Controlling the Formatting of Imported Text in Word and InDesign

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You've probably seen it happen when you copy and paste text from a web page or another document: The text pastes with the formatting from the document you copied from, so the text formatting doesn't match the document you pasted into. Is there a better way?

To save time reformatting text that hangs onto its old formatting, take advantage of features that automatically adapt text styles to match the current document. Some applications, such as Adobe InDesign, let you control the formatting of both pasted text and placed documents.

Cleaning Up Text You Paste into Word or InDesign

When you copy and paste text from software that copies formatting to the clipboard, how that pasted text appears depends on the application you're pasting into. Some applications try to preserve any formatting that comes with the text, while others strip all formatting from pasted text. To get the formatting you want, see if the application you're pasting into lets you keep or discard the formatting.

When you paste into Microsoft Word, the Paste Options icon appears next to the text you pasted; click this icon to choose how to format that text. The Match Destination Formatting and Keep Text Only options both adapt pasted text so that its formatting matches the receiving document; the difference is that Match Destination Formatting tries to retain character styling such as bold or italic text.

 

In Word and other Office applications you can also use the commands Edit > Paste and Match Formatting and Edit > Paste Special. Paste and Match Formatting is like the Match Destination Formatting option in the Paste Options button, while the Paste Special command opens a dialog box where you can choose from multiple ways to format the pasted text.

You may find that Adobe InDesign is already set up so that it adapts the formatting of pasted text to the text frame you paste it into. But if you find that pasted text is keeping formatting you don't want, the next time you paste text choose Edit > Paste Without Formatting.

Both InDesign and Word have a preference where you set the default behavior for how text pastes. In Word it's in the Edit preferences, and in InDesign it's in the Clipboard Handling preferences. In InDesign, note that the All Information option preserves text features like index markers, swatches, and styles, so you might want to turn on that option if you often copy and paste text between InDesign documents that are part of the same project and need to keep attributes like those. But the Text Only option is what you want if you usually need to strip formatting from pasted text.

Cleaning Up Text You Place into InDesign

In InDesign, when you choose File > Place and select a formatted word processing document (such as a Word or Rich Text Format (RTF) document), select Show Import Options to see a dialog box that lets you control whether the document's formatting should be preserved or discarded before being added to an InDesign text frame. If the document you're placing uses paragraph or character style names that also exist in the InDesign document but are defined differently, you can use the Style Name Conflicts section to make the imported styles take on the definitions of the InDesign styles of the same name.

If the document you're importing has paragraph or character styles that you don't want to add to the InDesign document, you can use the Customize Style Import option and the Style Mapping button to assign any imported style name to a style name and definition that already exists in InDesign. Style mapping helps prevent unwanted styles from being added to your InDesign paragraph and character style lists.

The Last Resort

What if you want to get rid of formatting in text you're pasting, but the application you're pasting into doesn't give you any control over how the text pastes? There's a last resort you can use: The text editor that comes with your operating system. In OS X you can use the Apple TextEdit application, and in Windows you can use Microsoft Notepad. I use these applications as all-purpose text format removers.

In OS X, simply paste text into a new TextEdit document and then choose Format > Make Plain Text. This strips all formatting from the text, and then you can copy and paste that text to its final destination. Because the text no longer carries formatting, it will take on the formatting of the paragraph you paste it into. In Windows, pasting text into a new document in the Notepad application does the same thing because Notepad has no features for styling text.

In the example above, the bottom window shows the text with the formatting removed by the Make Plain Text command.

By default, TextEdit is set up to handle Rich Text Format (RTF) documents. If you want to use TextEdit primarily as a plain text (no formatting) editor, choose TextEdit > Preferences, and in the New Document tab, select the Plain Text option. Now you can skip the step of choosing the Make Plain Text command because new TextEdit documents will be created as plain text.

You might question whether controlling how text formats import is even necessary, given that InDesign and Word give you ways to remove paragraph and character style overrides at any time. But if you wait until after text importing is finished, unwanted paragraph or character styles will be added to the document. Controlling how text pastes or places lets you avoid the production hassle of tracking down and removing styles that aren't supposed to be there.

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