are easiest for you to see and hit. Since I am “writing” this document, I have three levels of heading as the first three, Body Text is the one I use for most of the text, and the two List Styles complete the compliment.  I am on a laptop, so I don’t actually have room for any more…

When I am “Editing” an academic thesis, I will get rid of Heading 3 and add the Caption style and the Graphics style… You get the idea.

Having chosen your styles, use the Move Up and Move Down buttons to arrange the styles in the sequence you prefer.  They will start off alphabetically, but you would normally move them into a sequence you find logical for the job you are doing.

Use the Unselect button to clear a selection you didn’t mean to make.

Now: Decide whether you want to save this arrangement only in the document you are currently working on, or whether to save this to your Normal template.

If you save to the Normal template, each new document you create will have the selection you just set, which will save you some time (get it exactly to your tastes and you won’t have to run the Styles Customizer at all on that document). Click one of the “Apply these updates” buttons to make your choice.

To execute your changes on the document, click Update; or click Close if you decide not to make these changes.

By customising the Styles chunk to your needs of the moment, it, and the whole Ribbon, suddenly begin to seem like a very good idea.

When the Ribbon first appeared, expert Word users howled in anguish, because it was at least ten times slower to use than the toolbars it replaced (and very difficult to teach people to use…) Now that Microsoft has finally accepted that one size very definitely does NOT fit all when using Microsoft Office, customisation has become possible, and you just did some!

One little “consideration”...

The current version re-names the “Heading” series of styles back to their default names. We need to do this so that we can find them in the list. If this is a problem to you, let us know in the feedback. Rich’s code is sufficiently advanced that we may now be able to suppress that if enough of you need it.

Mac users: please be a little more patient. The version of Mac Word I am running (15.39) cannot run the Customizer at all.  Rich got a new version from Microsoft yesterday that will actually run it; very slowly, but it runs. That has not been possible since Word 2011 appeared: but it would appear that we are now weeks away from getting that fixed! (The version Rich has is a very early Alpha copy: not at all safe for public distribution yet; but it will be…)

This blog post has been graciously provided by our new Contributor at Large:
John McGhie. 
Among other fine accomplishments, John is a Microsoft MVP (Word, Mac Word) and a Consultant Technical Writer at McGhie Information Engineering Pty Ltd in Sydney, Australia. 

Lazy Perfection


Have you noticed how experts make it look “easy” to achieve stunning results?

This topic enables you to format Word documents that way. By becoming an expert!

In the previous topic, Style(s) Over Substance, I explained why you should use styles.

In this one, I will show you how. And in the next one, I will explain how to make the styles you need produce the formatting you want.

The easy way to apply a style is to click in a paragraph, then click the style you want from the Styles chunk on the Home tab of the ribbon.

All of the text in the paragraph will instantly take on the formatting of the style (OK, there’s a list of exceptions, let’s not poke that bear yet…)

But first, we need to do a little housekeeping, to make the Styles chunk usable. In an effort to be “helpful” Microsoft put every style that seemed like a good idea into the Styles chunk.


Sadly, most of those styles were not a good idea. Look at that mess! And it gets worse if you expand the Styles chunk to try to find what you need!


Almost every style you will never need; right there, getting in your way! We need to clean them out, to make room for the ones you do want!

First, I will show you how to expand the styles chunk, since we’re in the neighbourhood (yes, I spell in Australian, you love it, right?) and you will never find it in the help…

On the PC, it’s either a tiny little arrow at the right-hand bottom of the Styles chunk or the little down arrow on the right-hand side of the Styles chunk:


Sadly, in Mac Word, it is completely invisible. Hover over the middle of the bottom of the styles chunk and it will magically appear.

Now:  Let’s make an assumption that you are writing a corporate document of some sort (report, agenda, book…). The only styles you really need are these:


If you have a big screen, you might add List Bullet 2 and List Number 2. If you’re writing a book, you will need Heading 3 as well. If you are editing an academic thesis you will need Caption and perhaps Quotation.

First, we get rid of the trash:

  • For each style you don’t need, right-click on it in the Styles chunk
  • And choose “Remove from Style Gallery”.

