Optimal Method for Placing MS Word Text Into InDesign

In my work I often combine MS Word files from dozens of different authors into a single book, and all of these Word files use vastly different styles. While it is possible to import styles from Word to InDesign, I’ve found that in an environment with potentially hundreds of authors there is no hope to work out a consistent workflow in which mapping of styles between Word and InDesign can take place. The last thing I want to do is import all these different authors’ styles into my InDesign document! In such environments I’ve found the best way to import the text is to strip out ALL styles so they don’t pollute my own, but I DO preserve local overrides long enough for me to use find/change to replace bold, italic, superscript, etc. with my character styles.

Here is my favorite method for importing Word documents:

* Prior to using this method, you must first have character styles created to preserve italic, bold, superscript, and other character-level formatting in your document. We will be removing ALL local overrides from the imported text; the key to this method is using find/change to quickly convert desired formatting from local overrides into character styles, so that when we remove all overrides, only the character styles will remain. You may need to take a moment to create bold, italic, and other needed character styles as needed; be sure that these character styles apply only the necessary formatting and nothing more.

  1. Before placing I choose my default paragraph style (usually my body text) and no character style. I do this by selecting the styles while I have nothing selected. These defaults will be used by the incoming text.
  2. Use File: Place (or the keyboard shortcut) and enable the “Show Import Options” checkbox in the place dialog.
  3. In the Import Options dialog, choose the “Remove Styles and Formatting” bullet, but also select the “Preserve Local Overrides” checkbox, then click ok.
  4. If desired, use autoflow (when your cursor shows the loaded text icon, hold shift to enable autoflow) to quickly flow the text into your document.
  5. The next several steps use Find/Change. To run Find/Change only on the story you just placed, first place your text cursor somewhere in the text, then open Find/change (in the Edit menu, or the keyboard shortcut). In the Find/Change dialog, make sure that it is set to always set to search the current story, not the entire document (unless you want to search the entire document). Somtimes this setting will change automatically, so it’s a good idea to check it each time you load a query.
  6. Use previously saved queries to quickly replace text and formatting. Select the saved query at the top of the Find/Change dialog. InDesign ships with a number of useful queries (removing multiple returns, multiple spaces, and trailing white space, for example); in addition, you can easily save your own for future use by clicking the disk icon to the right of the query selector. Below you can see a screenshot of my Find/Change dialog with the query list expanded, showing a few queries that I’ve saved:
  7. To find/change formatting for which you do not yet have a saved query, ensure that the “Find what:” and “Change to:” fields are blank, then click the “More Options” button on the right and you’ll see that you can search for and replace formatting. Click in the “Find Format” box and choose the local formatting you wish to find, such as “Basic Character Formats: Font Style: Italic” and then click in the “Change Format” box and choose the character style you’d like to change it to, in this case your “Italic” character style. Then do a replace all. You can also save this query for future use.
  8. Once I’ve used find/change to quickly clean up the text and replace all local overrides I need to preserve with character styles, I select all the text in the story and click the remove all overrides at the bottom of the paragraph styles panel. Since character styles are not treated as overrides, they will remain while all the rest of the unwanted Word formatting will be removed. 
  9. All that remains is to apply my paragraph styles, which usually goes pretty quickly. I arrange my screen so I have my InDesign file on the left and the Word file on the right, and I quickly go through the two documents, applying my subheads, block quotes, bullets, and other paragraph styles as necessary. I usually combine this step with the usual layout tasks of type fitting, image placement, table & figure design, etc.

And that’s it! This workflow has the advantage of preserving the most difficult formatting to recreate; imagine having to manually hunt down every footnote marker and every italicized word in a 100 page technical document. The only formatting you must manually apply using this method are your paragraph styles, which is an easy process that does not take very long; in fact, it would have taken much longer to clean up all those messy Word styles if you had allowed them into your document!

Note: I originally wrote portions of this article as a response to a question in the LinkedIn InDesign Group.

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11 Responses to Optimal Method for Placing MS Word Text Into InDesign

  1. Joshua Goodman November 21, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    On a related note. I have a Technical Manual in five languages. I would like to use the same styles for each but change the language. I thought of Style Groups, but then I have to open every style (there are about 15 Paragraph Styles) and change the language in each one. It’s kind of a pain.
    The question is, is there a way to do this smoothly. i.e. I have the same styles (I just copied from folder to folder) in each of five Style Group folders. Can I somehow say “Change one attribute (Language) in all these styles from English to French (or German or Latin or Whatever…well, maybe not Latin)”?

