Book Page Layout Preparation: The Local Formatting Problem

by | Nov 11, 2010

It looks like it’s become manuscript preparation week here at The Book Designer due to popular demand. Today I’m going to tell you how to do one thing, and only one thing.

But this one thing can turn you from a hysterical, tearing-your-hair-out, mumbling automaton into a cool, calm book layout artist in one easy step.

You think I’m overpromising?

The Local Formatting Problem

There’s one problem moving long documents from a word processor file to a page layout program that has the potential to drive you nuts.

How do you deal with local formatting?

Okay, you need to understand exactly what I’m talking about. When we say local formatting, we’re talking about all the times you typed, let’s say, the title of a book. You then went back, selected the text and made it italic.

You know book titles have to be in italic, you congratulate yourself and off you go to your next chore. Good job!

Well, it’s a good job until it comes time to put your file into your page layout program. I’m using Adobe InDesign, so that’s the one I’m going to talk about.

Your book file in Microsoft Word is 320 pages. Perhaps you’ve used Times New Roman or Palatino or some other standard font you’ve got on your computer. It’s 12 point type, set on double line spacing, flush left and ragged right.

Of course, that has nothing to do with how the final book will look. Maybe you’ve been studying and decided to use Adobe Garamond. You’ve fiddled with the settings to get your page looking the way you want, and your sample is set in 11.25 type and the spacing between lines is 15.25. The type is set justified—even on the left and right—and you’re very happy with the way it looks.

Oops, I Just Lost All My Italics!

Now you dump your file into InDesign. Of course, it doesn’t look right, the typeface is wrong since InDesign by default will try to keep the formatting in your file intact.

Note: InDesign has powerful file import features that are more complex than the point I’m trying to make in this article, and that’s why they aren’t mentioned.

Your italic is intact, but everything else is wrong. What are your strategies now?

  1. You can click in each paragraph and select the Paragraph Style you’ve set up in InDesign. This will take quite a while and won’t solve all your problems.
  2. Instead of placing the file in InDesign, you can copy and paste it from your Word document. You will lose all your local formatting. That won’t be fun.
  3. You can use the “clear formatting” button located on the bottom of the Paragraph Styles palette (more on this in a minute). You can Cmd-Click in each paragraph to clear only the character-level formatting. That will eliminate your italic too.

Clear formatting in InDesign

Every one of these alternatives will lead you down a path you don’t want to travel. But there is a way. A way that will save your sanity.

Remember Those Styles?

Word and InDesign use both Paragraph Styles and Character Styles. These allow you to create sophisticated definitions of each type of formatted paragraph or character attributes.

I’ve talked before about using styles instead of formatting, and here you’ll see another example of why you need to make this a habit.

Let’s step through it together. For the sake of this example I’m going to imagine that this book has lots of italic in it, but no bold and no superscript. That is, italic is the only local formatting we have to deal with here.

  1. Place the file into your InDesign document.
  2. Create a character style called “text italic.” The only thing in this character style definition is “Basic Character Format” = italic.
  3. Find/Change using InDesign’s search and replace function. Search for any instance of italic, and replace it with your new text italic character style.
  4. Select All to select all the text in your publication.
  5. Clear Formatting by using that handy clear formatting button we just looked at.

Character Style in InDesign

Because we put the italic into a Character Style, InDesign will simply ignore it. You will end up with perfectly-formatted text and all your italic intact.

InDesign Find Change

Simple Steps, Big Rewards

Before this sequence was possible, I spent many hours making sure all the local formatting had translated from manuscript to layout. I missed some, I had paragraphs that were in the wrong typeface and had to be corrected in proofreading. In short, files were sometimes a mess.

I spoke to a client recently who was working with a person new to book layout. She told me she had spent over 30 hours replacing and checking the missing italic from a book heavy with citations. 30 hours.

So do yourself a favor. Use these steps and teach yourself how to keep the formatting you want, while losing the formatting you don’t want. Even if you invest an hour or two now, it will pay off big down the road.

Resources has great training videos on a ton of software, and keeps current with the latest versions. If you’re tight for money, join for one month for $25 and plan to spend the month becoming an InDesign ninja. Check out their many free videos to get a feel for what they are like.

InDesign Secrets, David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepcion‘s blog about InDesign is a terrific resource for learning real-world solutions. Their videos are models of great teaching.

The InDesigner videos by Michael Murphy can also teach you a lot about this program, including some of the advanced features.

Adobe’s InDesign Video Tutorials offer more free instruction on using the program. has a great series on creating ePub files for users of InDesign CS4.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by boboroshi,

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Mr Shannon Davuis

    Joel, in the publishing business what is the name of the person who formats a document to ensure proper line spacing between sentences and paragraphs, the correct indention for paragraphs, ensures correct punctuation is applied to body text, adjust margins, italicization and quotation marks where needed, etc..?

    Is this a typographer, typesetter, formatter or what?