Now, open the Styles task pane to add the styles you do need:

  • Click the tiny arrow, at the extreme bottom right of the Styles chunk. (On the Mac, it’s a button, to the right of the Styles chunk.)
  • Find each style you need, and drop down the disclosure triangle at the right end of its name.
  • Choose “Add to Style Gallery”. (On the Mac, you have to choose “Modify style” then at the bottom of the dialog “Add to Quick Style gallery” — again, they’re supposed to be fixing that soon.)

It is a laborious task, but it only has to be done once for each document: whatever you set will save with the document.

And if you do it to your Normal template, every new document will open with the Styles chunk correctly set.

Once you have the styles you need on your ribbon, using them is just a matter of point and click!

Place your insertion point in the paragraph to format; then click the style name.


If you are working in PC Word, you can weed your Styles chunk rapidly with a FREE custom add-in macro we created for you, the CustomizeQuickStyles.dotm  

Sadly, the add-in macro does not work in Mac Word (Yet: they have been promising to fix this for more than two years, it might happen soon…) Don’t try it: you will get a compile error. Come back in a few months and we will let you know if it has been fixed yet.

To use this macro:

Simply add it to Word's STARTUP folder and it places a new button on the Home tab near the Styles chunk. Clicking the new "Quick Styles Customizer" button launches the program that will set the Quick Styles chunk the way you want it to look. Save the document to make it stick.

If you are not familiar with where Word's STARTUP folder is located, on a PC it is here:

"C:\Users\<Your Home Directory>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Word\STARTUP"

If you do not find a folder named "STARTUP" in that path on your computer, then simply create one.


The link above downloads a compressed ZIP folder named AuthorTec and inside the folder you will find the CustomizeQuickStyles.dotm template that you copy to the STARTUP folder.

Let us know how you like it!


This blog post is the second in series graciously provided by our new Contributor at Large:
John McGhie. 

Among other fine accomplishments, John is a Microsoft MVP (Word, Mac Word) and a Consultant Technical Writer at McGhie Information Engineering Pty Ltd in Sydney, Australia. 

Our new free Quick Styles Customizer tool is the result of a collaboration between John McGhie and our Chief Product Architect, Rich Michaels.

 Style(s) Over Substance


A Lesson Learned

One of the better lessons I learned very early in my computing career was:

“Always look for the lazy user: he or she will find the most efficient way to do everything!” 

I am one of the laziest you will find.

Improve Your Life

The use of styles in Microsoft Word is one of those things I can pass on to you: it’s not quite sliced bread, or a better mousetrap. But it will improve your life, by releasing a lot more of it for you to spend on things you like doing.

What is a style?

At its simplest, it’s a “named collection of formatting”. Formatting we assign a name to, so we can find it and use it again.  We collect formatting so we can apply it with a single click. Using styles, I can format well over 400 pages of text in a day, to press-ready standard.  Many people would struggle to do ten pages a day, unless they were using styles.

Let’s make some assumptions: 

You often produce substantial documents. Substantial documents are necessarily complex.

Quite often, these documents are “customer-facing” (i.e. documents that outside customers will see) so you will format and print with careful attention to design and printing, since your reputation is at stake. You often keep such documents in service for many years. And of course, you maintain them by adding and moving text around.

That’s the “Professional Documents” use case, how professionals work.

Dramatically different from the “single use” (throw-away!) documents you often see school kids produce. We all do those: write ‘em, email ‘em, delete ‘em. Presentation is not a primary concern in those.

Up there with godliness

In professional documentation, consistency is up there with godliness, and, some would suggest, well ahead of cleanliness. Consistent documents are quick to create, easy to maintain, and rugged when kept in service for many years. Styles are the way to achieve this: automatically, without thought or effort.

