Did you know you could save money on print or web publishing simply by starting with clean copy? Whether you are publishing a document for print or for the web, the process always starts with a text file, most commonly a Microsoft Word file. Because that file is the source of content that will potentially appear in many forms—a web page, a PDF, an ePub and/or print publication—the cleaner it is, the less cleanup a designer or developer will have to do. So formatting it correctly up front will not only save you time and money but avoid duplicating cleanup efforts at various stages of the process.
- Properly format all text with paragraph and character styles.
- Don’t use extraneous characters.
- Provide a proofread document.
Why Should You Care?
We know you’re busy and you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time for this. This is what I pay the designer to do.” That’s fine, and you can continue doing what you’ve been doing. But as we always say, when you help your designer, you help yourself. So we want to make you aware of some of the benefits.
Using paragraph and character styles gives you a more streamlined process. How many times have you tried to remember what a top- or second-level heading looked like as you got further into your document? Or how you formatted that one block quote or sidebar 20 (or was it 40?) pages ago? Imagine not having to do that! Setting up styles gives you a more automated process.
If you don’t have the interest or time to set up styles in a template yourself, that’s understandable. You can have a designer create a branded template for you to use. Then you can simply type and apply styles as needed, letting you focus on the content, not formatting.
Properly formatting text with styles will also save you money, especially if it’s for any Section 508–compliant/accessibility work or a larger publication. If we designers have to start with a non-styled document, we have to do more work up front, so we must take that into consideration when estimating any work involving accessibility, a book or a large brochure.
When you need a long document laid out professionally, styles really save your designer time in the layout process because the styles can be mapped from Word to the page layout software. What that means for you is that you could save a lot of money on that job since your designer would not have to go in and format all the text by hand. Again, this is something taken into consideration when we provide an estimate.
When you have a document proofread before sending it to a designer, it will also save money (and time in the production process). The designer won’t have to make as many revisions later, after having started the layout. It doesn’t help to have a designer start laying out a draft document only for it to change later. Plus, you should always have a clean source file in your records, so any edits that you request that the designer make, you should also make in your Word document (or request that the designer provide a text file at the end of the job).
Word styles convey to the designer where headings fall in the hierarchy of the document. It also tells us which elements should be sidebars, block quotes, etc. If we cannot tell the difference between those elements and body text, or between two levels of headings, we have to stop to ask. If we’re laying out a book, that could be a lot of questions (meaning time—on our end and yours) to get answers.
Clean, well-formatted documents that make proper use of styles enjoy better search engine positioning as a result of having a hierarchy in place.
Paragraph and Character Styles
Probably the most impactful way to clean up your Word documents is to make use of paragraph and character styling. It’s surprising how few people actually take advantage of styles! It’s astonishing that having been in this field since the late 1990s, I can recall seeing fewer than a handful of clients use styles, even when we’ve suggested it to reduce their costs (but we get it: it’s often more about your time than budget, and we do strive to make your work easier).
Styles are not just about looks; they create the structure of the document. They make it clear visually and structurally—to the designer, the reader and search engines—what should be body text, what should be a top-level heading, a subheading, etc.
As designers, we don’t care what your styled text actually looks like. We care about styles because they convey to us the hierarchy of the text. We don’t have to stop and guess which headings should be formatted as a top-level heading or a subhead, what should be a sidebar, for instance, and we can easily reformat the way they each look in our professional page layout program. We don’t expect you to make things look like they should look in the resulting document. That’s what you’ve hired us for. 🙂 However, in the case that you are publishing a document (a Word document or PDF) yourself, without the help of a designer, then you’ll want to style your headings and text cosmetically (making them look as you want them to actually appear).
Paragraph styles apply to an entire paragraph. They give you the ability to format both structural and visual effects such as:
- alignment (left, center, right, justified)
- line spacing (between lines within a paragraph)
- the amount of space before and after a paragraph
- type size
- emphasis (bold or italics)
Some elements that make use of paragraph styling are:
- body text
- chapter titles
- headings of multiple levels
- bulleted or numbered lists
- block quotes
- footnotes or endnotes
- tables of contents
Character styles apply to selected characters or words and allow you to format visual effects such as:
- type size
- bold or italics
- superscript or subscript positioning
Some elements that make use of character styling are:
- words needing emphasis
- letters shown in another font (such as Greek symbols)
- Be sure the Styles toolbox is visible. If not, go to View > Styles (or View > Formatting Palette, depending on which platform and version you are using).
