InDesign to MS Word

**Update 1/14/2013: I’ve been informed by a representative from the plugin development company Markzware that their product PageZephyr Allows people to extract text not only from InDesign files, but also Publisher and Quark—even if you do not have these software programs installed on your computer, or have the wrong versions. I downloaded and tested the free trial version today; I was quite impressed with my quick overview. I Don’t have Quark, but I do have some Quark files that have been sent to me, and PageZephyr showed me their text contents quite nicely. It also showed me text from all my InDesign files. I did notice that, at least in the preview window, it seemed to lose all table formatting, and treat each table cell as a paragraph, which could be a real problem if you have tables in your document, but there may be a setting for this. My intent here is not to give a detailed review of Page Zephyr, but to make my article more complete by offering a 3rd party solution to this issue.**

I’ve written a couple of articles about importing content from MS Office into InDesign. But what about going the other way? I was recently asked to do this for a client and had to struggle a bit to find the most effective way to accomplish the task. I found limited resources on the Internet, so I decided to write my own article on the topic.

But first, we must ask Why? Why would you ever want to go back from your beautiful final layout to the lowly word processing stage? There aren’t many good reasons to do this. In this case, the book had been rushed to layout before it had been sufficiently edited, which resulted in extensive (and expensive) post-layout edits made directly in InDesign that were not reflected in the author’s MS Word manuscript. But now the author wants to revise his book for the next edition. So we either force the author to buy InDesign or InCopy and learn to use it, or we export the book back to MS Word. In this case I certainly feel it is appropriate to go back to Word. I’m sure there are a few other situations in which this may be needed as well, but it should be pointed out that this is not how the software is intended to be used, and because of this there really isn’t an elegant solution.

I tried 4 methods to get the document from InDesign to Word. In my experience, none of these methods were very satisfactory. I found the best results using the copy/paste method. However, please note that with a reasonable amount of forethought, in most cases going from InDesign back to Word can be avoided all together. I will review each method and then present a summary.

Select all text, Copy/Paste

*preferred method for text heavy, single-story documents*

Method:simply select al the text in a single story, copy it, and then paste it into Word. Then export graphics separately and manually insert into Word.As for the graphics, Acrobat Pro can export all raster (pixel based) easily; in Acrobat X, go to Tools: Document Processing: Export All Images. However, any vector graphics will not be recognized by this tool. To export vector graphics, especially ones not compatible with MS Word in their native format (such as cropped PDF pages, which I often use in InDesign), select each image in InDesign and export the selection as a JPG.


  • preserves appearance better than export RTF
  • gets all text in a single story
  • preserves paragraph/character styles
  • preserves footnotes
  • works for a single story, so unsuitable for some layouts
  • images are not included with text export, but must be exported separately and then manually inserted into the text in Word.
  • If the images are vector based, they must be exported one at a time from InDesign.
  • may require editing of styles for proper appearance

Export RTF

method: click cursor in a story, go to file, choose export: RTF.


  • same as copy/paste.
  • does not preserve appearance as well as copy/paste
  • harder to do than copy/paste

Export PDF / Save as Word from Acrobat

method: Export file or book to PDF, then open PDF in Acrobat Pro and export as a Word document. Exact steps to do this depend on your version; in Acrobat X, go to the File menu and choose “Save As: Microsoft Word: Word 1998-2003 Document.” When I used the “Word Document” option, I got a file that would cause my version of Word (2007) to crash when trying to open it.


  • exports multiple stories simultaneously
  • preserves some graphics and approximate position


  • does not preserve some charts and graphics, as vector graphics with text will be converted to text and their formatting lost
  • Does not preserve styles
  • converts footnotes to inline paragraphs
  • converts lists to typed numbers and bullets
  • may cause hyphenations from InDesign to become permanent
  • may include headers, footers, and other unwanted text in the body text
  • may make a complete mess of some content (especially vector-based charts, as mentioned above)

Export to PDF / Use a 3rd Party Convert to Word Utility

method: export the document or book to PDF and then use a third party converter, such as PDF Online.


  • may preserve formatting better than Export to PDF / Save as Word from Acrobat.


  • Same limitations as listed for Export to PDF / Save for Word from Acrobat.
  • May involve additional cost.

Summary of methods

As a general rule, I’ve always said never work from a PDF if you have the source document, and this still continues to be true in light of my recent testing. If you wish to preserve InDesign footnotes, don’t export to PDF and then go to Word. If you do, your footnotes will be converted to regular paragraphs. In addition, if you use paragraph and character styles, copying/pasting stories will preserve those styles so that you can more easily format the document in Word simply by editing the styles rather than the individual paragraphs.

If you have a graphics heavy layout or a design with many separate stories or unthreaded text frames, then you may wish to try the export to PDF route. This becomes even more true if you have no footnotes to preserve. However, don’t be surprised to see permanent hyphens, running headers / footers, and/or vector graphic content mixed up in the body text of your document.

There isn’t an easy answer, but certainly for the text heavy book I needed to export the best method was to copy/paste the text and then export each vector graphic (which was a cropped PDF page) to JPG and then insert into the Word doc just so the author could see approximately where they appeared in the layout, and get an idea of how they look. The book contained no raster images, so in this case I was not able to use the image export tool from Acrobat Pro.


4 Responses to InDesign to MS Word

  1. Jon vG January 26, 2014 at 2:22 am #

    Ideally, edits are finalized pre-design,but, as you mention, late edits are a fact of life.

    Often clients see the fully formatted and laid-out version and only then see more things to edit.

    Sometimes customer wants to show a boss a fully laid out version to look good to the boss—then boss “must” edit.

    Or the writer may need to rework paragraphs or bullet lists to handle excess widows and orphans.

    • Paul Erdman February 10, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

      True, but post-layout edits are no reason to take the layout back into Word! On any but the simplest of layouts, this is a really bad idea.

      Once the piece is laid out, any post-layout edits should use a PDF mark-up review process, or use track changes in the Word file to see what changes need to be made to the layout file.

  2. anon July 20, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    I think this is what I am looking for. I have a yearbook for a club I belong to that has to be updated every year. I’m the only one with indesign so my options are to leave the book in indesign or somehow convert the book to a word document so other people can open and make minor changes in it. I wasn’t even sure if this is possible. So I appreciate the article and if anyone else has any advice on how to do this I’d appreciate it. So far I’m just cutting and pasting, which does work but I’m still having trouble getting it in a book format.

  3. Guy March 31, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    I generated a press quality PDF with Indesign CS6 then opened the PDF in Acrobat Pro 10.1.13 and exported it as MS Word. The resulting docx Word file looked fantastic. It even had all styles and all my intricate notation vector graphics. Super!!

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