Remember we said a style is a “named collection” of formatting? OK, so let me format this paragraph… Because the entire world is younger than me, I chose a sans-serif font (anyone born after 1970 will struggle to read anything else). So Calibri, because I like it. I chose a font size of 11 points (12 points is a little large for corporate documents, and 10 points means us oldies have to find our glasses to read it). Then I chose a line height of “single” (that means Word will automatically adjust the height of each line to contain the font on that line). In a further article, we can discuss variations on that. On an 11-point modern font, each line will be automatically adjusted to about 14 points high. Next I need to specify the text colour (“automatic” because “black” burns up too much ink) and a face (not bold) and a variant (not italic) as well as decoration (not underlined, not strike-through…). To space the text out nicely on the page, we specify some inter-paragraph leading (10 points in this case, and always “space after”. I will explain why in another article, but it makes pagination automatic.) I justified the text flush left (ragged right) because full justification looks embarrassingly ugly and it’s hard to read. I specified… I could go on for pages here: there are something like 1,200 bits of formatting a piece of text can have in Word…

Did I apply all of this formatting to each paragraph? Yes. Every paragraph? Yes. How long did that take?  One click!


You got it!  I clicked the “Body Text” style. All formatting was applied instantly.

If the style is right, the formatting is right

Actually, I didn’t work that hard: I set my styles to automatically apply themselves each time I create a new paragraph: but that’s another thing that will have to wait for the next article, because I am running out of space here!

I do a lot of editing and proofing for a living, and some of my documents run more than 2,000 pages. I never need to check the formatting: it cannot be wrong, throughout the whole document; because all of the formatting is contained in the style. If the style is right, the formatting is right — don’t have to look, don’t have to think, every character is correct.

Wouldn’t you like your documents to be like that? Stay tuned…

This blog post has been graciously provided by our new Contributor at Large:
John McGhie. 
Among other fine accomplishments, John is a Microsoft MVP (Word, Mac Word) and a Consultant Technical Writer at McGhie Information Engineering Pty Ltd in Sydney, Australia. 


Learning Types


Here is an explanation of the Learning Types we include in our Learning Design Tool, which is a job aide for instructional designers to use during the Design phase of course development.

Written by our chief product architect, Rich Michaels.

Learning Types

Learning Types are my instructional sub-classifications or categorizations of the content to be taught. They can help the instructional designer choose the appropriate learning and assessment strategies and activities.  

Since they are my classifications, you won’t find anything written about them in the broader global arena. Here’s what I have to say about them and their purpose in our Learning Design Tool. I have to start by discussing what Learning Levels define.


Learning Levels

Learning levels generally define stages and expectations of a person’s ability to perform but they don’t quantify very well the complexity of what must be learned or taught.

Then there is the reality that instructional designers might not recognize when using the learning level taxonomy in their course designs, that certain enabling portions of an overall learning outcome may not require the same level of competency.

Bloom and others put labels on these performance expectation levels to try and help define them, but I think sometimes the labels get in the way. To really understand their purpose and how they relate to learning objectives, both Terminal and Enabling, it’s much simpler to just give them a number… A “degree of proficiency” as it were. In the Knowledge domain there are 6 degrees of proficiency and in Skill and Attitudinal domains, they each have 5 degrees of proficiency.


Framework for Learning Levels

With these degrees of proficiency in mind, you can look at your Terminal objectives and decide what’s the expected performance outcome when students complete the learning strategy that your course design lays out.

Then, as you begin to craft the Enabling objectives, which are required to achieve the master objective, I know you will often find that certain enabling objectives don’t require the same level of proficiency as the Terminal objective might. 

For example, if I am designing a course that has a single Terminal objective, which is for the students to learn how to drive a car, I might categorize the learning level outcome to be a desired 4 out of the 6 degrees of Knowledge proficiency. As I think about my design, I realize that to achieve this expectation, the design also needs three Enabling objectives that the students must master. One is “Rules of the Road” with a proficiency requirement of 4, “General Vehicle Maintenance” with a proficiency level of 2, and a “Driving Practicum” with a proficiency level of 4. A rule to keep in mind is that an Enabling objective’s learning level cannot be higher than its parent Terminal objective learning level… it can be equal to or less.


Framework for Learning Types

With the framework that Learning Levels are about a degree of proficiency that the learner is expected to achieve, then the framework for Learning Types is about the degree of difficulty/complexity of the subject matter, content and possibly even the learning environment, which ultimately impacts how learning is achieved.

