Typesetting corporate documentation in WORD!

newbie_chez's picture


Just started a new job working for a property firm, I have been given a long Word document which has various styles and formatting that is very inconsistent.

The document looks like formal corporate documentation which has lots of numbered, indented paragraphs ie.

1.1 Blah blah blah

1.2 Blah blah blah

Lots of bulleted lists, other sublists with dashes etc. I am used to typesetting from Indesign but they want me to use Word here.

Does anyone know any good web or book resources about Styles and Formatting in Word?

I want it to look perfect but it is rather fiddly in this program.

In Indesign you can click a command using a crosshair character and everything will indent to that point, (I can't remember the exact command). If anyone knows any shortcuts to get all the paragraphs in line please advise.

There is also an annoying problem, with the dashed lists, like HANGING INDENTS - something I hate and want to eliminate in the quickest way possible throughout the document!

microspective's picture

I'm SO sorry. (not sarcasm) Good luck with that...

Our condolences.

aluminum's picture

I'm by no means an expert, but what you need/want to do is define the built-in Word styles and have the document creators/maintainers use them. It'd be akin to using styles in XPress or InDesign...though without the same level of detail, unfortunately, ;o)

With styles, you can control indents and the like.

newbie_chez's picture

Yes it's not as good as InDesign of course. :)

It is the same as doing web publishing without Dreamweaver and Flash, not designed for designers!

Linda Cunningham's picture

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any commercial printed resources for newer versions of Word, although the DIY approach was quite normal when did this 15 or so years ago.

In particular, I worked on a lot of hardcore nasty scientific documentation with just Word, and the only way we ever found to deal with it consistently (multiple, large volumes from diverse authors, to be co-ordinated into one package) was to turn off the automatic numbering stuff (print out a hard copy first, so you know what and where your head levels are), and code it manually.

Kill all the generic Word styles and create your own as well, since they won't have the autonum features. After I print out a reference copy, I generally dispose of all formatting, then start with a Body style (make the whole thing this style to start, once you've got it), devolve whatever I want for indents/points/quotes from that, and then create a series of heads after that (starting from biggest to smallest is easiest, I've found), and tag them as you go along.

Yes, it's fiddly -- you might even find it worth your while to create a dummy document to do all this in, then paste your styles as a template into the "real" document, but any other approach will leave you tearing your hair out as some point.

And unless you want your friends to call you "Baldy"..... ;-)

Si_Daniels's picture

How long is long? If you're looking at less than 100 pages, I'd suggest stripping all formatting - cut and paste it in and out of Notepad - and as Linda said print out a copy (or view a copy side by side if your monitor is big enough) as you apply newly defined styles.

Cheers, Si

newbie_chez's picture


It's about 180 pages long. Not tooo bad I guess!

I managed to amend and create new styles whilst working with the current template. But next time I will probably clear all formatting, and start from scratch as you suggested.

Indeed the Word Styles don't let you do as much but they are still a timesaver.

Linda - thanks in particular for the detailed advice - I am all about detail! So it's up to me to make Word work hard!

Linda Cunningham's picture

180 pages? Hah! We did upwards of 50 topics, with 1-20 volumes for each, and anything from 50 to 500 pages for each volume. ;-) Five senior editors, twelve junior editors, and upwards of 40 different formatters, tinkering the words of more than 100 authors -- for stuff like that, you really need a serious plan and have everyone sign on to it....

Finding the easiest way to do it saved us weeks.

Truth be told, when we were notified that Word was going to be the program of choice, more than a few of us were not happy, but it's really quite amazing what you can beat it into submission to do.

The most important thing is to format your own Body style in the beginning and to make that the default style for all the text -- it sets the tone for everything else you want to do and lets you figure out where (and how) in the hierarchy you want to move things up and down. Probably 85% of hardcore documentation is this style anyway....

newbie_chez's picture

Wow.. that sounds intensive! You must know all the tricks of InDesign! I know it sounds tedious to some people but there is something I really like about tweaking all the details to perfection.

I have got the draft back with amendments (sound familiar?) and I am trying to start the page numbering on the contents page (which is page 3 of the document), but I can't do it?

Please can you help?

I tried for about 3 hours today!

Gus Winterbottom's picture

Basically, what you do to create a page number is go to Insert > Page Numbers > Format, select the number format you want (Number format), and then, under Page numbering, click the Start at radio button, then use the spinner to select the page number you want.

The above procedure puts the page number in a floating frame in the footer. If you don't like the floating frame, the alternative method is to show the header and footer toolbar (doubleclick on a header or a footer, or go to View > Header and Footer) and use the options there. This creates the page number inline.

If there's already a page number somewhere that you're trying to change, use the cursor to select the entire page number and then do the steps in the first paragraph above.

This is a little more complicated if you have sections and want different page numbering schemes in different sections, but the procedure is basically as described above.