  2. Jean

    I’ve tried a lot of different contortions to import a word doc with lots of accents and italics into InDesign. Here’s what seemed to work best:
    Place Word doc
    Check Show Import options
    Select your Doc
    Check Preserve Styles and Formatting…
    Check Import Styles automatically, select Use Indesign Definition
    Go into Paragraph styles, scroll to bottom of your styles list. Some styles may have a box thing at right of their name. Delete and replace those styles with matching styles above. The “wrong” style may have the same name as one above, but you need to do this anyway. Usually there’s a minor difference, eg, capitalization of style name. You may also have to delete/replace “default” or “normal” style with your body text / standard paragraph style
    Go to Type – Find Font… Find/Change your fonts to finally get your italics and accented characters in the right font. In my document, for example, my accented characters imported as Arial rather than Janson. I suggest using “Find first” to make sure you are changing the correct font. This was fairly easy for me, since I didn’t use Arial in my styles at all, so every case of Arial in the imported document was incorrect.
    Hope this makes sense and is helpful! I picked this forum to offer this tip because thebookdesigner has been most helpful to me in solving a variety of book design problems.

    • Jean

      Alas, what worked yesterday didn’t work today…. So in the word doc I subbed my itals for Arial Black (which I didn’t use for the inDesign styles). After placing, I replaced Arial Black with character body style.

  3. Bill

    I’ve discovered a very easy way to solve this Word local formatting problem when you place a Word doc into InDesign. I discovered this by complete accident but you should be able to import and place your Word doc into InDesign as is — including all the local Word format or char-overrides correctly intact with no need to change it.

    Do the following(this applies to InDesign CS6):

    When you click on File/Place in InDesign to select your Word doc to import, go down to the bottom left of the selector pop-up and tick “Show Import Options”.

    *Open or select the file you want to Place.

    Another pop-up will open showing you some more import options.
    Go down and select “Remove Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables”.
    This now allows you to select “Preserve Local Overrides”.
    Now select the “Preserve Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables” button which will automatically deselect the “Remove Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables” button.
    But please also notice that the “Preserve Local Overrides” button is still selected.
    Now click OK at top right and place you file into your document.
    On inspection in InDesign, you will find that ALL Word doc local overrides have been successfully imported from Word to InDesign without any problems and without errors.

    The above only takes a couple of seconds and will save you hours of frustrating Find/Replace etc.

  4. Paul

    I know this is an old discussion, but I found it searching around for answers. I’m a long-time publication designer. I’ve used a Word macro called Quark Converter sold by … BUT, it only works on Word 2004 (I’m a Mac user). Word 2008 and 2011 won’t (so far as I know) allow 3rd party macros. Editorium keeps promising to update its Quark Converter, but so far nada. SO… I’m still running old versions of Quark and Photoshop on an iMac with Snow Leopard. That’s the only way I can work because of the dependency on Quark Converter. It strips out old Word styles, retains italics and bold, etc. It’s really quick and easy. So I’m currently searching for alternatives because I’ve GOT to update my iMac and move it over to Mavericks, along with the rest of my software. For the time being I can run files through a networked old laptop, but would rather not. Thanks for the ideas.

  5. Jan Dildei

    This is a great article, thanks for sharing! Will certainly be a huge time saver in the future (30 hours of manually correcting errors might be a bit crass, but InDesign _can_ be a b*tch sometimes!). And also thanks to the people who provided those useful links!

  6. Colin OBrien

    I just found this script today which was a huge life saver. It converts your bold and italic to character styles. Thus when you apply your paragraph styles your itals and bold is preserved. The way it works is your import or paste in your text from word. Then, insert the cursor anywhere in your imported text, and run the script. Then you can freely apply your pargraph styles without fear of losing your itals.

  7. Kim Phillips

    InDesign is more than most people (who are not professional graphic designers) can afford to buy, and the learning curve is steep. One really should have the entire Adobe Creative Suite to be effective, and that’s even more expense. Trying to advise the general public on how to jump from Word to InDesign is like advising them on how to jump from adding oil to their cars to replacing the engine. Non-designers need to hire a designer.

  8. Paul Brookes

    I used to do a lot of importing from Word into Quark. What you’ve said is correct, but I discovered a Word macro that converted bullets and numbers into plain text, which imported into Quark pretty well.

    Try this method, which I explain in my old website (which I keep archived):

  9. Anastasia V. Pergakis


    I’ve beeng visiting and retweeting your posts here for a few weeks now, but never left a comment. I didn’t know what to say! Your posts are simply amazing and you don’t leave out important details we need to know!

    I’ve been writing for years and never considered self publishing. I always tought I’d go the traditional way. In recent months however, I’ve decided that I should do a little research into it and see if it’s right for me. Thanks to your blog, I know I’m on the way to having a self published book I can be proud of! Thank you so much!

  10. Bill Nichols

    I read the above article and tried to apply it. Question: How can you search for an example of italic when Indesign has eliminated all the italic text upon importing it? The direction below in the article seems to make no sense when all the italic has disappeared. Comments?

    Find/Change using InDesign’s search and replace function. Search for any instance of italic, and replace it with your new text italic character style.

