Word: Applying a template to a new document doesn’t transfer Heading styles

September 23, 2015

This blog post is about a glitch with outline numbered headings I found in Word 2013. It works fine in Word 2010.


You open a new blank document, then decide to apply a particular template’s styles to that document. All the styles come through fine, except the outline numbered Heading styles. The template uses multilevel outline numbering Heading styles, but none of the numbers come through.

NOTE: If you start a new document based on the template, you get all the numbered Heading styles as expected; this post is only about the scenario where you start a blank document, and then apply the template to it.


Method 1: Start the new document based on the template

This option is best for a new document, not one you’ve already started (unless you’ve only added a few words, in which case start again using this method). If you’ve already started your document and are well into it, then use Method 2 below.

  1. Go to File > New then click Shared. (See the Note below)
  2. Select the template to base this document on.
  3. Off you go!

Note: See this blog post for how to tell Word where your templates are and how to select them easily: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/word-finding-your-own-templates/.

Method 2a: Attach the template and apply its styles to the new document

First, you have to attach the template to your new document and apply the styles. This will get most of them. If you’re using outline numbering and the numbering doesn’t come across, then follow the steps in Method 2b. If you’re not using outline numbering for headings, then ignore Method 2b.

  1. Make sure the Developer tab is visible (File > Options > Customize ribbon then click the Developer check box in the panel on the right side).
  2. On the Developer tab, click Document Template.
  3. Click Attach.
  4. Select the template, then click Open.
  5. Select the Automatically update document styles check box, then click OK.
  6. On the Developer tab, click Document Template again.
  7. Clear the Automatically update document styles check box, then click OK. Yes, you MUST uncheck it after you’ve applied the template.

The document should now have all the styles available to you that are in the template.

If you’re using outline numbered headings and the numbers haven’t come across, follow the next set of steps.

Method 2b: Copy the numbered Heading styles from the template to the current document

NOTE: There’s a new feature in Word 2013 — the Design tab. I found that this worked — to a degree. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, the outline numbering clobbered the Bullet styles! So I don’t recommend resetting the styles from the template using the Design tab.

Let’s do it the way that I know works, and that doesn’t clobber any other styles.

  1. Attach the template and apply its styles (see Method 2a above).
  2. Open the Styles pane (Ctrl+Shift+Alt+S).
  3. At the bottom of the Styles pane, click on the Manage Styles icon (third from the left at the bottom).
  4. Click the Import/Export button at the bottom left of the Manage Styles window.
  5. On the Organizer window, go to the right side and click the Close File button to close Normal.dotm. DO NOT click the Close File button on the left.
  6. Still on the right side of the Organizer window, click Open File.
  7. Choose your template. The styles from your template populate the right side of the Organizer window.
  8. On the right side, select your heading styles (e.g. Heading 1 to Heading 5, if they’re your outline numbered heading levels as defined in your template). Use Click+Shift to select multiple styles.
  9. In the middle of the window, click Copy to copy these styles into your current document (i.e. the left side).
  10. Click Yes to all to overwrite the styles that have the same name in the current document.
  11. Click Close.
  12. You may have to adjust your tab indents for the outline numbered Heading styles (see the NOTE below).

NOTE: In my testing, although the outline numbering came across, the tab and hanging indents weren’t quite right and I had to modify those in the Styles pane. This was a simple task that took a minute or so for all five heading styles — and is MUCH quicker and less stressful than trying to set up your multilevel outline numbered headings again!

One comment

  1. Rhonda – thanks for this! I had need of this a couple of hours after getting your email. I have tried it before but the styles got screwed up… so gave up.
    Yesterday, I was using Method 2a to apply an updated template with similar styles to the original but found that I had to remove the template styles first from the Organiser window to avoid confusion, then bring all the styles over using your instructions. It worked perfectly. Thanks!

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