Using combo boxes in editorial style sheets

Last updated 5 October 2023

I am a huge advocate of comprehensive and well-organised editorial style sheets. When copyediting and proofreading, they help me to clearly summarise the style decisions I’ve made and communicate them to my client. And, in my project management work, they are indispensable tools for corralling copyeditors on multi-editor projects and for keeping styles consistent throughout copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, collating and indexing. I’ve previously written about how editors should never fail to provide a proper style sheet (see point 4).

I’ve recently been experimenting with a new technique in my own editorial style sheets: the use of the combo box (also known as a dropdown list). These allow inputting of a set of pre-defined options, one of which is later chosen by clicking on the list and selecting an item.


So how can combo boxes be used in style sheets? Well, I find that the process of compiling a style sheet can be quite time consuming. Yes, I can create a template with the main categories listed (e.g., headings capitalisation, number range elision, treatment of ellipses), but I still have to manually type out what style I have elected to follow for each category. It’s fiddly and dull.

Enter the combo box.

With combo boxes, your style sheet template can have all the possible options for each style category. For example, for headings, I might want any of the following:

  1. sentence case
  2. title case (cap. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs)
  3. APA title case (cap. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs + all other words of 4+ letters)

Each of these can be plugged in as an option in your ‘headings style’ combo box.

This method has many advantages, including:

  1. efficiency: two clicks and your chosen style is recorded
  2. accuracy: no possibility of typos or of hurried typing leading to lack of clarity
  3. comprehensiveness: setting up a template that covers all possibilities means you can’t forget to record a style decision – each style category will eyeball you until you input an option


(Note that these instructions are for Word 2016 on a PC, but the methodology for previous versions of Word and for Macs will be similar.)

1. Check that the Developer tab is visible in Word. If it’s not, go to File > Options > Customize Ribbon and tick the Developer option.

The Customize Ribbon editor in Word

2. In your document, place the cursor where you want the combo box to appear. Then, on the Developer tab, find the Controls group and click the Combo Box Content Control tool.

The location of the Combo Box tool

3. You should get a rather ugly box appear in the document, looking something like this.

A combo box in Word

4. Ensure the combo box control is selected (it should be by default immediately after you add it) and click the Properties tool, back up on the Developer tab.

The location of the Properties dialog

5. There are various options that advanced users might want to consider (e.g., applying a certain style to the entered text). However, the only essential portion of this box is the bottom section, which is where you can add, modify, delete, rename and reorder your combo box’s options. Here is what the Properties box looks like after I enter the above three options for the capitalisation of headings.

Amending the properties of a combo box

6. Repeat as necessary to create combo boxes for all the options you need for your line(s) of work.

7. Now here’s the clever bit. Sending your client a style sheet with all the options still available might be risky: somebody could accidentally change one of your selections. But macro guru Paul Beverley has sourced a simple macro that removes the combo boxes, leaving behind the selected text and thus creating a final snapshot of your style sheet that you can send to your client. Here is the macro in its entirety:

Sub ComboBoxAccept()
For Each cc In ActiveDocument.ContentControls
    cc.LockContentControl = False
End Sub

(If you need guidance on how to install this macro, read Paul’s excellent – and free – book, available here.)

8. And that’s it. From these basics, complex combinations of combo boxes can be compiled to create chains of clickable, customised categories. (See what I did there?) For example:

Example of a completed combo box string

Go forth and create combo boxes! And please comment with any creative uses you dream up.

About Hazel Bird

Hazel delivers editorial services that empower non-profits, charities, businesses and authors to confidently share their expertise and impact. An editor since 2009, she aims to see the big picture while pinpointing every detail. She has been described as ‘superhuman’ and a ‘secret weapon', but until Tony Stark comes calling she's dedicating her superpowers to text-based endeavours.


  1. Denise Cowle on 15 April 2016 at 14:33

    Great article, Hazel. We’re discussing ‘how to return a job’ at the Glasgow SfEP meeting next week, and of course style sheets will be a big part of it. Can’t wait to bring this up – I don’t think anyone does this, but it would be a great time saver once the initial set-up is done. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hazel Bird on 15 April 2016 at 15:07

      That’s great, Denise. I hope the Glasgow members find the idea useful!

  2. […] and worthwhile, I think it necessary to mention it on An American Editor. Today, I read “Using Combo Boxes in Style Sheets“, which was written by Hazel Harris and posted at Hazel Bird’s (Wordstitch Editorial […]

  3. Sally Jane Asnicar on 17 April 2016 at 11:36

    I confess I almost ignored this post when it was forwarded by Richard Adin (‘too hard basket’) but I am so glad I read it and tried it out. Thanks so much!

  4. Margaret Hunter on 21 April 2016 at 11:15

    Great idea, Hazel. I’ve had a basic style sheet template for years with the various categories/headings (and a letter grid for spellings) but using the combo boxes will certainly speed things up. Thanks!

  5. Miranda Bethell on 11 May 2016 at 11:29

    ‘From these basics, complex combinations of combo boxes can be compiled to create chains of clickable, customised categories. (See what I did there?)’

    Lovely alliteration, Hazel, and great article. Made an example for myself straightaway, and will use it to transform all my complicated pattern sheets!

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