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Do’s and Don’ts of Text in InDesign

I was recently discussing the difference between “rules” and “laws” with my two young sons. It’s a tricky business, but while breaking a law will get you in trouble with the police, breaking a rule makes me say, “Hey, don’t make me want to come over there and whop you upside the head!”*

There are rules to everything, including working in InDesign, but I keep finding people who either don’t know the rules or can’t be bothered to put them into practice in their own lives. For example, hasn’t everyone on the planet heard by now that:

Don’t type two spaces after a period, colon, or any other punctuation unless you really want something to look like it came from a typewriter from the mid-20th century.

I mean, really. Robin Williams (who wrote The Mac is not a typewriter and The PC is not a typewriter) and I were teaching that almost 20 years ago!

Here’s another rule that, when broken, drives me bonkers:

Don’t apply a character style to an entire paragraph.

Sure, maybe there’s a few rare reasons you’d want to do this, but I can’t think of a single reason you’d ever need to. If you want to affect the look of a paragraph, apply a paragraph style. Character styles should be reserved for little bits of formatting, such as italic, bold, changing the font for a URL or something like that.

Whatever you do, don’t don’t don’t create a “bodytext” paragraph style and a “bodytext” character style and apply both to all your body text. I don’t know why people do this, but I have seen it far too often! Please stop.

There are dozens of these kinds of rules, but only a few more come to mind:

  • Don’t type one or more empty paragraph returns between paragraphs to make space. If you want to make space, use Space Before or Space After, or use Keep With. That’s what those features are there for.
  • Do use paragraph styles for every paragraph in your document unless you’re doing a little one-page ad. And two corollaries: Don’t use the Basic Paragraph Style if you can avoid it, and don’t base other paragraph styles on Basic Paragraph Style if you can avoid it. You will only get yourself in trouble, especially if you ever have to copy your text from one document into another.
  • Don’t press Tab, Tab, Tab to place the text halfway across the page. Instead, type tab once and place a tab stop where you want the text to land.
  • Don’t type in ALL CAPS! If you really need something to be in capital letters, apply the All Caps style to that text (so you can turn it off later when you come to your senses).

I can’t think of anymore right now. (Not because no more will come to mind, but rather because if I keep thinking about this I’m just going to get too upset.) But feel free to add your own “Text Rules” below!

*In case you were worrying: No, I’m anti-violence and I’ve never actually said this or done this to my children. But to you… well, I might make an exception for you, especially on that applying character styles to a whole story thing…

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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  • - November 30, -0001
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69 Comments on “Do’s and Don’ts of Text in InDesign

  1. -Peter,
    “Use bullets and numbering, do not insert bullets or number things manually.”

    Yeah, I do it correctly now. It took me a while to see the button or set the paragraph style for that.

    “Do not manually adust tracking (or even kerning) to copyfit a story?

    “Do not add a big black drop shadow to black 10pt body copy (or use a white drop shadow to make text ?readable? because you placed it on top of a really contrasty image)”

    Both of these are not up to our designers. If the writers don’t want to write more or less to fix it, they aren’t going to. The same goes for Marketing folks who picked a photo and cropping I wouldn’t have chosen.

    -Grant, whereas I agree with you, when an editorial staff decides to use AP style or makes up a company style, we have to follow it. Unfortunately, Marketing doesnt, who we also work with. There are so many copy/text ‘rules’ at my co., it would make your head spin, especially the ones that contradict each other. I know it does to the Copy Editor. ;)

  2. I’m sorry but I have to disagree with the ALL CAPS style. I have seen where someone has used that and it messes up the character space when you export to pdfx but when you print (with distiller) all is fine. This happens with different fonts, not just a particular one. I guess what I’m saying is, use it but BE CAREFUL and check the type that uses any kind of style when you export.

  3. You guys make me laugh. I have banned much pre-formatting from those who write what I must format! I love all of you! I am pro-para and character styles and I absolutely cannot stand guides all over the page (i know a fellow designer who has upwards of 20 guides ahowing–scurry). I am ANTI-CAPS period LOL. I ahve suffered the consequences of not embedding a graphic amongst changing text. However, I am guilty of using Basic Paragraph and have suffered the consequences. Live and learn…

  4. Hey Dave,
    You may have answered this before on this site, but I’ve been searching through some of the categories but to avail…

    Q: I’m working in CS3, clients’ are in CS2. When I send them an INX file, only the text file is visible and unlocked, the images and background layers are locked and turned off. The text wrap remains the same before I send. The problem is when they open it on their end, and I recieve it back… the text wrap goes nuts, and text over-sets itself. It seems it happens for objects that have Wrap to Edges or Alpha Channels as oppose to Wrap to Frame. Is there a compatibility issue when it comes to text wrapping? And how could we avoid this again? (other than to have the client edit text in a RTF file). Cheers.

