WordsFlow Workflow

A Designer’s Love Letter to WordsFlow

I first learnt about WordsFlow when watching a tutorial on Lynda.com on Word and InDesign Integration. I have found that clients love the control they have over the text using WordsFlow, that they get to work in an application they’re comfortable with (I’ve yet to meet someone who uses InCopy), and how fast I can output an updated PDF for them. Before, they’d have to wait for me to make the text changes they need, but now I just need to press a button. Its great! 

And yes, you can place a Word doc in an InDesign file without a fancy plugin, but any formatting you do will be lost each time you update the file. WordsFlow allows you to keep all the formatting and layout you’ve done in InDesign, no matter how often the Word doc is updated!

Screenshot of a Word document

WordsFlow Workflow

My workflow is for the non-Pro version of WordsFlow that I have, but if you have WordsFlow Pro, you get a leg-up in convenience as it pushes the updates through. I do not have access to cloud storage or a shared drive at my workplace to collaborate with clients through – but if you do, you can eliminate the emailing back-and-forth I write of below.

Client Instructions

At each phase, we will be handling two files: one will be a Microsoft Word document in which you would make any text changes. The other will be a PDF where you’d make any comments on layout and visual presentation using PDF mark-up.

When text edits are made, please complete them within the Word document, then send the revised document back to me without changing the file name. I will then sync it on my end with my graphic design software and re-export the updated PDF document (after making any necessary adjustments to the visual presentation if things have shifted due to the text edits).

Please do not include instructions, comments, or notes in the synced document. Please use PDF mark-up for this instead.

By using this workflow, we eliminate the duplicate work associated with text changes, thus speeding up the editing process and reducing the chance of error. You have total control over the text content while editing text in a program that is familiar to you (Word). You get to focus on the content, and the designer focuses on how to best display that content, in a fast and efficient manner.

Best Practices for Word docs:

  • Use Word’s built it Styles for heading hierarchy (Heading 1, Heading 2). These styles will translate to InDesign, allowing me to maintain document structure and hierarchy.
  • Avoid using hard returns (the enter key) to create space between paragraphs. Instead, use ‘Space After
  • Do not use keystrokes to format text (tab key, enter key, excessive use of the space bar, glyphs for bullets). Instead use built in formatting tools like Page breaks, left indents, bulleted lists etc.
  • If your document includes tables, please make sure that “Repeat as header row at the top of each page” is checked on for each table (Table Properties > Row). Also, do not use heading styles (Heading 1, Heading 2) inside tables as this can create errors.
  • If you need to include placeholder text, I recommend pasting dummy text such as Lorem Ipsomin the Word doc.

For more information on creating Word docs that work well with the Word/InDesign plug-in, I suggest checking out ADOD and WebAIM. Added bonus – these best practices for the plugin are also best practices for accessible Word docs that can be read by people using assistive technology like screen readers, and also export well to other formats such as accessible PDF, ePub, and HTML etc. These are all round great habits to get into that save time lots of time in the long run!

Screenshot of a InDesign document with a Word document placed using WordsFlow

Designer Instructions

At the start of a project, I usually setup my client a template in Word using Styles I anticipate in my InDesign document. If a client has already sent me a Word file, I usually take some time to clean it up, (few people know how to use Word’s built-in formatting tools and Styles to their fullest). However, if you yourself aren’t strong in Word, you could totally work from a Word file where everything is set to the Normal Style (gasp!). However, I like to take this as an opportunity to show my clients how easy it is to create an accessible document in Word that transfers well over to InDesign.

I place the document using WordsFlow (making sure you haven’t pre-selected a text frame – then it wont work), then apply my Character and Paragraph Styles in InDesign. If I need to make any text changes, such as remove a forced break for example, I go to the Word document to make that change, then re-sync the document in my Links panel in InDesign. I want to make sure any changes I make to the text content is made in Word for continuity.

Once I’ve laid out the document with pictures and whatever else, I export a PDF and send it to my client with the Word document. They then make any changes to the text content in the Word document and send it back to me. I then replace the old Word doc with the new Word doc, re-sync, and presto – text is updated! There maybe some slight adjusting needed (Styles, breaks, pictures need shifting) but for the most part I’m ready to export in minutes! (Note: if you have shared servers or cloud storage with your client, you could probably store the file there too)

Screenshot of InDesign with the File menu open with WordsFlow, Place with WordsFlow highlighted

And no – I haven’t been put up to write this post by Em Software who owns WordsFlow. I just love this plugin so very, very much and think other designers would love it too.

