Default Paragraph Font Explained

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This article is primarily targeted to Word 97 and 2000, in which the Style dropdown list in a new document displays five styles: Normal, Headings 1–3, and Default Paragraph Font (see below). (Word 2002 and above by default do not display Default Paragraph Font in the Styles list or Styles and Formatting or Styles task pane, but they add further confusion by listing Clear Formatting or Clear All instead; for more on this see the end of this article.)

Users often want to know how they can change the Default Paragraph Font. In order to understand this issue, it is necessary to understand what the Default Paragraph Font is.

It can be anything

The Default Paragraph Font (we’ll call it DPF for short) is not any specific font. It is the font defined for any given paragraph style—the font used in a paragraph when no direct font formatting or character style has been applied. In Word 2000–2003, in a document based on the default (that is, a copy of in which no styles have been modified), the DPF for the Normal style is 12-point Times New Roman. The DPF for Heading 1 is 16-point Arial Bold; for Heading 2, 14-point Arial Bold Italic; for Heading 3, 13-point Arial Bold. And so on. Word 2007 introduces new fonts for these styles, but the principle is the same.

It is not the same as the default font

The DPF is not the same thing as the default font. In Word 2003 and earlier, the default font of a document or template is the font used by the Normal style. You can change the default font of the Normal template ( or another attached template by selecting a different font in the Format | Font dialog, clicking the Default… button, and then answering yes to the ensuing dialog box, which asks if you want to save this change to the template. If you want to change the default font for a given document without changing it for the template, you can change the font of the Normal style and not check the “Add to template” box; for more on modifying styles, see “How to modify a style in Word.”

In Word 2007 and above, the default Body and Headings fonts are determined by the theme applied, and confusion about the Default Paragraph Font, though it may still arise, is not generated by the Styles display, since the DPF listing is hidden by default. In addition, the default font can be different from the font of the Normal style, though it is recommended that the font be changed in the document defaults (so that Normal follows) rather than in the Normal style (see “How to change the default settings for Word documents”).

The display never changes

When you start Word with a fresh document based on the default Normal template, the Default Paragraph Font character style will be displayed in the Style menu as the font of the default Normal style, which is 10-point Times New Roman in Word 97 and 12-point TNR in Word 2000, 2002, and 2003. The important thing to realize (which will save you a lot of confusion and frustration) is that this display never changes! Even if you have the insertion point in a Heading 1 paragraph (where the DPF is 16-point Arial Bold), and even if you have changed the default font to, say, 10-point Arial, Word will still show 10- or 12-point Times New Roman.

In Word 2002 and 2003, the Style list and Styles and Formatting task pane do not list Default Paragraph Font by default. If you choose to add it to the styles displayed, no specific font is associated with it, and if you mouse over it in the task pane, you’ll see “The font of the underlying paragraph style +”—which certainly makes it easier to understand!

What is it good for?

Suppose you have changed the font formatting of part or all of a paragraph and want to return it to the default font formatting of the style. One way to do this is to select the text and press Ctrl+Spacebar. Another is to apply the Default Paragraph Font character style from the Style menu. In other words, applying this “style” is actually a way of removing direct formatting.

Where this can be especially useful is in the Replace dialog. Suppose you want to search for bold text and remove the bold formatting only if it is direct formatting, not defined by the style. If you press Ctrl+B in the “Find what” box, you’ll get Format: Bold. If you press Ctrl+B twice in the “Replace with” box, you’ll get Format: Not Bold. This combination will find bold text and remove the bold formatting, but it will remove it from all the bold text, even the headings that are supposed to be bold. But if you search for Format: Bold and replace with Default Paragraph Font, you will remove only the direct formatting, leaving the bold styles alone. (To select the Default Paragraph Font in the Replace dialog, click More (if necessary) to expand the dialog, then click Format, select Style, and then click on Default Paragraph Font.)

Incidentally, you might think that Ctrl+Spacebar would work the same here as in a document; unfortunately, it does not (though it is a shortcut for clearing formatting from the “Find what” box before you run the next Replace operation).

Clearing formatting

We said above that applying the Default Paragraph Font is the equivalent of using the Ctrl+Spacebar shortcut (which executes the ResetChar command) to remove direct font formatting. In similar fashion, you can use the Ctrl+Q shortcut (ResetPara) to remove direct paragraph formatting. Both these shortcuts restore the default formatting of the style, whether it is Normal, Body Text, a Heading style, or some other style. As seen above, this may result in leaving the text formatted as bold, italic, or a large size (if that’s part of the style definition).

So what happens if you want to remove all formatting from text, returning it to the default Normal style? The shortcut Ctrl+Shift+N will apply the Normal style, which you would think would have the effect of removing direct formatting, but sometimes it does not; some direct font formatting may remain. For this reason, Word 2002 and 2003 have added a Clear Formatting item to the Styles list and Styles and Formatting task pane (in Word 2007 and above, Clear All in the Styles pane). Applying this “style” has the effect of removing all direct font and paragraph formatting and applying the Normal style.

This article copyright © 2003, 2016 by Suzanne S. Barnhill.