Auto-merge linked Word/Excel files for production bliss

  • EmWordsFlow featured image 300What if you could have a time machine to speed up your Microsoft Word-based editorial production in InDesign?
  • What if you could Place Word and Excel documents with live links?
  • What if you could proceed immediately with production, while your authors and editors continued working on the placed documents without changing their work habits?
  • What if, when your authors and editors had updates, you could magically merge their work into yours with a click (as a link update), without losing any work?
  • What if you could push your content changes back to the linked Word document at any time, staying synchronized with your authors and editors?
  • What if you could export original InDesign content to allow editors to work on it in Word, and then re-import their changes with a click using the same magic merge?

You can. Meet WordsFlow for Adobe InDesign, your Word-based time machine.

Word + InDesign supercharged

WordsFlow’s breakthrough is deep technology that enables you to edit both the InDesign story and the linked Word document independently, without losing work on either side. WordsFlow does this by “merge-updating” from changed Microsoft Word or Excel files, rather than letting InDesign just re-import over all your work. This spares you the pain, frustration and inevitable mistakes involved in hand-merging changes.

WordsFlow works with the standard file linking machinery you’re already using for graphics, so there’s nothing new to learn.

If you use Microsoft Word with InDesign, you absolutely need WordsFlow.

What’s your biggest headache?

If you use InDesign for production, you already know the pain point: an author sends you a story via email or file-sharing, and you’ve placed it in your InDesign publication, fixing typos, changing formatting, adding and deleting text, etc. Then, the author or your editor sends you another version of the file, and expects you to figure out what changed, and weave those changes into what you hoped was the final story.

In the past, you might bite your tongue and simply re-place the story, losing all your hard work, then go through and manually make all the same changes you made before, hoping you’re not forgetting something (and likely losing that bet). Or, if you’re more sophisticated, you might run some kind of file-difference utility, and go through each difference, manually editing the InDesign story to match, and scratching your head a lot. In either case, you end up wasting a lot of time in a highly error-prone process.

Magic merge-update removes the pain

WordsFlow ends the headaches. When you place the original Word or Excel file (or any text file), WordsFlow asks InDesign to keep a link to the file.

When you or anyone else updates that file (locally or in a shared-file situation), InDesign will notice that the link’s source has changed, and allow you to update it using the usual mechanisms. (For example, you can double-click on the link-changed status icon.) WordsFlow then kicks in, and, instead of replacing the placed story wholesale, it magically merges the changes in the new file contents with all the existing changes to the current InDesign story—this is the “merge-update” referred to above. So you never lose any of your hard work, while WordsFlow saves you hours of manual merge drudgery.

WordsFlow also require no pain of special configuration nor any extra steps to do its magic—just install the plug-in, select Place with WordsFlow… and proceed using the normal Place dialog. WordsFlow then works behind the scenes, while you continue with your existing InDesign workflow, now super-charged. And your collaborators don’t need any special software, nor do they need to make any workflow changes—they continue to work exactly as they always have.

From pain to pleasure

WordsFlow not only ends the headaches, it enables entirely new and powerful workflows.

You can now have authors maintaining their story content in Word, with the layout and production people keeping story links to the shared Word files in InDesign (or getting new copies and relinking to them when changed). When authors make changes to the source files, the production folks can merge-update via the WordsFlow links to bring in the changes. That way, authors can work indefinitely in their comfort zone, using Word, and production can maintain the overall document in InDesign, without worrying about hand-merging in the changes that happen over time.

Think of a school handbook with multiple departments updating their respective sections each semester, or a quarterly financial prospectus assembling reports from various departments. Those are some of the new possibilities you’ll have with WordsFlow.

Pro is two-way

The Pro version of WordsFlow enables a fully two-way workflow. With it, you can push updates from your InDesign document to your linked Word document.

And, for the first time in InDesign history, you can now export original InDesign story content in full Word .docx format using WordsFlow Pro (before, your export options were rather limited to RTF or other partial solutions). And, once exported (and auto-linked) with WordsFlow, with a single click you can update-merge any changes your authors and editors have made to the exported Word document.

Pro works with Excel

WordsFlow Pro also works with imported Excel spreadsheet files as well as Word files. You can place a spreadsheet file, then format columns/rows or individual cells, etc. in InDesign. Later, if you or someone else makes changes to the original spreadsheet, including moving around rows or columns, WordsFlow will figure out what changed, and merge in the changes without losing the formatting and edits you’ve made in InDesign.

WordsFlow Pro does not support two-way workflow with Excel documents, for now. But we call it a “one and a half-way workflow,” since you can work on both sides simultaneously.

Third-party review

David Blatner of InDesign Secrets was very excited about even the early initial release of WordsFlow. The whole review is worth reading.

I’m trying hard not to type phrases like “Most useful plug-in ever,” but I have to tell you: I’m sitting here with my mouth agape, heart beating faster, and thinking “This is what I’ve wanted for 20 years.”

In short, I’m playing with WordsFlow, a plug-in from Em Software that fundamentally changes the way you’ll work with Word documents.

Next steps

To get started quickly, see the first paragraph “Quick start” in the WordsFlow user guide.

Otherwise, using the sidebars on this page, you can download the software, purchase license(s), visit the user guide, view any case studies and testimonials, review product-related news, see the release history, find out about using the software as an evaluation copy, and find out about product support.

If you might rather be interested in a online editorial collaboration system, our DocsFlow product is WordsFlow’s online sibling.


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