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Styles That Apply Themselves

Ideally, we could have the computer figure out which styles go where and have InCopy apply them on its own. We could just say “Computer, format text” (maybe speaking into the mouse as though it were a microphone, like Scotty did in that Star Trek movie) and go on to the next task. Wouldn’t that be nice?

(Listen to Scotty’s “Hello, computer!”)

You can get close to that functionality, actually, if your publication’s styles use two advanced InDesign features, Nested Styles and Next Styles. They work exactly the same in both InDesign and InCopy, but again, can only be added to a publication’s styles from within InDesign because the controls appear in the Paragraph Style Options dialog box. (On the other hand, If you’re working with a standalone InCopy document, you have full access to this dialog box and can create them yourself.)

Nested Styles

A nested style is a pre-defined character style that is “embedded” into a paragraph style’s definition. The program automatically applies the nested character style to some of the text in a paragraph whenever the so-configured paragraph style is applied to it. One or more nested styles can be included in a given paragraph style, saving at least two or three steps every time you apply the paragraph style.

Let’s say you have a paragraph style called Body-First that gets applied to the first paragraph in a story. This paragraph has no first-line indent; instead, the first three words should be bold and all caps. Normally, you apply the Body-First style to the paragraph, then select the first three words, open the Character Styles panel, and click BoldCaps-LeadIn to format them.

Instead, in Body-First’s style options, you can specify that the first three words should be formatted with the BoldCaps-LeadIn style. From then on, applying the Body-First style to a paragraph automatically applies not just the paragraph style, but also the specified character style to the lead-in phrase without you having to select the words or click on the character style. Magic!

Because they can be chained and looped, nested styles can do all sorts of automatic formatting for you. If you find yourself having to apply the same character style over and over, consult with your designers and the online help documents to see if you can use them for your publication.

Next Style

By default, “Same Style” is set up as the Next Style for every new paragraph style. You know this intuitively already — when you hit Return/Enter to start a new paragraph, the new text has the same paragraph style as the previous paragraph. But in the Style Options dialog box for Body-First, for example, the designer could specify that the Next Style should be (the plain) Body instead of the same Body-First style. That way the paragraph style will automatically switch to the correct one as soon as you start a new paragraph.

Similarly, specifying Body as the next style for Subhead, or Answer as the next style for Question (and vice versa) allows InCopy to automatically switch to the correct paragraph style as you start new paragraphs in the story you’re writing.

What if the story’s already written, but unformatted? Clicking inside the first paragraph and choosing Body-First from the Paragraph Styles panel applies that style to the paragraph, but won’t automatically apply Body-First’s Next Style to the subsequent paragraphs.

To use the Next Styles feature on existing text, you have to employ a slightly different technique. Make a text selection that starts with at least some of the text in the first paragraph (the one you want to apply the “starting” style to — Body-First in our example) and includes additional, subsequent paragraphs that should be formatted with the Next Style feature. Then right-click on the starting style’s name in the Paragraph Style panel and choose the command “Apply Body-First then Next Style.”

The “Apply [this style] then Next Style” command only appears in the context menu when you’ve made a text selection that includes text from two or more paragraphs, so be sure and do that first.

While the Nested Styles and Next Styles features are unrelated, they can of course work together. Imagine being able to select all the text in a story, choosing Apply Body-First and then Next Style, and then, “Hello, computer!” all the text is formatted with the correct paragraph styles and character styles. Sweet … and definitely possible.

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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4 Comments on “Styles That Apply Themselves

  1. No one seems to be reading these posts. There was a duplicate post and then another duplicate posting of the original. Clearly contact information should be included.

  2. I’m interested in seeing if there is a way to set-up an InCopy template which has fields for sequenced Para Styles. I am working with a few thousand articles that need to be typed and typeset which all have similar formatting but in some cases the “next Para style” changes changes based on whether or not certain elements exist for that specific article – every possible element has a pre-defined para style. Trying to automate the assignment of para styles as much as possible by typing into a field as opposed to having someone manually apply the styles later. Any recommendations?

  3. Well, there is the Next Style option, and the ability to select a range of text, right-click on the style name that should be applied to the first paragraph in the selection and choose “Apply [name of style] and then Next Style” which can do some nifty auto-formatting of the entire selection. But I don’t think that’s what you want for thousands of files.

    I think you would only be able to do that via scripting. You should post this in the InCopy Scripting forum, or over in the InCopy section of the forums.A good number of excellent ID/IC scripters hang out there.

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