Style Counsel

For most (though not all) publishing projects, documents are edited in Microsoft Word before being 'placed' into Adobe InDesign for design and layout. Unfortunately, Word and InDesign are both large, complex and often buggy pieces of software, constantly being tweaked and updated. This makes it difficult to keep track of which elements of Word will and won't work with InDesign. It's impossible to write a definitive list of Word-vs-InDesign problems, but here are some key things to watch out for (as of early 2013). Let us know if you think we've missed anything important …

Headers and Footers

InDesign only reads the main body of the Word document. Header and footer panels are ignored, so any header/footer text must be presented separately.

Floating Objects, Including Images and Text Boxes

Anything classified by Word as an object (e.g. a picture) must be set 'in line with text', or else it will 'float' above the main body of the Word document and InDesign will ignore it. A text box outside the main body of text won't work, either. Even when an object is 'in line with text', InDesign won't always be able to deal with it properly, so it's usually best to remove all things that aren't text from your Word document and have them placed into InDesign separately.


Text from Word will flow into InDesign as a single block, regardless of column formatting, so you can't rely on Word's columns to make text appear on the page in a particular way. If you need text to flow into columns, ask the designer to do this. But if you need certain pieces of text to line up next to each other in a specific way (e.g. parallel lists), then don't use columns  use tables. Word's tables do work with InDesign, and a table with just two cells (with invisible cell borders) is effectively just like two short columns.

Microsoft Equations

Microsoft's older equation object format (still available as 'Microsoft Equation 3.0' in Word's 'Insert Object...' list of options) will usually appear in InDesign as an image. The newer equation format (accessed via 'Insert Equation...') currently won't work with InDesign at all.

Microsoft 'Field Codes' and 'Index Codes'.

These sometimes work with InDesign, but often not. If at all possible, don't use them. If you've never heard of them or had to deal with them before, be grateful.

Styling/Formatting without Paragraph Styles and Character Styles.

Paragraph styles and character styles are especially important in Word documents for InDesign. 'Direct' formatting (e.g. making something bold using the 'Bold' button, not via a character style) usually survives into InDesign, but it will often default to some inappropriate value or may vanish entirely. Always be sure that all document styling and formatting is applied by your own (i.e. non-default) paragraph styles and character styles.

Unusual Symbols or Other Characters.

If non-Latin alphabets or unique symbols are used, make sure that the designers have (legal) access to the appropriate fonts to be able to typeset them. The intricacy of Unicode text encoding for special characters is its own dark art, so let's not talk about that now. And let's not even think about emoji …