  5. David Blatner said, “Don?t type one or more empty paragraph returns between paragraphs to make space. If you want to make space, use Space Before or Space After, or use Keep With. That?s what those features are there for.”

    When I copy text from Adobe Reader 7 files, it doesn’t know the difference between line breaks and paragraph breaks in the original file. Is there any way of coding an InDesign file to maintain this distinction when output to PDF? I would think that putting an empty paragraph between “real” paragraphs would do this, perhaps using a special format so that the spacing comes out right (or maybe even allowing zero extra spacing if desired). Is there a better solution?

  6. Prozacgrrl: Sorry I didn’t see this earlier. I don’t have any good answers for you, though; you shouldn’t see this kind of change via INX.

    Shmuel: No, there’s really not much you can do there. Once something is turned into PDF, it loses a lot of its “structure.” One exception is if you turn on the Use Tags feature in the export pdf dialog box. Another option is to use Recosoft’s PDF2ID tool, which uses some sophisticated analysis to figure out what’s a paragraph, etc.

  7. Thanks, David. Once I get my working copy of InDesign CS3 (30-day trial version has expired), I will play around with this some more, as I believe it is important to preserve as much as possible in the PDF, which usually gets a lot more distribution than original layout files.

    PS. I really made (and make) great use of Real Word QuarkXPress 6 and have started reading my way through Real World InDesign CS3.

  8. Newbie Here

    Peter wrote: ?Do not manually adust tracking (or even kerning) to copyfit a story and say ?Hey, nobody?s gonna notice?? ?

    How am I meant to get copy to fit without adjusting tracking?

    I’m “typesetting” various bits of texts I’ve copied and pasted from the internet into my fake magazine page layouts. Every bit of text I deal with needs tracking here and there to make it “bottom out”/fit the available space.

    What do the Pros do to make text fit a given space if they’re not tracking?

    Reading a novel in the garden the other day, I noticed one of the paragraphs om a page had been set with slightly larger word spacing to keep the text justified
    – I didn’t mind and very much doubt any non-designer/type person would even have noticed but is this unprofessional?

  9. Wow, lots to read here, and I have to admit *hangs head in shame* I haven’t had any education in this field and thus do what I think looks good and works well.
    I’m crazy about using layers — every file I make has at least 3 of them, for the background, images and text — and set character, paragraph, cell and table styles where and when I can. But rules… they’re for weaklings (I kid, I kid). I just wing it :D

  10. Deano: I’m going to have to agree with you on this one — adjusting kerning and tracking is a time-honored method for copyfitting. The problem is that in ID (especially with paragraph composition), it doesn’t always work the way you expect. See my comment above about the TypeFitter plug-in.

  11. Where can I get these rules as a poster, so I can tack them above every designer’s workspace?

    Seriously, though, about the multiple box thing…

    Once had a designer that used separate boxes for every element of a price pop in a catalog (one for the $, another for the dollar amount, another for the cents, yet another for the decimal!) so she could scale and style each one independently. (truth be told, she was a much better typesetter than I could ever hope to be.) OK, worked for her styling, but I was then tasked with making a style library out of them – one that could be applied to running type. Imagine all the kerning, tracking, baseline shifting – not to mention different font weights! – and putting all of that into a style sheet so someone else could apply it quickly.

    right now I get designers who use a combination of subheds inline with running text as well as outside in their own frames, all on the same page. Invariably, someone says, “hey, this space doesn’t match that space – why?”

    and yes, lists – use them. We just did a story with 125 products, numbered. Getting the formatting right was tricky (numbered product name, then description, then nutritional info were all separate ‘graphs, different sizes and leading, which I had to make into one to get the numbering to work) but there was no way I was going to number 125 items across 10 pages manually, then renumber them when the order changed. The designer balked (mainly because she likes to soft-return down the side of a column (!) to get better rags, and those were my nested style delimiters) but it worked in the end.

    (and I now have one more reason to add to my growing list of why I need CS3 now – replacing the tab in the list with an em-space – thanks Anne-Marie)

    now if I could only add “thou shalt not use soft-returns in running type” to the list of floggable offenses – that and all of the type set to “body copy”, no matter how it’s styled, styled with character styles, then locally formatted.

  12. “Don?t type in ALL CAPS! If you really need something to be in capital letters, apply the All Caps style to that text (so you can turn it off later when you come to your senses).”

    This seems obvious, but I bet 90% of people just type in all caps, which looks terrible in 90% of cases.

  13. I think you can convert Registration Black to normal Black in Acrobat 9, can’t you? In the new Convert Colors dialog box? I haven’t tried it, but I thought I remember seeing it.

  14. hanging punctuation is recommended for body text mainly, and never for tables where tabular lining figures work best

    and here’s another one: never have columns longer than 60-70 characters including spaces, since they become difficult to read

  15. Pingback: Typography: Soft and Hard Returns | VC Learnaholic

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