If you want to know more about how WordsFlow works, I recommend Anne-Marie Concepción’s tutorial on Lynda.com such as Word and InDesign Integration. If your workplace or school doesn’t have a Lynda.com subscription, note that most public libraries, such as the Toronto Public Library, allow you to log into Lynda with your library card.




Author: nchitty

Inclusive designer based out of Toronto.

5 thoughts on “WordsFlow Workflow”

  1. OMG … I caught your tweet and followed the link, enjoying every word, I mean you hardly ever see someone write about Wordsflow right? And it wasn’t till near the end that i saw you learned about it via my InDesign and Word video on lynda.com! So cool.

    I thought your post was excellent. I do have a couple questions/comments.

    First question: In your Client Instructions, you say “When text edits are made, please complete them within the Word document, then send the revised document back to me.” Shouldn’t you also caution them not to change the filename? Which as a client/writer I’d want to do, v2, v3 etc. Or are you fixing any modified filenames on your end, before you “replace the old Word doc with the new Word doc” to update the link?

    BTW yes, this works GREAT w/Dropbox, Google Drive, or any cloud service that syncs to local folder on the hard drive that can be shared w/someone else. That’s what we do here. No need to send Word files back and forth. (Though I work more often w/Docsflow, the Google Docs plug in from the same company. In that case you sync directly to the cloud file, very cool.)

    Second question, why do you need to go to the Word document to make text changes (“ If I need to make any text changes, such as remove a forced break for example, I go to the Word document to make that change, then re-sync the document in my Links panel in InDesign.”). Wordsflow Pro (maybe you don’t have Pro?) lets you “push” your changes back to the Word document, from a command in the Links panel menu. Or another option, you can just leave your text changes as they are in InDesign, they’ll be retained even after a new version of the Word file comes in and you update the link.

    So happy to have found another designer using Wordsflow!

  2. Hi Nell, thanks for this post! I particularly like your client instructions, clear and friendly. I have a question I’m struggling with and wonder if you may be able to help. Word documents I work on have a great deal of formatting applied before they’re ready for InDesign: tables, table of contents, boxes, lists, headings, sections. I’m trialling WordsFlow but importing all of that into InD hasn’t gone so well so far – different sections are placed in separate stories, tables are split into table and text, which cell contents imported into separate text frames each, boxes are misaligned. The InD document I end up with is all over the place. Do you know what I may be doing wrong? Pre-WordsFlow I would strip off all text formatting from Word pre-import, tag the text and recreate tables and boxes in InD using styles (paragraph, character, table cell/row/header etc. styles), is this the best workflow for WordsFlow too? What’s your experience been with importing complex layout into InD using WF? Thank you!

    1. Hi, sorry I didn’t see tour comment until now. I don’t know the answer to your problem, but I would suggest contacting WordsFlow customer support – they were super helpful and responsive when I had an issue awhile back. Good luck!

    2. I’ve been using WordsFlow for more than a year and feel like I have worked out most of the stumbling blocks when it comes to a seamless import and formatting in InDesign. For the most part, I follow the same processes as nchitty. Regarding tables, TOCs, lists, inline graphics, etc.: I do a “format proof” of every Word doc before importing and make sure only the styles I want are used, and there’s no direct formatting. (In Word for Mac, you can turn on these options on the Styles Panel which shows a helpful color-coded display of styles used. Word for Windows does not have this feature.) After I verify the styles are correct, I’m ready to Place Using WordsFlow. The most important part of this for me is Style Mapping.

      Note: I work on a MacBook Pro. Not sure how well these instructions translate to Windows OS.

      On the InDesign dialog where you locate the file to place, click the Show Options box, then Open. On the Import Options dialog, click Style Mapping… . I remap any Word styles to my InDesign styles. (They are not exactly the same, in consideration of the writers, who use Word and are used to specific styles. Rather than retrain them, I remap them to style names I use. It helps that I’m the only one doing the formatting.) Then when the Word doc is placed, 98% of the tables and lists are formatted correctly. There is still some clean-up—done efficiently with Find & Replace—but I’ve found that it’s a very clean import overall. Good luck!

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