(Later edit: If you inadvertently create a page number in a floating frame when you really wanted it inline, you can cut the page number out of the frame, paste the number where you want it, and delete the frame. Also, a page number doesn't always have to be in a header or a footer; you can cut it out of the header or footer and paste it into the body text. But unless the page number is in a header or a footer, it will only show up on that one page. However, you can copy an in-body page number to as many different pages as you want and it will increment correctly.)

newbie_chez's picture

Hi I tried it but it says page 3 on the contents page. It is technically page 3 but I want it to start the numbering from here, so it should say "1".

Does this make sense?

Gus Winterbottom's picture

I think I see what you want to do. I had unconsciously assumed that it was OK to have the first two pages numbered 1 and 2.

If you want the pages before the contents page to be unnumbered, you'll have to put in a section break ( Insert > Break > Next page) as the very last thing on the page immediately before the contents page. You want all the pages before the contents page to be in section 1, and the contents page to be the first page in section 2.

(When working with section breaks, it really helps to show all the formatting marks. You can show formatting marks either by clicking the Show/Hide button on the Standard toolbar, or by going to Tools > Options > Formatting marks and selecting All.)

Next (assuming the page number should be in the footer), go into the footer in section 2 and disconnect it from the footer in section 1. (You can also disconnect the header if you want or need to.) You do the disconnect by clicking the Same as Previous button on the Header and Footer toolbar; the button should not have a blue background and outline. If the headers or footers are still connected, there will be a Same as Previous message at the corner of the dotted box around the header/footer; you want that message to go away.

After you have the footers (and/or headers) disconnected, make sure you're in section 2 and then follow the steps I described earlier (beginning with Insert > Page Numbers > Format). Don't put the page numbers in before doing the disconnect or you'll have to go back and delete them from section 1.

If you want to stop the page numbering at some point after the contents page, or change the page number format, you'll have to put in another section break and disconnect the headers/footers at the appropriate point.

Thomas Levine's picture

I hardly ever use Microsoft Word, so I don't know how bad it is. If it isn't powerful enough, you can open it in OpenOffice Writer; the style management in there seems pretty good.

Linda Cunningham's picture

Gus nailed it, so take your pick....

(Thomas -- Word can actually do this stuff, but it helps if you know how and where to beat it into submission. Heck, even old versions of WordPerfect can do this job....)

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Linda, those are really great tips... When I was working in multilingual DTP, I had to work on many documents that had been created in MS Word, and had to pretty much figure things out as I went along.

Cheryl, to the fine advice already posted here, I might add:

Turn on invisible characters and make sure the margins and borders of text areas are showing up (I think that last one is under Tools > View, but it's been a while). Also, the Paragraph Format dialog box comes in handy for dealing with lots of things, like leading and hanging indents. Press the Alt/Option key while dragging tab arrows or boxes, to place things precisely where you want (rather than where the program wants).

Also, there is a handy little Word Pocket Guide from O'Reilly... (There might be more than one edition, but I'm not sure.) Might be of use to you for the next project.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Word can actually do this stuff, but it helps if you know how and where to beat it into submission.

The separatrix strikes again! ;-)

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I know it sounds tedious to some people but there is something I really like about tweaking all the details to perfection.

Ah, you've got the typesetting bug, or maybe the typesetting gene...
Welcome to Typophile. :-)

newbie_chez's picture

Thanks for the clear instructions! I finally got it to work using this method.

I don't find the numbering system in Word very intuitive but now that I've just grasped how to do Sections it makes more sense.

Ricardo - yes I definitely have the bug! :o) At work I'm the only creative one in the office so it is nice to find like-minded people here who know how to set beautiful type.

newbie_chez's picture

I need to put some paragraphs of this document in boxes, what is the easiest way to ensure consistency? Is it better to set up a style or insert a table every time the text needs to be in a box?

For example:

1.1 Text text text text

1.2 More text but needs to have a black border around it, in line with the rest of the body text.

Any tips would be much appreciated. All boxed text should have the same border, indentation from the left and a small inset from the edge of the box so that the text doesn't look like it is touching the edges!!

dtw's picture

Glad to see some people actually admitting that Word CAN actually do a lot of things... it's just that you have to know what you're doing to get it to do them. I spent 4 years doing technical radiocommunications manuals in Word, and the ONLY difficulty is the handover between the documenter who knows what they're doing in Word and the content author who doesn't, and who hands you back your file with everything screwed up after they were only supposed to be adding a paragraph here or there...

Cheryl, you could do either of those options. Setting up a style will take a little longer at the start but be waaay quicker in the long run. As part of the style definition you can set a border (thickness, colour, distance from text on each side, etc.) Don't forget that once you've set up the 'Boxed' style you can give it a keyboard shortcut so you can apply it really quickly without reaching away from the keyboard to the mouse.

It you get any specific Word probs, google for "Woody's Lounge"; the MS Office experts on there are really knowledgeable and can help set up complex time-saving macros for practically any repetitive task.
Ever since I chose to block pop-ups, my toaster's stopped working.

newbie_chez's picture


Looks like I am lumbered with Word for the meantime as the authors want to keep working this way.

I am getting better at using it thanks to this forum and knowing what I want to achieve. The only thing is adapting to Word controls.

