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Fastest Way(s) to Apply Styles

I was watching an editor format a story in InCopy the other day. While I was happy to see he was using the Paragraph Styles his designers included in the layout (as opposed to manually formatting text with commands in the Character and Paragraph panels), it was painful to see how much mousing and clicking he was doing for each style he applied.

He would drag over a paragraph’s worth of text to select it … mouse over to the far right edge of his monitor to reveal the Paragraph Styles panel … scroll through the list of styles and click on the one he wanted … one paragraph done. Move back to the text. Drag-select another paragraph. Go back to the panel …

After a minute or so my teeth were ground down to nubs and I couldn’t take it anymore. I gently inquired if I could show him a few alternative ways to apply styles that would be faster and put less of a strain on his poor mousing arm.

“Well, okay, if you in–” he was saying as I shoved him over and scooted my chair up to his computer.

Fast Styling

First, let’s see what you’ve got to work with. Look inside your Paragraph Styles and Character Styles panels. You may or may not have any character styles available — it depends on how the designer constructed the file — but you will almost always have a few paragraph styles in addiiton to the default Basic Paragraph. If you need more, you’ll have to ask the design team — remember, InCopy users can’t add or modify styles in a layout or assignment. I covered this in “Dueling Styles.

If the designer included character styles (such as Bold Lead-in or Price), always apply the appropriate paragraph style first, then go back and apply character styles to the instances of text that needs it. Why? Because often, a character style doesn’t contain complete formatting instructions, it just changes one or two attributes — it turns text red and makes it bold, for example, but doesn’t change the typeface. By applying a character style to text already formatted with a paragraph style, you should see the final formatting you expect.

You do not have to select an entire paragraph to apply a paragraph style or formatting choice from the Paragraph panel; your blinking cursor inside the paragraph is sufficient for the program to know which one to format. (With character styles and local character formatting, though, you do have to select the text first.) If you want to apply the same paragraph style to more than one contiguous paragraph, drag-select some text in all the paragraphs first, then choose a style in the panel. One click, multiple paragraphs formatted.

When faced with the task of formatting a long, text-only story that needs a mix of styles applied, begin by selecting all the text (Edit > Select All, or Control/Command-A) and then applying the paragraph style that’s used by most of the story’s paragraphs, perhaps “Body”. This is the smartest way to work even if the story will eventually require five or ten different styles, because all you need to do now is click in the paragraphs that shouldn’t have that style and apply the right one. (The day I learned that the fastest way to format a Q&A article was to select all the text, apply the “Question” style; then go back and apply the “Answer” style to every other paragraph was a happy day.)

If you’re going to be doing a lot of text formatting, relocate the relevant panels where they’re convenient to reach. Detach the Paragraph Styles panel, for example, from its docked position by dragging its title bar or tab name to the middle of your screen, next to the column of text you’re working on, and release the mouse. Ta-da, a floating panel that requires a flick of the wrist to reach, as opposed to moving the mouse a half a foot each time.

Faster Styling

Did you know it’s possible to use custom keyboard shortcuts to apply paragraph and character styles? That way, as you’re editing text, you can quickly tap the keyboard shortcut for Body or Subhead or whatever, and bam, the paragraph is styled. The problem is that only the InDesign user can add keyboard shortcuts to styles, since the field is inside the Style Options dialog box .

So if you’re in InCopy and you’re not seeing keyboard shortcuts next to the style names in the panels, ask the design team if they can add some. If you ask nicely and bring them donuts, the next time you open the assignment or layout (or choose File > Update Design) you should see the shortcuts appear in your Paragraph Styles and Character Styles panels.

By the way, keyboard shortcuts for styles are cross-platform. If the designers assign Option-Num5 to the Body style on their Macs, it appears in Windows InCopy as Alt-Num5.

Many local formatting commands have built-in keyboard shortcuts, like Command/Control-Shift-B to make text bold and Option/Alt-Left/Right Arrow to track type in or out. You can find a list of these in the Help file (Help > InCopy Help). Select the entry “Keyboard Shortcuts” toward the bottom of the Help Contents and click the subcategory links for Keys for Working with Type and Keys for Working with Text to see them.
Fastest Styling

Alas, there is no Format Painter tool in InCopy as there is in Microsoft Word. But we do have something that comes close, and is actually much more flexible: Quick Apply. It’s available in CS2 and CS3, and requires just one keyboard shortcut to invoke: Control-Enter (Command-Return on a Mac).

Pressing that shortcut (or choosing Edit > Quick Apply) opens up the little-known Quick Apply window, which lists all styles available in the document. No need to mouse over to the window, just enter a few characters from the style’s name that you want to apply, and Quick Apply immediately filters the list of styles down to the ones that have those characters. As soon as you enter enough characters (or a unique string, like “h1” if you want “Header – Level 1”) to distinguish that style from the others, it will be the only one in the Quick Apply list.

Too much work to filter it down? Just enter enough characters so the list filters down to a handful of matches, then use your arrow keys to highlight the one style you want.

Now press the Enter/Return key. The Quick Apply window goes away and the style you chose in its window is immediately applied to the paragraph or selection. Once you’ve applied a style from Quick Apply, it’s easy to apply that same style again elsewhere in the story. Move your Type cursor to the next bit of text you want to format, press Control-Enter to open Quick Apply, and press Enter again to close it. (That’s Command-Return, Return on a Mac). You don’t need to see what’s inside the Quick Apply window — it remembers the last style selected and applies it to the new text.

In CS3, Quick Apply includes not just styles, but all menu commands and scripts, which can be quite handy. However, if you’re mainly concerned with styles, you might want to turn those off so the list of matches isn’t overwhelming. You can do that by opening Quick Apply, revealing its categories pop-up menu (a little triangle to the left of the search field in the Quick Apply window) and unchecking the “Include:” categories you don’t want Quick Apply to worry its pretty little head about.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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5 Comments on “Fastest Way(s) to Apply Styles

  1. I have a question. In Microsoft Word, you can highlight sections of text that are not connected and apply a bold or ital all at once. There doesn’t seem to be this kind of feature in InCopy (even if you did still have to mouse over to change the font). Is that true? Or am I missing something?

  2. Hi Kirsten, you’re correct, you can’t select discontinuous text in InCopy. This would be a great feature request to submit, though (and Adobe does read these):

    In the meantime, Find/Change and/or Nested Styles can automate this quite a bit, depending on if there’s a pattern to what you’re trying to bold or italicize.

    You can often press Command/Ctrl-Shift-B for Bold and Command/Ctrl-Shift-I for Italic, too. (But as you say, in some fonts you have to actually choose the style from the dropdown menu.)

  3. Thanks so much Anne-Marie. I just went in and made a request. Unfortunately the Command/Ctrl-Shift-B function doesn’t work in this case for me.

  4. I originate the content in InCopy, then pass it to the designer after I’ve formatted. After I create an InCopy file, I click on Load Paragraph Styles and load styles from a previously formatted story. My problem is that at some point, a preference or something was changed so that ALL my paragraph styles automatically are italic, and I have to go into Character Styles to change them every time. How do I fix this?

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