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Knowledge Center: Graphic Design
InDesign Magazine

Importing Microsoft Word files into InDesign

Here's how to make the best of working with Word.

by Pariah S. Burke
Until and unless the world at large gets on the Buzzword bandwagon, or Adobe begins actually trying to sell InCopy, Microsoft Word will continue to be the de facto standard word processor. And, for people like you and me, the majority of our layouts' copy will continue to arrive in the form of Word documents. Ugh!
Still, with a little knowledge and a decent strategy, importing and styling copy from Word needn't be arduous or tedious. I'll show you how to be productive despite the software.

Getting the Best Import

The most successful imports from Word maximize compatibility and minimize manual cleanup. That requires fully understanding InDesign's Microsoft Word Import Options dialog box (Figure 1). You can get to the following options by selecting Show Import Options in InDesign's Place dialog while importing a Word or RTF file. At the top of the dialog is the Preset menu, which is probably empty. The idea is that you'll create your own presets to speed up later imports of the same type of Word documents, from the same or similar sources.
Figure 1: The Microsoft Word Import Options dialog box in InDesign CS4 (left) and CS5 (right).
Word Import Options dialog box In the Include section, you decide what special Word text you want to import, if any, and check the appropriate boxes. Note that neither a table of contents nor index will convert as automatically updated InDesign text. Word tables of contents will not become InDesign TOCs, updating automatically to reflect the page numbers of text laid out in InDesign. Nor will index entries. They'll be plain "dumb" or "straight" text inserted as part of the placed story.
Footnotes and endnotes, however, will be live. They may be renumbered to account for any footnotes in the current document, and they'll reflect InDesign's footnote settings rather than Word's, but footnotes and their references are preserved. Endnotes will be placed at the end of the placed story.
The option "Use Typographer's Quotes" converts inch (") and foot (') marks in the Word document to proper quotation and apostrophe marks. Be careful with this setting, though! By default, Word automatically converts "dumb" or "straight" quotes to "smart" or "typographer's" quotes as users type; thus any straight quotes in the Word document may identify actual inches or feet, or coordinate minutes and seconds.
In the Formatting section, you choose how styles and formatting from the Word document are handled in the InDesign document. Your first choice, which works when the Word file is a total mess, is to start fresh, importing only text without formatting of any kind, with the Remove Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables radio button option. Once chosen, you can elect to keep formatting (bold, italics, etc.) with the Preserve Local Overrides option. At this point, you can also control how InDesign should handle tables: left as tables unformatted or converted to tabbed text, also unformatted.
Electing to Preserve Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables activates a slew of other options. First up is the question of what do with page breaks created in Word—dump them (No Breaks); keep them such that, where the story broke pages in Word it will also break in InDesign (Preserve Page Breaks); or convert the page breaks to column breaks (Convert to Column Breaks). The last option is most often useful when taking a single-column Word document and flowing it into a multiple column InDesign layout.
Import Inline Graphics will import graphics pasted inline with text in Word as inline graphic objects in InDesign. At first blush that may sound undesirable, but remember that InDesign's inline graphic objects are contained in graphic frames, and you can convert them from inline to above line or anchored objects by changing the settings under Object > Anchored Object > Anchored Object Options.
Unless you have good reason to do otherwise, leave Import Unused Styles disabled because it will bring in all styles present in Word that are not used in the imported document.
Track Changes for InCopy (CS4) and Track Changes (CS5) will import Word's internal document revision markup if changes had been tracked in Word. Additions, deletions, and comments will be converted from Word's format to InCopy's (CS4) or InDesign's and InCopy's (CS5) equivalent formats. Note that the addition of Track Changes features is the only CS5-specific change relative to the Word document import process.