    • Paul Erdman November 22, 2011 at 11:43 am #

      Good question. InDesign does not have the ability to edit multiple styles at once, unfortunately, and I’m not aware of any scripts or plugins that can do this (although there very well may be some out there that can do this). If necessary, I can probably put you in contact with someone who could script you a custom solution for this.

      However, InDesign does have a built-in solution that would reduce the number of styles you need to edit: the “based on” feature. If you build your paragraph styles in families based on one or several “parents,” then the “children” of those parents will inherit all properties. So in this secenario, if you had all your styles based on a single original style that set the language, then you’d only have to change the language once, and that change would trickle down to all the other styles through inheritance.

      Basing styles on other styles can be tricky can it can have unexpected consequences, but when used carefully it can accomplish exactly what you’re looking for: the ability to make global changes to an entire document quickly and easlily. If you take some time to redo your styles and base them on a common parent, then you can have this functionality with no custom scripting or purchase of extra plugins.

  2. Rhiannon February 23, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Joshua: Have a ‘Parent’ style defining all the attributes that are the same for all the styles, and base all your styles on this style. Then in each document just change the language in the parent style and it will propagate through to all the child styles.

  3. Jelle October 19, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    My view on this is that manually applying styles leaves to much space for error. And unless you are designing a new layout, you should always work with the styles the author created. If you clean them up right, you can be certain no errors were made.

    • Paul Erdman January 2, 2013 at 11:01 am #

      I’ve not yet been blessed with an author that used styles properly in Word. In most cases they use incorrect and inconsistent methods for formatting their text, so if I were to preserve their styles when importing, I would have a real mess on my hands, with dozens of imported styles polluting my stylesheet.

      So I recommend doing a test import with each new author you work with. Import a document and see how they use styles. If they actually use them im a way that makes sense and you can use InDesign’s custom style import mapping when placing the file, then that would be wonderful! Unfortunately I’ve not yet worked in a situation where this scenario panned out.

      So again, if I don’t end up in the blessed panacea, I strip styles but preserve overrides during import. Then I use find/change to replace overrides with character styles. Then I strip all remaining overrides. The last step is a side-by-side document comparison to manually apply paragraph styles.

  4. D bhelsewale March 5, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    i am placing a MSword 2013 file in Adobe indesign 6 contain hindi font but while placing in some letters are missing. example if I place esa (mein) the result is e (m) letters.

    • Paul Erdman March 5, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      Unfortunately this is not something I have much experience in, but I’ve researched your question. Using CS6 is certainly the place to start, as support for Hindi is new in this version. Make sure you have all updates installed.

      Have you set your InDesign preferences appropriately, per this support doc?

      Also, if you use the Glyphs Panel (in the Type menu) does the proper glyph appear in the font you’re using? If so, you could do a find/change to switch the substituted glyphs, if all else fails.

  5. Jamie April 11, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi Paul – I have a document originally in .pdf format that i have to import into Indesign. I have saved the .pdf doc as a Word doc which seemed to go well. From there I imported the Word doc into Indesign but have lost all the word spacing – is there something in Find and Replace that will fix this?



    • Paul Erdman May 1, 2013 at 8:54 am #

      Sorry for my delayed response; my website stopped e-mailing me when new comments were posted, so I only just now learned of this comment.

      First of all, if you want to preserve the exact look of the PDF and don’t need to edit it at all, simply place the PDF. It will be treated as an image. To place anything other than page 1 of the PDF, check the “Show import options” checkbox on the place dialog screen.

      However, I’m guessing you’re trying to import the text from the PDF into your document—in which case what you’ve done so far makes perfect sense. When you say you “have lost all the word spacing”—I guess I need you to be more specific. Are you saying there are no spaces between any of the words? Or that the word spacing looks different than you would like it to? Typically find/change might be able to be used for something like this, but ultimately the formatting will be fixed using a paragraph style.

      If you’re still working on this project please e-mail me.

  6. Martim June 7, 2015 at 11:17 pm #

    This tip helped me out a lot more than the “official” Adobe forum. Thanks!


  1. This Week in InDesign Articles, Number 66 | InDesignSecrets - September 2, 2011

    […] While in most cases, I prefer to apply styles in Word, then maintain them (by having the same-named styles in InDesign). However, in some cases — like when dealing with multiple authors who have made a mess of their files — it’s best to just strip out all the paragraph styles and start from scratch. Here’s a good step-by-step that discusses this workflow. […]

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