InDesign’s Nested Styles feature can be a powerful discovery for designers of long documents. This single feature could save untold hours in formatting of books or annual report layouts.


Consider our example layout above for a special Scrabble dictionary. Rather than repeatedly applying individual colors, bolds and italics by hand, we add a couple nested styles to our main paragraph style in InDesign, and the desired formatting magically falls into place.

There are two easy steps to this technique. First you create a couple special character styles and then you apply them to a main paragraph style as nested styles.

Step 1: Create a couple character styles.

From the menu bar: Window > Type & Styles > Character Styles.

For our Scrabble dictionary example we created two character styles. “Word” to emphasize the dictionary terms, and “Letter Score” to identify the possible point score when playing that word. In each case we’ve only defined a few settings for each style:

“Word” = Bold, All Caps, and Red.
“Letter Score” = Oblique and Blue.

These character styles only need to include settings that are different from the main paragraph styles. In our example, the fonts, size, leading, and all other characteristics of the main paragraph style are maintained when we apply a special character style.

Step 2: Add Nested Styles to your main paragraph style.

From the menu bar: Window > Type & Styles > Paragraph Styles.

Double-click on your main paragraph style and select Drop Caps and Nested Style on the left side of the paragraph style options dialog.


For our example we have a main paragraph style named “Dictionary Terms” that we use for all our dictionary entries. Click on the New Nested Style button. There are options to control how the nested styles are applied. Choose from the numbers of characters, words, or base the nested style location on other special characters.

Play with this feature. You’ll be amazed at the time a little experimenting can save you on longer document layouts.

Extra Credit.

In the case of our example we kept it simple. Our “Word” style is applied to the first word, our “Letter Score” style is applied to the second word. But what if our layout required some terms that were longer than one word in length? In that case we’d have a couple options:

Option A: The easiest technique would be to insert nonbreaking spaces in any multiple-word terms. InDesign treats groups of words with non breaking spaces as a single word.

Nonbreaking Space Shortcut: Command-Option-X (Mac) or Ctrl-Alt-X (PC)

Option B: A cleaner technique would be to base the nested styles on the parentheses that enclose the scoring number. Notice in our improved nested styles shown below we have the first style active up to the first “(” and then the second style active through “)”.


Source: This tip is inspired by a great tip on CreativeBits.

Note: QuickTips editor Craig Swanson returns this week from a much enjoyed family vacation in Maine with many late night Scrabble games! For the record, Quizzify earns 419 points when played stretched across two triple word scores, and includes a 50-point bonus for using all letters (From That Book of Perfectly Useless Information.)

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