It’s easier and less complex instructionally to teach and assess a learned Fact versus teaching and assessing the internalization of a Concept. Then there are Processes that often combine Facts and Concepts, and of course, are complex to teach and validate learnings.

Hopefully you see where I am going… Facts, Concepts, Processes, Procedures, Principles, and Strategies are the labels I have chosen to use as descriptors for the 6 degrees of Knowledge Learning Types. The Skill and Attitudinal domains also have their own Learning Type “degree of difficulty” labels.


The labels I have chosen for the Learning Types by domain are:


1.    Facts
2.    Concepts
3.    Processes
4.    Procedures
5.    Principles
6.    Strategies



1.    Replicating
2.    Performing
3.    Mastering
4.    Adapting
5.    Creating



1.    Forming
2.    Norming
3.    Performing
4.    Transforming
5.    Motivating


At first blush, when looking at Learning Levels and Learning Types, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume there is a one for one alignment.

  • Knowledge > Facts
  • Comprehension > Concepts
  • Application > Processes, etc.

And for many types of content instruction that alignment of proficiency and difficulty might be correct… it’s just that it’s not always correct.

Most examples of the un-alignment that I have seen come from the Knowledge domain, but I don’t want to rule out that it can occur for instructional systems in the other domains… especially if you begin designing your courses to address all domains of learning.


A person’s ability to competently perform can be generalized by this formula:

Ability = (Knowledge + Skills) * Attitude

I hope that you, and all instructional designers using the the Learning Design Tool, will incorporate this formula and its meta-framework into your learning designs. I firmly believe a Learning Design that incorporates contributions from all domains, when implemented, will achieve superior outcomes versus a single domain architecture.


About the attitudinal Learning Type descriptors…

In doing the research required to build this tool, I was least impressed with the published descriptors for both the Skills and Affective domains concerning Learning Levels. My intent, by adding Learning Types to the Learning Design Tool, is to stimulate your thinking about “how to” teach and verify achievement. And because I didn’t want to confuse you by using the same descriptors that define Learning Levels, I ultimately looked for different words to use for my Learning Types.

I have spent decades teaching people how to be effective working in teams and one of my learnings about team effectiveness is that it’s all about team member’s attitude. To label team members attitudes at various stages of the teamwork process, the words Forming, Storming, and Norming have been published and it’s from these that I chose two of the descriptors.


Regarding attitudinal achievement questions you should consider asking yourself as you complete your Learning Design…

1st Degree (Formative) – what can I do to expose learners to new ways of thinking/feeling about something with the goal of influencing them that this might be a better framework of an attitude?

2nd Degree (Normative) – what can I do that allows learners to positively align their attitude, belief, values with others in their team/group? Let them tell us how it feels and what they still feel a bit uncomfortable with doing.

3rd Degree (Performing) – what can I do that allows a full demonstration/discussion of why they chose this course of attitudinal behavior and how it contributed to their success or failure… in their own words.

4th Degree (Transformation) – what can I do that shows/documents individual transformation to a new altitudinal belief or value?

5th Degree (Motivational) – what can I do in the learning setting that allows individuals who have embraced this new attitude the opportunity to convince others that they too should follow?

I hope my ramblings about Learning Types and the Learning Design Tool help…


Including the Participant Guide in your Facilitator Guide - Good Idea or Bad?


My heart sinks every time someone tells me they always do a side-by-side setup with exact replicas of each page of their participant guide within their facilitator guide. So, I guess you know where I stand on whether or not this is a good idea.

Here are a few reasons why including the Participant Guide in your Facilitator Guide is not the best idea.



A facilitator guide will contain more text than a participant guide, in the form of instructional guidance for the facilitator. This is true even when compared to the most thorough participant guide. The sheer volume of facilitator guide content makes it impractical to have a side-by-side setup with the facilitator guide on one page and the participant guide on the facing page. 


Notes & Images

A participant guide will contain plenty of capture space for note-taking, as well a larger renditions of images, charts, graphs, etc. Replicating large images and note capture space within a facilitator guide is a waste of space.


