Retaining important formatting when importing Word documents

As I’ve written in the past, Word is often an integral part of any InCopy workflow. In many situations, content is authored in Microsoft Word due to its widespread availability as an application on most computers. Editorial staff often keep content in the Word format when working with authors because it’s easy to go back and forth with changes until the final content has been completed. Once the content has been finalized, the designer can flow that Word document into InDesign or an editor can flow the content into an InCopy file in preparation for layout.

Although the process of bringing a Word document into an InDesign or InCopy file may seem like a simple process, retaining the desired formatting of that Word document can present some unique challenges. Notice that I said “desired” formatting. I say this because authors are known for applying their own formatting to documents to “enhance” the visual appearance of the file while they’re writing. Often making headlines bigger or changing their color to make it easier to view and read. This is much more easily accomplished by using styles in Word but that’s an entirely different blog post. When you bring Word content into InDesign or InCopy the goal is to remove the undesirable formatting but retain the formatting you wish to keep such as bold and italic styling.

Preserving Formatting

Many users will select all of the text in a Word document, copy the text, then paste it into InDesign or InCopy. In essence, this strips all of the formatting from the text including any formatting you wish to keep. This can be detrimental because work has been lost and will need to be performed by someone a second time.

Instead of copy and paste, InDesign provides some options for retaining the formatting of text when you choose File > Place. In the Place dialog box, select the Word document that you want to place, then enable the Show Import Options checkbox and click Open. This will display the Microsoft Word Import Options dialog box.

Microsoft Word Import Options

We’ll focus on the Formatting section located at the bottom of the dialog box. This section offers you two main choices for dealing with text imported from Microsoft Word.

  1. Remove Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables – This will strip out all formatting from the Word document and use the current style in the InDesign or InCopy document.
  2. Preserve Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables – This will retain any formatting applied in the Word document and also gives you the option to import any Word styles or map them to existing InDesign or InCopy styles.

Option 1 is tempting but remember, this will remove all formatting including bold, italics, and anything else you actually want to retain. Therefore, more often than not, I take advantage of option 2 in order to retain all of the formatting in the document. Once placed in the InDesign or InCopy document, all formatting is retained.

Cleaning Up the Formatting

Now that you have the Word text in the InDesign or InCopy document, you need to keep the formatting you want and get rid of the formatting you don’t want. To do this, I create a character style for all of the formatting options that I want to retain. Usually this consists of bold, italic, and bold italic formatting although depending on the type of content that you’re working with, you may want to create more. When creating the Character styles, only define the properties necessary within the style. For example, when you create your Italic Character style, only define “Italic” as part of the style. No need to define the font, size or other formatting unless it is very unique formatting.

InCopy Character Styles panel

In order to retain the formatting that you want to keep, open the Find/Change dialog box by choosing Edit > Find/Change. Leave the Find what and Change to fields empty, but click on the More Options button to display the Find and Change format sections of the dialog box. Click on the Specify Attributes to Find button word_003 and click on the Basic Character Formats section on the left side of the dialog box. Now choose “Italic” from the Font Style drop-down menu and click OK. Now in the Change Formatting section, click on the Specify Attributes to Change button word_003 and choose the Italic character style from the Character Style drop down menu.


Click the Change All button and you’ll be notified how many changes have been made. Not that you have options to make this change in all open documents, the current document, the current story, and to the end of the story. Repeat this process for the other styling that you want to retain.

Apply Paragraph Styles

Remember, character styles have more power than paragraph styles. So with your character styles applied to the text formatting that you want to retain, you are free to apply the appropriate paragraph styles, and clear any formatting that you wish to remove. Looking at the figures below, you can see the original Word document that was used as well as the final InCopy file that has been cleaned up using the described method in this article. We’ve highlighted the italicized text to make it easier to see.



22 Responses to “Retaining important formatting when importing Word documents”

  1. Emmanuel says:

    Hi !

    Why don’t you just click on “preserve overrides” ?

    Thanks !

  2. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    Preserving overrides is certainly an option but then as its name implies, all of those formatting attributes are local overrides with no character styles applied.

  3. David Gerstel says:

    Thanks for your informative article.

