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 single 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?

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

Word + InDesign supercharged

WordsFlow’s breakthrough is serious 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.

And, with the forthcoming new Pro version (see “WordsFlow Pro 2.0 beta” sidebar), you can achieve a fully two-way workflow, by updating your linked Word document in place, or creating a new Word document from the current contents of any InDesign story.

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.

Auto-merge 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 doesn’t require any special configuration nor any extra steps to do its magic—just install the plug-in, select File > WordsFlow > 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 need no special software nor configuration changes—they continue to work exactly as they always have.

Works with all text import filters

WordsFlow isn’t a filter itself, but instead works with all text file and spreadsheet file import filters. Thus, you can use InDesign’s built-in style-mapping support in the Word import filter, and WordsFlow will pick up after that.

Works with Microsoft Excel

In particular, WordsFlow 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.

New workflows

A powerful new workflow pattern that WordsFlow enables is authors maintaining their story content in Word indefinitely, 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.

Many publications could benefit from such a scheme, such as a school handbook with multiple departments updating their respective sections each semester, or a quarterly financial prospectus assembling reports from various departments.

Third-party review

David Blatner of InDesign Secrets is very excited about WordsFlow:

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.

The whole review is worth reading as a good evaluation of WordsFlow from a third party.

Next steps

From 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 be interested in a online editorial collaboration system, our DocsFlow product is WordsFlow’s online sibling.


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