- Paragraph styles have a paragraph mark to the right of their names, while character styles have a lowercase a.
- If all styles are not shown, click on the List popup menu and select All Styles.
Creating New or Modifying Existing Styles
You can create a new or modify an existing style in one of two ways:
Styling it first
- Type in some text (or open an existing document) and format one of the elements mentioned above (body text, a heading, etc.).
- With the cursor somewhere within that paragraph (for a new paragraph style) or with word(s) selected (for a new character style):
- Create a new style by going to the Styles (or Formatting) palette and selecting New Style from the floating palette. Alternatively, you can use the top menu and go to Format > Style > New. Name the style and select the type of style. Note: lists should actually be the List style type and tables the Table style type.
- Modify an existing style by going to the Styles (or Formatting) palette, clicking on the arrow to the right of the style name and choosing Update to Match Selection.
Using the dialog box
- Click on the arrow to the right of the style name in the formatting palette and choose Modify Style.
- Click on the Format popup menu at the bottom left and format what is desired.
Note: the caveats with this method are: 1) you cannot see the changes as they are made, so you will have to exit the dialog box to see the effects you just applied; and 2) if you have the cursor within any previously styled text, the style will take on the properties of that text unless you are overriding those effects in the process.
- To apply a paragraph style, you don’t need to select the whole paragraph; just place the cursor somewhere inside that paragraph and then select the name of the desired paragraph style (marked with a paragraph symbol) from the palette.
- To apply a character style, first select the letters or words to which you want to apply the style, then select the name of the desired character style (marked with an a) in the Styles palette.
Remember: if you are having a designer lay out your document, don’t worry about making it look like how you want it laid out (centering text, formatting heading color and size, etc.) You’re hiring us to design it, and we’ll take care of the cosmetics in our page layout software.
When you properly apply paragraph and character styles, you have to do very little formatting manually. It also means you won’t need to use extraneous characters to achieve the desired outcome. You won’t need to use one or more tabs in succession to indent or align text, have to hit the return key multiple times to get a space between paragraphs or add in hard returns where they don’t belong (such as in mid-paragraph). Below are some tips to help you avoid inserting unnecessary characters.
- Use tabs properly. If a tab is needed, insert one (just one) and format the tab placement (Format > Tabs). Do not use multiple tabs in succession to indent further. Tabs should not be used for paragraph indentation. Instead, go to Format > Paragraph > Indents and Spacing and, under Indentation > Special, choose First Line and insert 0.25 or 0.5 inch or another measurement for the indentation. You can then create a new style with that indentation or update your default paragraph style to reflect the change.
- Align text properly. Do not insert tabs to align text. Use the alignment tools instead (left, center, right or justified).
- Don’t insert double spaces. Inserting double spaces is from the days of the typewriter. Computer programs make this an unnecessary step.
- Only use the enter/return key to start a new paragraph. Typing on the computer is not like typing on a typewriter: a line break should not be placed at the end of every line of text—only at the end of every paragraph. (Yes, we’ve actually gotten documents like that.)
Other Microsoft Word Tips
- Do not insert images into the document. Always send image files separately, as individual image files. The image quality is diminished once placed into Word. It is acceptable, however, to include them in the document for position only (FPO), to convey to the designer where they should appear.
- Don’t send the designer a new Word document because you needed to make a few minor revisions. We have to start over. Instead, track changes so we can see the changes. Better yet: wait and make the changes on the proof. It’s always easier and more efficient for us to make changes when we can see them as they appear in the layout.
- Check for live text. Live text is able to selected and copied. It is neither part of nor has it been converted to an image. If it’s not live text, we may need to retype it. To select all live text in a document, go to Edit > Select All, or hit Ctrl+A (PC) or Cmd+A (Mac).
- Check spelling and grammar. Set your preferences to check spelling and grammar as you type. This comes in super handy. Go to Preferences > Spelling and Grammar.
- Magnify your view. View > Zoom gives you a lot of options: preset or custom percentages, page width or whole page. This comes in handy when you want to type or edit at a closer level without increasing the type size.
- Display your name. User settings—one of the preferences—stores your name, title, e-mail address, organization, etc. It is especially important that the name be filled out, especially in the case of multiple people reviewing a document. Otherwise, your changes and comments will have generic information displayed (instead of your name) and others will not be able to determine who edited or commented.
For enhanced productivity, use keyboard shortcuts common to many other programs for performing the same functions:
Get more helpful tips on our Resources page.