More Help with Word Docs

To learn more about this topic, see our previous InDesign Magazine coverage:
  • "The Secret Script" by Cari Jansen in the October | November 2008 issue (#26) helps you automate file clean-up after importing from Word.
  • "InTime: Save Layout Time with Editorial Templates," which I wrote, is about editorial template best practices. It also appears in the October | November 2008 issue (#26).
By default, text that is bulleted or numbered in Word will be bulleted or numbered in InDesign, using InDesign's own dynamic bullets and numbers. Checking Convert Bullets and Numbers to Text will instead convert live bullets to standard text bullet characters and live numbers in a list to straight numbers.
Finally, you must choose how paragraph and character styles in use in the Word document come into InDesign. If you select Import Styles Automatically, all in-use text styles will end up in InDesign as paragraph or character styles. If styles of the same name already exist in the InDesign document, you'll have what's called style conflicts. These conflicts must be resolved somehow. Your choices, available from the two dropdown menus, are to:
  • Use InDesign Style Definition, ignoring whatever attributes are present in the Word style definition.
  • Redefine InDesign Style to match the attributes included in the Word style, which will also alter any existing text in the InDesign document tagged with the conflicting style name.
  • Auto Rename, leaving the InDesign style unaltered, but also importing the Word style definition as an automatically numbered copy.
If you'd rather not put style conflict resolution on auto-pilot, you can gain granular control over the style input by choosing the Customize Style Import option and then clicking Style Mapping.
InDesign Style Mapping dialog In the Style Mapping dialog (Figure 2), the incoming Word styles are in the left column. In the right column are the InDesign styles to which you can map each Word Style. For example, you can map Word's default Normal paragraph style to InDesign's [Basic Paragraph Style]. Using this method you can map—or pair—like-named styles together (e.g., Heading 1 to Heading 1) or map several Word styles to the same InDesign style (e.g. Paragraph 1, Paragraph 2, and Paragraph 3 all to Body Copy). Careful attention to incoming styles—in particular, the style creation and application habits of the writers and editors you work with regularly—and fastidious mapping of those Word styles to correct InDesign styles can literally save you days of cleanup time once the story is on the page.
Now you've finished mapping your styles and choosing all the other import options. Don't click OK yet! First, click the Save Preset button. Save all these settings as a preset so that you'll be able to breeze through a re-import of the same Word file if that becomes necessary as well as through future Word documents received from the same writer or editor.

Cleaning Up a Placed Word File

Two hyphens instead of an em dash. Spaces immediately before a carriage return. Double spaces after periods. Double carriage returns to create space between paragraphs. Tabs instead of paragraph indents. Columnar text aligned by using multiple tabs—or worse, dozens of spaces. These are the things that steal production artists' time, that steal designers' souls. And they're far too common in imported Word documents.
Take comfort: Each problem can be dealt with, document-wide, without line-by-line repairs.
InDesign Find Change dialog Using Edit > Find/Change you can easily search a given story, the entire document, or all open documents for these common from-Word problems, and correct them with a single mouse click. The trick is knowing what to tell InDesign to Find. In the Find/ Change dialog box, on the Text tab (Figure 3), first define the scope of your desired search with the Search dropdown menu; your choices are to search the current story, all stories in the current document, or all stories in all open documents. Note that the Story option won't be available unless you select a text frame or the type cursor is somewhere within a story. Don't worry about the formatting fields and other options; you won't need them for this clean up.
To replace multiple tabs with a single tab, enter ^t^t (two tabs) in the Find What field and ^t (a single tab) in the Change To field. Click the Change All button, and in InDesign will tell you how many instances it replaced. Click Change All again, replacing two tabs with one tab, until you get a result of zero changes. Alternatively, you can increase the number of tabs to search for by entering more ^t codes in the Find What field. To remove all tab characters entirely, search for a single ^t and leave the Change To field blank.
Table 1 shows other Find What/Change To pairs that solve common problems. You may need to run the same replacement more than once, depending on the Word document. Note that "[space]" denotes an actual space created by pressing the keyboard spacebar.
You can save all of Table 1's Find What/Change To pairs as queries so that you can easily recall and reexecute them again in the future. To do that, click the
Table 1: Clean Up Word Text Automatically.
clean up word text automatically
Save icon in the top right of the dialog after running each query once. You'll be prompted to name the query, after which it will be accessible in the Query preset menu at the top for every subsequent clean up job.
Several useful queries are already included in that list. There are queries to change two dashes to an em space ("Dash Dash to Em-dash"), straight quotes to typographers quotes, and two to convert multiple returns or spaces to one of each. Some of these preset queries use the GREP tab and UNIX-inspired search syntax rather than the Text tab and its Word-like search and replace caret codes.

Pariah S. Burke Burke. is a design and publishing workflow expert. He is the author of Mastering InDesign CS3 for Print Design and Production (Sybex, 2007) and the publisher of the Web sites Quark VS and Designorati. When not traveling, Pariah lives in Portland, Oregon, where he writes (a lot).

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