    • Joel Friedlander


      There are 2 ways to get text into InDesign. You can use the Place (Cmd-D) command to select a file for import. Or you can copy the text in another program like Word and paste it into InDesign. If you do it this way you may well lose all the formatting, so try the first method and see if that works better.

      • Bill Nichols

        The text has been imported into Indesign with no italics from the original rtf document. I was wondering how to retrieve the italics. I will probably go through page by page and convert it.

        • Joel Friedlander

          If you have italics in your RTF file and you are using Place and not copying and pasting, and your italics are disappearing then it’s a problem with your import options. Hit Cmd-D, select the file, but before clicking on “Open” select “Show import options” on the left side of that window and make sure the “Preserve styles and formatting…” option is selected. Hope that helps!

  11. ronnie rogers

    i really appreciate this site. i am new to it and new to taking writing seriously. i love it.

    might i ask a basic question and hopefully get back an answer, if anyone is so kind, that i can comprehend.

    i am now up to my 100th page and realizing that this thing could easily get out of control if i cannot put it in a chapter format.

    i have sorted what i have so far into about 25 chapters but am looking for a navigation tool from the table of contents.

    i am on a macbook pro. is there a mac program that you know of or any program for that matter, which allows for this?


    • Joel Friedlander

      Ronnie, I’m not clear on what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you creating an ebook and you want links in the Contents to jump to chapters?

  12. Maggie


    For me, when it comes to readability, hyphenation (or lack of it) can or break a book, which is why I refuse to read books on e-readers, most of which can’t handle hyphenation … a whole other story from the one discussed here.

    When it comes to ID ( for print purposes), can you include hyphenation in styles? In Quark, I have numerous hyphenation styles, depending on client. Some clients allow only 2 hyphens in a row, others allow 3. On top of this are number of characters before and after a hyphen. But one thing is common: no hyphenation of chapter titles and subheads.

    I bought CS3 two years ago and have used its version of Photoshop and Illustrator, and I nosed around in ID, but was dismayed by its lack of support for hyphenation within styles.

    Sorry to be so nitpicky and specific and this is probably not of much interest to your blog readers, but I’m curious about how current versions of ID handle this issue. If they’ve addressed it, I will definitely look at upgrading my current version of ID.

  13. Maggie


    Jumping in again because if I don’t, I’ll forget to mention this upcoming film:

    I rarely watch TV or movies, but this is one I’d stand in line for.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Great comment. I haven’t used Quark for years and haven’t kept up with recent versions, so it’s great to have someone who knows the program make the kind of contribution you made here. While InDesign is a deep and powerful tool, there are some things that Quark did better even 6 years ago and I miss those capabilities. while InDesign will convert your itals to real fonts on import, they remain locally formatted and can be quite easily lost if you don’t watch what you’re doing. The procedure I used here prevents that.

      And you’ve got me really curious about the Linotype film. What fun! Thanks for participating, Maggie.

  14. Maggie


    Joel’s great, isn’t he! I’ve been a book designer and typesetter for 30+ years and still manage to learn something new (or be reminded of stuff I’ve forgotten) almost every time I stop by Joel’s blog.

  15. Rima

    Joel –

    Oh, thank you, thank you! What a terrific tutorial, and very helpful links! I am going to be greedy and ask for more. :)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Rima, you were part of the reason I decided to keep writing on this subject so I hope you find it useful. Thanks for visiting.

  16. Maggie

    Joel (my apologies for a long post today)

    The way I import Word into Quark (and I imagine it works the same way with ID) is to first set up all my styles in Quark with formatting for font, size, leading, etc., (I use nmemonics such as t, nl, bl, cn, ct, and so on; or I may be required to use a client’s preset style names), then I set up styles with exactly the same name in Word but without formatting (except for local) and make sure each element of my Word file carries the appropriate style.

    Then I bring my Word file into Quark and tell the import filter to use ‘existing’ styles (the ones in Quark I already set up), and the incoming file lands in Quark exactly the way I designed it, complete with local formatting that I promptly change to proper italic, bold, etc. with Quark’s “Usage” feature.

    The one thing Word users should be aware of is that Word’s automatic numbering and bulleting features for lists don’t translate into page layout programs (except that good old PageMaker could read them just fine!) and you wind up with paragraphs that have no numbers or bullets (or tabs).

    Sadly, you have to change these, manually, in Word before importing and put in the appropriate tabs as well. Quark, supposedly, has extensions (add-ons) that purport to address this issue, but I’ve not tried them. When faced with an entire book that’s nothing but lists, I fire up my old OS 9 machine, dump the Word file into PageMaker which reads the numbers and bullets, then export the file back out to Word, port the file over to my current computer, and go from there.

    The one piece of formatting I’ve heard that can’t be included in ID’s paragraph styles is hyphenation. I also heard that ID converts Word’s faux italic, bold, etc., into real italic and bold on the fly during importing, which sounds awesome!

    Thanks again for your clear and thorough explanations of what must be puzzling maneuvers to those new to page makeup. There are days when it’s puzzling to me and I’ve been at it for over 30 years!



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