Thanks for coming to, the world's #1 resource for all things InDesign!

InDesign for editors

As an InDesign consultant and educator, I encounter many companies where editors, journalists, copywriters, and other wordsmiths use InDesign. More often than not, these people have to make late-stage edits in a complex layout that was created by someone else.

Yes, I realize that this is what Adobe InCopy is created for, or alternatives such as Wordsflow or Docsflow. But sometimes, for a wide variety of reasons, InDesign is used instead. After being asked by a regular customer to give their editors a quick couple of hours of InDesign training, I put on my thinking cap and came up with a list of the bare minimum set of things that an editorial person would need to know about InDesign. Here is what I came up with.

  • Things to do before you begin: exit Preview mode, show Frame Edges, and show Hidden Characters.
  • Basic navigation (zooming in and out, turning pages)
  • Using the Story Editor (this is the most important topic of all!)
  • What to do when you are unable to select text or an object
  • Cut, Copy, & Paste, Paste Without Formatting
  • Find/Change
  • Checking spelling
  • Changing case
  • How to insert special characters
  • Drag and drop text editing
  • How to apply bullets and numbers
  • Using Notes and Track Changes
  • Table editing

I believe this covers the absolute necessities of what an editorial user would need to know. Depending on the complexity of the layout, teaching someone without InDesign skills to figure out how to access the text on a complex page can be difficult. But this is where I would start.

I put together a quick PDF handout for the people in my training class. I thought I’d share it with the InDesignSecrets community in hopes that others will learn from it.

Download InDesign for editors (571k PDF)

Keith Gilbert

Keith Gilbert

Keith Gilbert is a digital publishing consultant and educator, Adobe Certified Instructor, Adobe Community Professional, conference speaker, author, and contributing writer for various publications. His work has taken him throughout North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. During his 30 years as a consultant, his clients have included Adobe, Apple, Target, the United Nations, Best Buy, General Mills, Lands' End, and Medtronic. Follow him on Twitter @gilbertconsult and at
Keith Gilbert

Latest posts by Keith Gilbert (see all)

  • - November 30, -0001
Related Articles

13 Comments on “InDesign for editors

  1. Nice handy stuff. Thanks. Some of my colleagues, who don’t have the InDesign knowledge will love this crash course.

  2. Great list. I’ve been asked to teach the same thing, for some clients, over the years. Often for editors at magazines.

    This is probably in your “basic navigating” section, but I’ve learned we need to spend some dedicated time on moving between the Selection tool and the Type tool, and to paying attention to which tool is selected. So many Word mavens are completely unfamiliar in a program with multiple tools and cursors.

    Also, layers can flummox editors, if the designers use them in the layout. Showing the Layers panel, and teaching how to hide and show a layer, or lock and unlock them, can prevent a lot of frustration. ;-D

  3. Keith,

    Interesting that you don’t say anything about paragraph or character styles. Is this meant only for editors who work on text prior to typesetting/layout? I would think that even if they are working with the text before composition, it would be useful for them to know what styles are.

  4. Thanks for the PDF Keith, it’s on its way to editorial now.

    Anne-Marie I tend to keep my text on a separate layer with the graphic layers locked. Less damage that way. ;)

  5. Great list, Keith. Thanks for sharing your observations from the field.

    Depending on the class of publication, and editor’s responsibilities, it may be necessary to work with footnotes, cross-references, and running headers/footers, TOCs, and indexes.

    Because these operations can reflow text, re-order cross-references and footnotes, affect numbered lists, etc, I suggest that a few words about the consequences changing content with various tasks: where and how to look for possible changes.

    It also might be helpful to group the items in this list by the expectations placed up on the editing pass: copy, proofreading, and technical, for example.


    Peter Gold

  6. Matt, great point about the paragraph and character styles! If text formatting is any part of their work, of course it’s essential to cover these … not really how to *create* styles (since that’d be the designers’ purview), but how to apply them correctly, and how to check for and correct local overrides — the plus symbols.

    I was teaching this exact thing yesterday to the design/production team at a prominent assocation journal. They couldn’t figure out why some of the text in the final layout was “greyish” and had almost gone to press like that. It only became apparent when looking at printouts, not on screen.

    Turns out that an occasional paragraph was slipping through the production workflow with an override of Word’s RGB black color applied. The editors who were flowing in Word text into text frames and applying basic styles; and the designers who were tweaking formatting, finessing the layout and adding art and captions never noticed that these colors has slipped in (you can see them in the Swatches panel). All the bad boy paragraphs had the style “Body Copy+” and the + was the Word RGB override. My guess was that a new editorial hire was for some reason selecting text and changing the Text Color to Black from the Word color palette, and those are all RGB colors.

    • Oh boy, Word RGB black… There should be an automatic script that takes care of those colours as the texts are pasted.

      Clearing paragraph overrides should fix them (the paragraph button in the paragraph styles panel), of course, and a preflight check should find them. It is a pity that anything we can do to fix these things requires us to first find the problem.

  7. NOTE: “Feature Creep” in progress.

    Seriously, we’re all advocating attention to important parts of InDesign’s range of abilities, which is fine. However, because the concept of “editor” is really undefined, it’s really a problem to define a Swiss-Army list of an editor’s essential skills.

    It would be great if there are any editors on this list, and/or if anyone on the list would point some editors they know to Keith’s list, and ask them which InDesign skills/features would be essential to which kinds of editorial passes.

    And, Keith, any observations on what you’ve seen are needs for one or another set of editing tasks/passes?

  8. Keith,

    Nice list. Maybe you could add these:
    1. Learn how to configure the keyboard. The kbsc editor has all kinds of gems which aren’t available in the interface.
    2. If you’re serious about using inDesign as a copy-editing and/or editing tool, learn GREP and some scripting. Even very basic skills can be very useful.

    I have worked as a copy-editor, editor, and typesetter for quite a while. Over the years I’ve developed numerous scripts for editing and setting tasks. I know that not everyone can afford to take out the time to learn how to script, but you can have utilities developed. Small scripts to clean up texts and do things like setting en-rules in pages ranges and that kind of text-processing thing, but also more involved scripts like extracting all bibliographical references from an article or a book and comparing that list with the article’s/book’s bibliography, drawing syntactic trees, lining up language examples, etc. etc. Takes the tedium out of a lot of editing and setting work and it’s good fun, too!

    Maybe I should write it all up…


  9. Thanks for the PDF! It is hard to choose the absolute essentials for any InDesign training, but you did a good job. I would need to add styles also, but apart from that, this seems complete.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *