Solve InDesign type trouble

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is an excerpt from Adobe InDesign CS/CS2 Breakthroughs, by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepción (2005; reprinted by permission of Peachpit Press/Blatner Books).

The make-or-break feature of any page-layout program is how it handles type. Importing, formatting, and tweaking a document’s text usually accounts for the lion’s share of layout work. Thanks to its elegantly designed text controls, Adobe InDesign (CS and CS2) offers endless possibilities for perfecting your type. But not all of its features are obvious. Here are answers to some common type questions.

Get a Word Count

Our authors give us Microsoft Word files for stories, but I can’t figure out how to give them the word count they should be aiming for. I can set and style placeholder text, but how can I then count the words so I can tell the authors what their target count is? InDesign doesn’t have a Word Count function like Microsoft Word’s.

Indeed it does. After you fill your frames with dummy text (choose Type: Fill With Placeholder Text), click anywhere in the frame with the Type tool and look at the Info palette. You’ll see a count for that story’s characters, words, lines, and paragraphs. If you select some text, you’ll see a word count for the selected text.

And if you want a real word-count feature, you can install the TextCount.js script from the InDesign installation disc (it’s in the Goodies folder). This even counts words across multiple unthreaded frames or all the words in an entire InDesign file.

Access Overset Text

InDesign shows the same red overset icon whether I’m over by one character or 10,000. I wish I could quickly select and cut—or even just peek at—what’s actually causing the overset, without resizing the frame or creating a temporary threaded one.

If you’re sure you want to get rid of the overset text (for example, if it’s due to trailing carriage returns), place the cursor at the end of the visible text and press the Select To End keyboard shortcut: Command-shift-end. (The end key is usually above the arrow keys, by the home and page down keys.) Now you can press delete or cut the text and put it on the Clipboard.

More often, though, the overset text has important content you want to keep. You can see that content—and edit it—without messing with the text frame. Open the Story Editor (Edit: Story Editor) or press Command-Y to see all the text in your story, including overset text, in a new window. (InDesign CS2 outdoes CS here by offering an easy-to-identify overset marker in the Story Editor window.)

As you work in the Story Editor, the layout view of the story keeps pace with your edits. Once you’ve cut enough copy in the Story Editor, the overset icon in the layout view of the text frame disappears. Perfecto! Close the Story Editor window or press Command-Y again to return to the layout.

The Info palette also comes in handy here. As long as the Type tool is active in the story—in either Layout or Story Editor mode—the Info palette shows a live readout of how much text, if any, is overset (See top screenshot).

Autoflow without Adding Pages

I want to autoflow a long text file into a series of pages I’ve already set up with column guides, but I don’t want InDesign to add additional pages. Is this possible?

The little-known “semi-autoflow” function will do exactly that. Load your cursor with the text file, hover over the first empty column, and then hold down the shift and option keys when you click.

Keep the Descenders inside the Frame

If you set a text frame to vertically align to the bottom (via Text Frame Options), it aligns the baseline of the characters to the bottom—leaving their descenders hanging out in the breeze below the frame. Same thing happens when I choose Object: Fitting: Fit Frame To Content. Help.

This is InDesign’s normal behavior and takes some getting used to—especially if you’re recovering from a ten-year QuarkXPress jag. That program uses a line’s leading amount, not its baseline, for the bottom of a text box, so the descenders are always inside the frame. That may be useful if the text frame has a stroke around it.

To force an InDesign text frame to act like a QuarkXPress text box in this regard, apply Text Inset (located in Object: Text Frame Options) to the bottom of the text frame. That will keep your descenders neatly tucked into the frame.

Use the Keyboard to Jump to Text-Formatting Fields

One of the things I do most often in InDesign—choose a typeface from the Control palette drop-down menu—has no keyboard shortcut.

Oh yes it does. Press Command-6 to select the first field in the Control palette. If the palette is currently showing Character formats—as it likely is if you’re editing text in a frame—you’ll be highlighting the Font field.

Type the first few characters of the font’s name, or use the up and down arrow keys to browse through the active fonts (or combine both approaches). Press tab to jump to the next field, Font Style. Finally, press the return key to put the focus back on your text frame, and continue typing (in your new typeface, of course).

To toggle between the Paragraph formatting and the Character formatting commands in the Control palette, press Command-option-7. When Paragraph mode is active, Command-6 selects its first field, which is Left Indent.

By the way, you can use these shortcuts even if you’ve selected a frame (or multiple frames) with the Selection tool. After it’s selected, just tap the T key (to switch to the Type tool) so the Control palette shows Character or Paragraph fields. Your frame will still be selected, and any changes you make to the formatting fields will be applied to all the text in the selected frame(s). Trés cool!

Here’s a second way to skin the cat, which you might find a little faster. Press Command-T, and the Character palette will open with the Typeface field highlighted. Choose a face and style from the keyboard as described earlier. To close the Character palette, press Command-T again.

Come Back to the Baseline, My Commas

For some reason, all the commas and numerals in my text are floating way above the baseline, even though the Baseline Offset field is set to zero.

Odds are you selected all the text and turned on the Fractions feature for your OpenType font. Or you may be accessing the Fractions feature through a style sheet. Either way, you can fix the problem by turning off the Fractions option for the text in the OpenType submenu (found in the Control or Character palette menu). Your commas and numerals will return to earth.

From now on, when you want to format a fraction using the OpenType feature, select just the unformatted fraction and apply the feature either from the Character palette menu or from a character style.

Shade a Paragraph, Shade a Line

It boggles the mind why InDesign can’t apply a screened background behind a paragraph, or place a box around it, or whatever. Microsoft Word has been able to do these things for eons. Putting a shape behind the text doesn’t help, because I have to keep adjusting its position as I edit the text.

Select the text in the paragraph—but not the final invisible carriage-return character—and convert it into a one-cell table (Table: Convert Text To Table). You can then stroke or fill the table as you’d like. The effect will flow along with the rest of the text.

You can put a screened background behind any text selection, by the way, by applying the Underline character format to it and then customizing the underline (See bottom screenshot).

Give Right-Aligned Tabs a Leader

I love the right-indent tab (shift-tab). It’s like a tab stop placed at the paragraph’s right margin, and when the margin changes (such as when the text frame gets wider), the tab adjusts automatically. But there’s one problem: I can’t figure out how to get a tab leader (such as dots) to fill the tab space.

Unfortunately, InDesign CS can’t apply tab leaders to right-indent tabs. But InDesign CS2 can. Its right-indent tab always uses the tab leader from the last tab stop in the paragraph. Just add a tab stop with a leader character, and the leader appears in the space created by the shift-tab.

David Blatner is the editorial director of InDesign Magazine. You can find him at Anne-Marie Concepción is a well-known trainer and consultant. She publishes the DesignGeek newsletter.

The Info palette tells you if, and by how much, text is overset by adding a plus sign (+) after its usual copy counts.If you want to place a color bar behind certain words, apply an underline and then modify its options.
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