Originally Posted by Gregg Bell
Man, I don't know what you guys are talking about with the styles being so helpful. I've just been taking regular old MS Office Word 2003 docs (with no attempt to use styles) and cleaning them up in Notepad++ and then finishing them off in Sigil. It works out great. Am I missing something here?
Since you are currently getting by without styles you may wonder if they are worth it. But the real point is that styles are no harder to use than any other formatting, it's just a matter of altering your habits to avoid the formatting toolbar and using styles instead. Get used to doing this and you get all the advantages of consistent formatting with no extra effort - and you will see the benefit especially when dealing with epubs.
I do go on a lot. So rather than clutter, I've enclosed my rambling in spoilers.
Lots of people have, for years, been using the various office software without much awareness of styles. They produce wonderful and pretty one-page letters and sometimes more interesting documents, but what marks them out from the others is that the moment you go to change something about the layout the entire document starts to fall part. In simple documents, being forced to re-type and/or reformat from scratch isn't that big a problem, so people live with it and never learn any better.
Those of us that have had to create long documents (manuals etc.) quickly learn that having to go through and find every instance of some formatting choice and alter it to a new preference is a PITA. And since such documents often go to multiple output formats, the problem quickly gets out of hand.
One example that is difficult/impossible to achieve without knowing about styles, but very easy with styles, is switching between different paragraph formats. For example swapping between indent-first-line, no paragraph separation, and no-indent-first-line and paragraph indentation. And these choices multiply as your document gains additional formatted elements.
A typical novel is not, necessarily, that much of an issue. There are chapter headings (people often manage to use styles for these even when they don't realise they are), plain paragraph text and emphasis - and in some cases that's all. As long as you're careful never to use spaces and tabs to create indented text or similar "one-offs" (that all too often turn out to be many-offs), then - providing you stay right away from using any explicit font type and size choices - you'll get along without much awareness of styles.
But then we move to ebooks - epub/xhmtl etc. These are intended to use CSS (ie. styles), and where layout is usually done in relative terms (relative to screen or base font size). Yes, they can accept most ordinary HTML, but some choices are not acceptable. As you get more adventurous the chances are you will start to run into trouble. Consistent use of styles in your source document can help you to avoid, or minimise the impact of, that trouble.
My export to epub from LO produces an xhtml document with CSS based on the styles I've used inside my document. When I want to alter how some particular piece of formatting is done (eg: embedded correspondence between protagonists) then I alter the CSS and all instances will use that. If I want to change the layout of chapter headings, I do that once in the CSS and all chapter headings follow. etc. etc. etc.. This same centralised management of your formatting applies as much to your original document as it does to the epub, but it is particularly noticeable in epubs (and similar outputs), because the output is across multiple files (hidden inside the epub) and they become difficult to manage any other way. It is MUCH easier to create a valid, well formatted, epub if your original source used styles consistently.