I would like to ask a question. As you have worked with journals, how do you go about formatting Contents pages? Do you just set up the style as you go along, depending on what you think looks good? Or do you ever use preset styles and modify them?

I tried the first option but I am sure I did it the slow and amateur way .. !

Still much prefer InDesign but the journals and docs I am producing in Word look ok :)

dtw's picture

Well, the journals work (thankfully) is handled by our overseas setters who work in InDesign and 3B2, so I don't have to worry about Word TOCs any more. But, from back in the day: your template will have a bunch of TOC paragraph styles built in. Assuming you've used proper heading styles for your headings, you can then let Word build the TOC for you (in Word 2003 it's at Insert > Reference > Index and Tables); the best option is to choose to use the styles "From template". The initial result will probably look naff, because by default it'll be single-spaced, full text measure, with dot leaders running right the way across to the page number aligned with the right margin. But you can fix the format after you've generated it.

Each style in Word has a setting "Update automatically" and for most styles this is an absolute no-go area and should always be switched off (it means that if you apply direct, manual formatting somewhere, it changes the style definition to match it), but in the TOC styles it's actually worth leaving switched on because you know the only page(s) where the TOC styles will be used, and you can then just pull in the left and right indents, adjust the paragraph spacing, etc, in one line, and have the other parts of the TOC update to match.

First thing, having created the TOC, though: recent versions of Word make ALL parts of the TOC into hyperlinks to the relevant sections, which is annoying when you're trying to restyle the TOC, so you need to switch this off so that only the page number is a hyperlink, like in old versions. Use the keyboard to put the selection point somewhere in the TOC and then press ALT+F9 to toggle to seeing the field code: delete the bit that says "\h " and then ALT+f9 back again, then F9 alone and choose to "update entire table". Then you can select bits of the TOC and horse about with their formatting to your heart's content. The dot leaders can be a bit naff, but you can select them all (in one go, because they're a format associated with a single tab stop) and expand the character spacing to loosen them up a bit.

Another thing for speeding up repetitive formatting: you can ‘copy' and ‘paste' formatting: not with the "format painter" tool, which switches off the moment you do something else (like type some text) but by selecting something and hitting CTRL+SHIFT+C. That copies the formatting. Then at any time after that you can do CTRL+SHIFT+V to paste it onto other selections.
Ever since I chose to block pop-ups, my toaster's stopped working.

elliot100's picture

Actually, if you double-click the Format Painter tool, it will stay selected until you double-click it again.

Just to add to what dtw above says, macros can really speed up the process.

For example, I have used macros to reformat existing tables with specific text styles, borders and shading; to insert landscape pages into a portrait document; to pull in content from databases.

You could also assign frequently used styles to a toolbar, or keyboard shortcuts.

The "Styles and Formatting" task pane, when set to show "formatting in use", is handy for tracking down formatting glitches - text that is not set to one of your approved styles.

dtw's picture

All good points Elliott.

Actually, if you double-click the Format Painter tool, it will stay selected until you double-click it again.

True, and also handy, but still not as handy as being able to do "work, paste format, work, paste format, work, scroll, switch away, switch back, paste format..."

And, although Print Layout View is essential for seeing real page positioning, Normal View can be set up with the Style Area down the left-hand edge, which gives you a quick overview of which style is applied to each paragraph. So if the text looks fully formatted, but everything says ‘Normal', you know a lot of manual formatting has been applied and needs fixing.

eeblet's picture

Wow, great thread - thanks for all the word tips! My boyfriend's small sorbet business needs a flavor list template that future non-designers can edit, and I was at a loss, since I'd always found Word to mangle type beautifully. Seems that it's my ignorance that's to blame.

Gus Winterbottom's picture

Some other style-related tips that come to mind:

1. If you have a document with a style or styles that you like, you can copy that style or those styles into any other document using the style organizer (Tools > Templates and Add-Ins > Organizer). This is also a fast way to delete all the styles from an existing document, rather than deleting them one-by-one using the Styles and Formatting pane. Just make sure you have the correct files open in both the source (left-hand) and target (right-hand) panes; by default, Word opens normal.dot in the target pane, and there are few things more aggravating than nuking the styles in your carefully-constructed normal template.

2. You can find and replace styles (Ctrl+H or Edit > Replace).

3. You won't see any styles listed down the left-hand side of the screen in Normal view unless you first go to Tools > Options > View > Outline and Normal options and set the Style area width to something other than zero.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I was at a loss, since I’d always found Word to mangle type beautifully. Seems that it’s my ignorance that’s to blame.

Don't blame it all on personal ignorance... Those Word programmers worked extra hard to place menu items and commands where you'd least expect them to be! :-D

dtw's picture

Ricardo's right: the default toolbars are chock-full of near-useless or downright dangerous controls (*cough* bullets and numbering *cough*), while dead-handy ones are hidden away in the depths of the "customise" dialog where you've got to (a) know in advance of their existence and (b) have enough of an idea of their name to be able to find them...

Ever since I chose to block pop-ups, my toaster's stopped working.

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