InDesign vs Word, does it matter for book design?

indesign vs word

Adobe InDesign vs Ms Word… Does it really make a difference which one I use to layout my book?

Most indie authors have probably asked this question at one point or another. Unfortunately there aren’t always very good answers given. Read along, with this edition of InDesign vs Word, and I will explain the differences, with pictures too!

I know most authors have copies of Ms Word already, and it has so many features that seem like it will make the page look good. SO it’s natural to want to use it instead of paying a designer like me to use InDesign to lay it out. Most authors don’t have the desire to spend 0ver $600.00 for software and use it one time(not to mention the steep learning curve).

So why can’t I just use what I have? It looks the same!

To start things off Ms Word is a word processor, its  a great tool for typing and getting those manuscripts put together, or heck, even making a flyer for next Saturday’s yard sale. It is not a layout tool, and can not handle typography, and paragraph composition very good.

Adobe InDesign is professional layout and design software. What’s that mean? It’s made for precise layouts, handling typography, and graphic elements very well. It is not a word processor.

That sounds like designer, and typophile nonsense to me, can you prove it?

Yes…yes I can, and I’m glad you asked, after all I did promise pictures. Below you will see a side by side comparison of the same 178 word(3 paragraph) excerpt from the novella Chivalry and Malevolence I designed for Rae Z Ryans earlier this year.

InDesign vs word

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Both of these paragraphs have the same word count with Palatino typeface at 12 points. The first thing most people will notice is how much more spaced out the lines are(we call this leading, pronounced led ing not leed ing).

There is not much fine control for this in word. InDesign allows precise control, which is essential for different size typefaces, and width pages.

Now I have heard the argument “but I like more space between the lines” OK, and that’s ok, but I assure you that it does effect the flow and read-a-ability, over the long haul. It needs to be adjustable, to account for different size pages and type styles. Plus, notice of three short paragraphs, it adds three lines!

Image how much that would add up over 60,000 words or more? That over 1000 extra lines, or about 30 extra pages. Pages cost money to print, unnecessary ones cut into your bottom line, need i say more?


The next thing some of you may notice is the justification, and paragraph composition. In simple terms this is when all the text in a paragraph is positioned so it is even on both left and right margins. This is the industry standard, and looks very nice when done well.

This is done by what is called tracking, and by hyphenating words that are too long at the end of a line. Word has virtually no manual tracking control, and its automatic justification is not very good. If you look at the two samples above, you can see the Word paragraphs have very uneven spaces between words, which causes unneeded hyphenation. This causes very choppy reading, not to mention wasting space, and looking ugly!

Hanging Punctuation, it’s a good thing, I promise.

Another subtle yet important thing to consider is hanging punctuation. And Word is lousy at it. But what is it, and why do we want it?  In the first example below you will see it done properly in InDesign, and I will explain.

indesign vs word hanging

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You may need to click for a larger view, but notice on the right margin there is a light green line. This is where all the text is justified to. Notice how the punctuation, that lands at the margin,(green arrows) are pushed out into the margin slightly? This is hanging punctuation. It allows the text in every line to form a visually straighter line down the margin.

The following example is how word handles the same thing, judge for yourself.

indesign vs word unacceptable

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Notice The red line for the margin, and how the punctuation doesn’t extend over it much…if at all? Because of this, everywhere you see an arrow, there is more white space there and it forms a visual wave(rugged right) down the margin line. In this example it does it on the left too with the quotation mark.

Rivers and poor tracking. Rivers are gaps between words the line up with another gap in the line directly beneath. When this happen two, three or even more times it for a “river” of white space through the paragraph. It is distracting to readers, and can cause fatigue, and slow reading.

InDesign prevents this by using advanced algorithms to compose each paragraph. If there are still small issues, the designer has the tools available to manually alter the tracking.

Final thoughts

These are just some of the issues for using word to layout a book. Now keep in mind, Word is a great tool, it just was not intended to be used for layout and publishing purposes.

Designers have a saying; just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Just because a program has a feature doesn’t mean you should use it, or that its the right tool for the job.

There are many other reasons from what I touched on here why the industry uses specialized software like Indesign, and I may continue this Indesign vs Word series in the future with more.

So if you take one thing away from this article, let it be this. Yes you can get your book into print with word, but I can guarantee it will not look like, or even compare with a professionally published book. Isn’t that why you are publishing in the first place? To sell copies, to be taken seriously, and to make a name for yourself?

I understand it costs extra money, and free is much more enticing. But it should be taken into account when budgeting for editing, cover design, marketing, and all the other costs associated with getting a book to market.

As always I’m happy to answer any questions about this or any other topic. Leave a comment, use the contact page, or Facebook.

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