Styles • 27 March 2008 • The SnowBlog
I know some people didn't understand why using character and paragraph styles is a good thing when I banged on about them, but I am living the proof of it at the moment. I am doing some work for a client who has sent me a word doc that needs designing, in InDesign, before outputting to PDF. Sure enough, there's nary a character or paragraph style in sight. So rather than it taking me five minutes, it's taken me an hour for each word doc - and there are five of them - to manually identify and stylise the bolds, italics, headings and so on. So I will be charging them triple, and wasting lots of time. Shame.
I might start to insist on entry standards for readers of the SnowBlog. You're not allowed to read this blog unless you use styles. Hmm, tricky to enforce...maybe I'll create a written test. You have been warned.
This is semi-superfluous because Em has covered much of this before, but I thought I'd just quickly spell out again what this 'styles' business is all about it. Styles get used in Microsoft Word, not to mention in InDesign - as well as all over the web (in XHTML/CSS). The idea of styles is to separate decisions about colours and fonts and layout from decisions about sentences and words and meaning. It's a good idea to keep them separate for all sorts of reasons. In big organisations, it's good because you can hand each decision to the appropriate expert: that way designers don't have to write articles and copywriters don't have to choose colour-schemes. And even if you work solo, it's handy to be able to restyle a gigantic document (like a novel) just as easily as you would a single page.
The trick is to make decisions about the look of a document in a two-step process. The first step is to label the different parts of a document: e.g. chapter headings, running headings, body text, lists. Then, separately, you say what each one of those things should look like (i.e. font size, bold, indented, etc;) - and you store that information in a 'style'. That way, if you want to change all your headings to blue, you don't have to page through and find each heading and apply a new colour; you just make one change to the 'heading style', and throughout the document all the paragraphs the heading style has been applied to automatically turn blue (which will be all the headings, unless someone screwed up).
That's why it would take Em so much longer to rejig a document that didn't have all its chapter headings labelled as chapter headings, and so on. Instead of simply updating five or six styles, Em would have to go through the whole document, a paragraph at a time, looking for anything that needed changing.
Of course, someone still has to label the chapter headings and the lists and so on, so why should it matter if it's Em today or the original author last week? Well, it's very easy to label a document as you go. Microsoft Word even provides simple shortcut keys to tag all your headings as headings while you're typing. So assuming you want a heading to look like a heading as you create it, you can either change the format so that it has big, bold letters (and cause lots of work for everyone down the line) or apply one of the built-in heading styles, which will also make the heading big and bold, while simultaneously labelling it as a heading. Since it's very nearly as easy to label as you go, as it is to manually format as you go, there's little excuse for avoiding styles, and thus little excuse for causing Em extra work.
And there are cool bonuses to using this approach. For instance, if you label all your headings properly, Microsoft Word can create you a table of contents automatically. It knows what's a heading and what's not, so it can make a list of each heading with the page number it appears on and lay it all out nicely for you - which is all a table of contents is. Seeing a table of contents magically appear for a thousand page book with fifty chapters and five hundred sub-headings is pretty cool and takes no extra effort if you use styles as you write.