    I have a problem which my editor and I have not been able to solve.
    Using Word, she is applying a character style — italic based on underlying properties — to words and phrases that I have formatted as italicized in my ms.
    The character style works fine when her edit of my ms comes over from Word in her computer to Word in my computer.
    However, when I flow the text into InDesign, the italicized words and phrases are converted to Times New Roman 10 point regardless of the actual underlying properties. For example, though the surrounding text is Garamond 14 pt. the phrase with the character style becomes TNR 10 pt.
    My editor and I are both highly experienced with Word and I am skilled enough with InDesign to have successfully designed and published a book. But we have tried everything and searched high and low and cannot find a solution to what we are calling our “character conundrum.” Can you help, or recommend a consultant who could?
    Thanks, David Gerstel

  4. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    Hi David,

    Have you tried mapping the word styles to InDesign styles during import? This would force the Word Styles to map to your italic InDesign styles and should guarantee that the italics are maintained as styles.

  5. Scott Fineshriber says:

    Is your editor using a Word style to create her italics? When you import the Word doc if it is importing a style for the italics it will retain italics in ID, I believe. Another strategy is to give the styles in Word the exact same name in InDesign, so no matter what the formatting is in Word, if you keep InDesign’s style formatting when importing text it will take on your InDesign style formatting.

  6. miriam says:

    Chad, you helped me out. Great. Thank you very much!

  7. Paula L says:

    Can you retain hyperlinks when bringing text from Word into InDesign?

  8. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    Absolutely! Hyperlinks that are contained in a word document will be retained when the Word document is placed into InDesign. Are you not seeing this behavior?

  9. Zahra says:

    I’ve given my book to be formatted in InDesign. It has a lot of Arabic transliteration, with symbols, dots and lines above and below letters. When the text is pasted in InDesign all these symbols change into boxes and characters, which can’t be read. How can this problem be solved? Should I just format the book in word, which would be undesirable but much more time-consuming then changing each character back to its original form in InDesign.


  10. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    This sounds like a font problem. What font format is being used? Are you using the same font in InDesign as you are in the source application? Same computer platform? More details please.

  11. Bernard Rebulado says:

    Same problem with Zahra. The writer used used the font “Symbol” in word. And I used “Adobe garamond” for my body text. It sometimes occured in special variables when importing formulas or equations.

  12. Tracey says:

    It’s a sbame you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate tto this
    outstanding blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my
    Google account. I look forward to fresh uodates
    and will share this website with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!

  13. Martin says:

    I have written a book in Word that involves a lot of tables. My publisher has imported it into In-Design and he says all the formatting has gone. The table and words that were in the table and the only solution is to re-input the data manually. Does that sound correct or could he do something different to overcome the problem?

  14. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    The formatting of the table itself won’t be retained when placing it in InDesign, the text formatting however should be retained. When they place the InDesign document, they should enable the import options and choose “Preserve Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables”. That should retain the formatting of the text within the tables.

  15. Martin says:

    Sorry I should have said that the version of In design he is using is CS5

  16. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    That feature hasn’t changed in years. It works the same in CS5 as it does in the current version.

  17. Martin says:

    Thank you Chad that is a very quick response and most useful. I will pass on your advice and let you know how it works out. Much appreciated!

  18. Ellie Kahn says:

    Thanks for this great site. I have tried to import WORD docs into ID, but when I do so, I only get the first page, and the rest of the 80 pages are blank.

  19. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    It sounds like your flowing the word doc only onto the first page. You probably have a red + sign in the lower-right corner of the text frame. You need to flow that content onto the other pages. All of the Word content is being placed, you just need to give it a place to go.

  20. Ellie Kahn says:

    will give that a try in the morning. Thank you!

  21. Guy says:

    Perhaps off topic, but…I have a blog on wordpress that I would like to turn into a book. So far, all of the blurb-to-book sites only allow text on top or bottom of photos. Will InDesign allow me free text/photo formatting?

  22. Chad Chelius Chad Chelius says:

    Yes, you’re pretty much unrestricted in InDesign. You could certainly just copy paste text from the blog but you may also want to look into a HTML > XML > InDesign solutions.

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