Not Necessary

A facilitator who is using a facilitator guide can deliver the class without seeing an exact replica of the participant guide. Detailed guidance on flow and content is already in the facilitator guide.

Here are 3 ways to integrate references to the participant guide within your facilitator guide that will assist your facilitator & support a solid instructional flow.



Whenever the participant guide is needed, direct the facilitator to reference it.



Include enough information about the participant guide page(s) referenced for the facilitator to understand what the participants will be doing with those pages.


Page Numbers

Include participant guide page number references so that the facilitator can look at the specific page in his or her copy of the participant guide if desired.

While there is a need for both a facilitator guide and a participant guide, they serve different purposes. Recognizing this will help you create the best materials for both audiences, ensuring the most successful outcomes for everyone.


The 3 C's of Effective Training Materials


Effective training materials are
always driven by the 3 C's.
Clear, Concise, Complete.

Obvious as they seem, the 3 C's are not easy to achieve. 

Being clear requires:

  • starting from a reasonable set of assumptions about your audience
  • knowing what you are talking about
  • being able to write

Being concise requires:

  • having a point and being able to get to it quickly
  • understanding the key points of your message
  • leaving out the extra stuff

Being complete requires:

  • mastery of the subject matter
  •  expressing all of the necessary information
  • putting the information in context within the overall documentation

I work with subject matter experts, instructional designers, trainers - let's sum it up by saying Learning and Development professionals - from all over the globe and from every type of business and organization. And yet, not a day goes by that I don't see "Explain XYZ" with no further detail, or "Ask: What about XYZ?" with no guidance on what to listen for and how to handle it if you don't hear what you are listening for.

Which brings me back to the 3 C's. I suggest that they are worth aspiring to.

Here are a few tips for being
better at the 3 C's.

Ask yourself, am I being clear?

  • read what you have written from your set of assumptions about your audience
  • make sure you can you logically follow the train of thought
  • if what you are reading might not make sense, then it is not clear

Ask yourself, am I being concise?

  • start with your main point
  • your key points (about your main point) should be clear
  • do another edit and remove more extra stuff (create an appendix and put the extra stuff in there if it's "good to know")

Ask yourself, am I being complete?

  • have (another) subject matter expert review your content
  • read your document from start to finish and edit as needed
  • work with your information from your set of assumptions about your audience to help identify what's missing or out of order

For those of you who know me, you know I'll never be accused of being a 3 C's role model. But, it's something I aspire to. And after reading this I hope I've inspired you to aspire too.



Which comes first, the facilitator guide or the participant guide?


There are two distinct schools of thought on this subject. I am squarely in the "facilitator guide first" camp. Because from a well constructed facilitator guide you can generate a participant guide with minimal additional work. A good facilitator guide will follow the flow of the class, step-by-step. A good participant guide will too, but the instructional flow won't be obvious if you write the participant guide first. 

So, start with the facilitator guide and follow these simple tips:

1. Assume
Assume the facilitator does not know what you know.

2. Organize
Organize your facilitator guide to follow the logical flow of preparing for and then delivering the class.

3. Learning Objectives
Use your terminal and enabling learning objectives to set up your modules and lessons (topics and sub-topics).

4. Start
Start each module with a page that lists the module's goal, time allotment, a brief description of what the facilitator will be doing, and the short list of materials needed to run just this chunk of the class.

5. Time & Goal
Start each lesson with it's time allotment and goal. 

6. Follow
As you write, follow the logical flow of the class.

7. Identify
Clearly write out exactly what the facilitator needs to say and do. Include all of the necessary information. For instance, if you direct the facilitator to explain something, include either a script or the key points of what you expect the explanation to cover.

8. Timing
Include timing for significant actions within a lesson, like running a group activity.

9. Voice
Write in the same voice throughout the guide, keeping in mind that you are talking to the facilitator.

10. Be Consistent
Keep your formatting consistent and use a page layout that is easy to follow. 

11. Extract
Once your facilitator guide is complete, extract the content you need to build a participant guide.

12. Add References
Once both guidebooks are built, add participant guide page number references into the facilitator guide.

