Live-link and auto-magic-merge Word and Excel documents

  • 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 in InDesign, and proceed with production, while your authors and editors continued working on the original documents?
  • What if, when they had updates, you could magically merge their work into yours with a click (as a link update), without losing any work on either side, and with automatic notification of any conflicts?
  • 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 a new linked Word document, allowing collaborators to work in their native tools, and then re-import their changes with a click, using the same magic merge?

You can do all this, and more, with WordsFlow, your Word-based time machine.

First, a quick walk-through

If you’d like to see why and how the product can be so effective in the “real world,” take a quick walk through WordsFlow.

Bring your authors and editors into your InDesign production process

WordsFlow, a plug-in for InDesign, for the first time combines the editing power of Word and Excel with the layout power of InDesign, adding its own dynamic linking and sophisticated merge technologies to supercharge your editorial and production workflows.

WordsFlow Place menuWith WordsFlow, you place Word documents (including tables and graphics) and Excel spreadsheets (Pro version) as InDesign story contents normally, using a familiar place dialog.

But, behind the scenes, WordsFlow maintains a dynamic link so it can intelligently merge external document changes into the InDesign story contents on each link update, rather than just replacing the story. The Pro version provides a two-way link so you can push your InDesign story changes back to Word format.

So you can format, layout, and edit in InDesign, while your authors and editors continue creating and editing story content in Word and Excel, all without ever losing work. Your authors and editors are no longer “frozen out” once layout begins.

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 use a file-difference utility, going through each change, 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 special kind of dynamic link to the file.

WordsFlow Living Buildings modified Links panelWhen you or anyone else makes to changes that file (locally or in a shared-file situation), InDesign will notice that the link’s source has changed, and change the link’s status to “modified” in the Links panel (a yellow alert icon, as shown here). You can update the story when you’re ready, using the normal link-update invocations, such as a double-click on the modified icon.

As the link update starts, WordsFlow kicks in. Instead of letting InDesign replace the linked story wholesale, it applies a complex algorithm behind the scenes to merge the changes made to the external document since the last update into the current InDesign story contents (and to detect any conflicts). We call this the “magic merge-update,” since it seems like magic the first times you see it working. It’s this magic that saves you from endless error-prone manual merging.

With WordsFlow building on the standard file linking mechanisms you already know for graphics, there are no learning pains.

And there is no barrier to using WordsFlow—just install the plug-in, select Place with WordsFlow and proceed using the normal place dialog. Your collaborators don’t need any special software, and can continue to work exactly as they always have. But now their last-minute or even ongoing changes won’t slow you down.

About that time machine

WordsFlow not only ends these last-minute just-one-more-little-update kinds of 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 stay working 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. So authors and editors can work in parallel with production layout and formatting, giving you a virtual “time machine.”

For examples, think of a newspaper or magazine on deadline dealing with fast-breaking story updates, or, more long-term, a corporate or educational publication with multiple departments updating their respective sections regularly, or a quarterly financial prospectus assembling reports from various departments.

It’s not too late to use WordsFlow

If you’ve already placed and formatted a Word document without WordsFlow, and are presented with an updated Word document that threatens a massive amount of manual change merging, WordsFlow can still save the day.

Download and install WordsFlow, cut and paste the formatted story contents into a temporary pasteboard text frame, place the original Word document with WordsFlow, replace the newly-imported raw story with your saved story contents, and then relink to the updated Word document. Presto, the updates are merged and your all your formatting work is saved!

Pro is two-way

WordsFlow Update menuThe Pro version of WordsFlow adds two major features to give you a fully two-way workflow.

With WordsFlow Pro, you can push updates from any InDesign story to its linked Word document. This way, you can keep your collaborators working with the latest InDesign content, in their own editing environment.

WordsFlow Export menuAdditionally, the Pro version can export original InDesign story content in Word docx format, auto-linking to the result. So you can now take existing InDesign content—however it was produced—and push it out in Word format for further editing and revision, to be shared with your collaborators. As they make additions and changes to the exported document, you can pull them in with a normal WordsFlow story update, usually with just a double-click.

One happy side-effect of WordsFlow Pro’s two-way capabilities is the availability for the first time of full, modern docx export for InDesign stories. Before, your export options were limited to using rtf or other half-way solutions.

Pro works with Excel (one-way)

The Pro version of WordsFlow 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 doesn’t 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.

Works with open-source word processors

If you’d rather use open-source (and free) word processors like OpenOffice or LibreOffice, WordsFlow can interoperate with those tools as well, either using ODF (their native format) or DOCX, Word’s native format, which they support well.

Press reviews

David Blatner of InDesign Secrets was very excited about even the early initial release of WordsFlow in October 2012.

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.

Jamie McKee of InDesign Magazine gave WordsFlow 2.0 a positive review in September 2014. His conclusion:

WordsFlow 2.0 ID Mag reviewWordsFlow already offered InDesign users a solution to the Microsoft Word/Excel-to-InDesign workflow problem we’ve all been wrestling with for years—updating linked files without losing formatting. WordsFlow Pro 2.0 takes the final step, offering full two-way capabilities so you can send the changes you’ve made in InDesign back to your original Word documents. If you regularly work with text files that are likely to be edited (and who doesn’t?), you need to take a look at WordsFlow Pro 2.0!

Start your free trial now!

We strongly encourage you to try out the software in your environment before purchasing, to make sure it will work for you. To jump right in and start your fully-functioning free 15-day trial, see the “Free trial” sidebar.

Next steps

Using the sidebars on the upper right of this page, you can take a walk through typical product usage, visit the user guide, view any reviews, case studies, testimonials, and product-related news, purchase licenses, download the software, see the release history, find out about using the software as a trial copy, and find out about product support.

If a web-based editorial workflow might more make sense for you, our DocsFlow product is WordsFlow’s online sibling.


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