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  • Raphael Freeman

Word vs InDesign for your Book: an Expert Analysis

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

This article will examine the differences between “typesetting” and “formatting” of a book. You might argue that there isn’t actually any real difference and that the term “typesetting” simply implies a level of professionalism to the process.

So let’s take a look. There are two fundamental areas which will differentiate the “book formatter” from the “book typesetter”: Those are, having knowledge and having the right tools of the trade.


Let’s start with knowledge and of course together with that, experience. A knowledgeable typesetter will be versed in the typography, and understanding the form of the book and the proportions of the page. They will know to choose a typeface that has true small caps, ranging figures, real superiors, and decide how to use optical weights of a font to maintain the colour of the page. These are only some of the decisions that a typesetter will consider when typesetting.

The typesetter will drill down to the smallest nuance on the page such as how to handle poor kerning that might occur between say, an italic f and closed parenthesis like this: f).

You might put the subject of “fonts” into tools, but a typesetter may only use two or three body fonts so that they can really learn the font. I was taught to spend a few years with a font before going on to the next one.

Only once you have the knowledge and experience can you know which tool to choose in which to typeset your book.


The favorite typesetting software today for books is Adobe InDesign. Personally however, I could not do my work effectively and efficiently with only InDesign, but I’ll come to back to that later.

Hang on, why can’t we do all that in Word?

So why does one need specialized and expensive software? Surely all this can be done in Microsoft Word? In order to demonstrate the answer to these common questions, I took a random paragraph from a book that I typeset and formatted it in Word and InDesign. (Click on the pictures to expand)

If you look at the very first picture you will see a paragraph of text that has been formatted in Microsoft Word using the built-in font, Garamond. At first glance it looks nice, but a keener eye might notice the lack of ligatures, the use of capital numbers and the rather anemic superscript 1. It’s not terrible but it can be better.

In the second image, staying in Word, we have replaced the font with ITC Legacy. IT Legacy at least is a professional font and already you can see that things are much improved. This piece now has ligatures, and old-style numbers. In fact, the only thing that could do with improvement would be the superscript 1.

The change of typeface has improved the situation overall, but it hasn’t addressed the biggest problem – spacing. In picture 3 we have taken the text and put it into InDesign using the same justification values that we had in Word. Looks exactly the same, right? Yep (well apart from the improved superscript 1). But take a closer look, in this image, we turned on a feature that highlights poor spacing. The darkening yellow indicates poorer spacing. Look at line 7 and indeed there are large spaces between the words.

In picture 4 we have played with the letter spacing and glyph spacing as well as turning on InDesign’s paragraph composer. It isn’t 100% perfect because we can see that line 5 has a light yellow bar but if you compare picture 2 (Word) to picture 5 (In-Design), there is a huge improvement.

Okay, okay, I’ll buy InDesign…

With just this one feature, we hope to have demonstrated why you shouldn't use Word to typeset. Once you have the right software – ie: InDesign and you are using professional fonts, and you combine this with the knowledge of how to adjust the spacing for a smooth read, then you are no longer formatting, but rather typesetting.

Earlier I mentioned being efficient and effective and that InDesign isn’t my only tool. The truth is that I personally rely on Word in order to prepare my text for typesetting. My workflow starts in Word where I clean up the manuscript, apply all the paragraph and character styles and only then bring into InDesign. Essentially I’m formatting the text in Word. Once I’m in InDesign then I can typeset. It is here that I have fine control over each page, paragraph, and character.

Consistency & Efficiency

One of the amazing features of InDesign is the ability to write scripts and plug-ins to enhance the software. I rely on various commercial scripts and custom scripts to make the typesetting process not only much faster but also consistent.

For example I mentioned above the f) kerning situation. I need to add more space in between the f and the ), which is something I can’t do on this blog site. So how do I do this in InDesign? Well I simply kern in between the two letters (in this case adding space). But what happens if this occurs again in the manuscript? This is where a little script comes in handy, ensuring consistency and efficiency.

In summation, a combination of Word, InDesign, scripts, plug-ins, fonts along with Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat make the toolkit of an experienced and knowledgeable typesetter, at least in my case this is true.

In typesetting, it’s the little details that are important. I like to make a parallel between typesetting and road building. When driving on the road, pot-holes, bad signage, inconsistent lane widths, etc., make the journey less pleasant. Of course you will get to your destination in the end but like a well-typeset book, it’s much more pleasant to travel down a smooth road.


If you have a manuscript where you want your reader to enjoy the smooth journey of your story then please contact us for a no-obligation discussion.

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