Writing a thorough facilitator guide will help to ensure a consistent delivery, no matter who the facilitator is. Even if you have a group of facilitators who are experienced and well versed in the subject matter being taught, consider scripting out exactly what is to be said every step of the way. To help overcome objections from those experienced facilitators (who will not be there forever) follow each script with it's key points.

So your flow will be:

  • Say This: Script
  • Key Points: The essence of what needs to be communicated

If you follow these guidelines there will be one more benefit, for you. You will do better work and people will notice. And who doesn't like to shine now and then?



What I Learned from Irma

I've lived and worked in Southwest Florida since August of 1996. So I've been through every hurricane that's passed over Florida since then - including Charlie and Wilma, which were particularly devastating to the Gulf coast. So you'd think I would have been prepared for Irma, but it turns out I wasn't. Here's what Irma's taught me:

1. Know your priorities.

2. Have at least 3 solid plans for emergencies.

3. Be prepared to implement each plan.

Point #3 is the one that I fell down on, because I didn't believe I'd need to use my OMG Plan C. In talking with neighbors and friends, it turns out I'm not alone. Not having the OMG plan ready to implement resulted in additional stress and placed my family and most of the people I know in additional danger. All because we didn't believe the unthinkable could happen. 

So, while I can't tell you specially what to do for your unique situation, I have a few general suggestions:

1. Gather every emergency supply you can think of, meaning items that relate to survival and items that will help comfort you in a time of distress.

2. Make sure these items are portable.

3. Store them in one spot, in easy to grab waterproof containers that are clearly labelled.

4. Include copies of insurance policies, other important papers and a list of important phone numbers (because your cell phone might not be working).

Also include a map of your state. I know we all use our phones or the GPS in our vehicles, just humor me.

5. Make sure that you can easily access your emergency supplies in the dark, and alone, and make sure they will fit in your vehicle.

6. As soon as you realize danger in possible, withdraw as much cash as you can. The minute you start to get the feeling that you might need to implement your OMG plan, just do it. Don't wait. 

I hope that you will never need to implement your OMG plan, but I'll feel better knowing that you have one.



Great Circle Learning's Richard Michaels Awarded a 2017-2018 Microsoft MVP

We are excited to announce that our Chief Product Architect, Richard Michaels, has been selected as a 2017-2018 Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP).  Microsft awards the MVP to exceptional technical community leaders who share their remarkable passion, real-world knowledge, and technical expertise with others through demonstration of exemplary commitment. This is the 5th year in a row that Richard has been awarded an MVP! Congratulations to Richard, everyone at Great Circle Learning is extremely proud of your work and involvement with the community. 

Join us and learn how to save time and reduce stress when developing training programs

How to Save Time and Reduce Stress During the Development Phase of ISD Projects

Friday, February 3, 2017
3 - 4 p.m. EST
Web Session


There never is enough time to get our work done and we stress over it, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Often we are the cause of the problem… to our project and to ourselves. This session provides tips, techniques, demonstrations and even free software that can help.

  1. Learn how to Improve Your Development Phase Work Process
  2. Learn how to Save Time by Automating Repetitive Tasks
  3. Get tips for How to Use Microsoft Word Like the Pros Do
  4. Explore demos of Productivity Software You Should Know About

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Session: Save time and Reduce Stress during Development

Jan. 30 at 12:45 Session SS06
Richard Michaels, Microsoft MVP and Work Process Automation Expert

There never is enough time to get our work done and we stress over it, but it doesn't have to be that way. Often we are the cause of the problem... to our project and to ourselves. This session provides tips, techniques, demonstrations and even free software that can help. You'll learn how to:

  1. Improve Your Development Phase Work Process
  2. Save Time by Automating Repetitive Tasks
  3. Use Microsoft Word Like the Pros Do

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Session: 3 Ways to Build Excellent Virtual and Traditional Classroom Facilitator Guides in Half the Time

Wed. Jan 11 at 1 p.m. Session W22EXD

Whether your classroom is virtual or traditional, nothing is harder than building a facilitator guide that any facilitator can use to consistently deliver instruction, staying on track and on time. Scripting content, annotating and tracking time, and building a visually compelling document are the foundations of facilitator guides that deliver, and the key tasks this session will address.