InDesign CS5: Workaround for missing footnotes bug

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
May 31st, 2010 • 2:49 pm

Last year, I wrote about various bugs in InDesign CS4, including one where placing Word documents containing footnotes would sometimes, for no apparent reason, fail to import some of the footnotes and renumber the remaining ones.

Needless to say, it was a pretty destructive bug, and one that I hoped Adobe would at least fix in CS5, if not in a free update for CS4. (At the time, I submitted a bug report to Adobe with a sample file. I never got an answer.)

Unfortunately, I can now report that the bug is still there in InDesign CS5. Here again, as with InDesign CS4, when I place Word documents containing footnotes, sometimes some of the footnotes are not imported properly. Instead of the footnote reference, you get some kind of unknown character with a pink background:

Missing footnote

And the footnote itself is missing altogether.

The pink background is what InDesign normally uses to highlight sections that are formatted using fonts that are not present on your system. In this case, I don’t know what it is supposed to mean. But it’s the only “warning” you get that something did not work right. The footnote itself is missing, and the remaining footnotes are renumbered (compared to their numbering in the original Word document) based on the total number of footnotes that actually did get imported properly.

Last year, I tried various things to see if I could better identify the source of the problem. I have little doubt that it is at least in part Microsoft’s fault, although I have no hard evidence of it. Over the years, I have amassed tons of experience with Word’s general weirdness and unreliability, which leads its users to unwittingly create “corrupt” documents even when just using Word’s built-in features.

So I would tend to suspect, in this case, that for some reason some of the footnotes in the Word documents I am importing (which I didn’t author myself) are formatted differently or were created differently. Who the hell knows? It’s impossible to tell just by looking at them in Word, but they obviously have some invisible feature that InDesign’s Word file importing module does not like at all.

Needless to say, having to deal with this bug on a regular basis is no fun at all. You have to compare the placed text with the original in Word and check to see if there are any discrepancies in the footnotes. If so, you have to manually copy the text of the missing footnotes in the Word document and paste it into new footnotes in InDesign—a process which of course loses character-level formatting. So you have to manually repair that too.

When you are in the process of doing the layout of an academic review with a dozen articles featuring hundreds of footnotes, it is definitely not fun. That’s the situation I find myself in right now, so yesterday I decided to further explore the issue once more.

I tried various tricks that I had tried last year already. I saved one of my offending Word documents as an RTF file instead and tried placing that RTF file in InDesign. InDesign once again failed to import all of the footnotes, but the missing ones were not the exact same ones (which, admittedly, seems to imply that there’s nothing wrong with the footnotes themselves and rather that something is wrong with the importer itself; but who the hell knows?).

And then I thought of trying one thing that I hadn’t tried last year, which was to save the Word document as a native Word 2008 document, i.e. as a “.docx” document instead of the regular “.doc.”

And guess what? It worked. The document was placed just fine, and there were no footnotes missing! I tried it with a couple of other files, using the same doc-to-docx workaround, and the missing footnotes bug appears to be gone when using that approach.

I still need to use InDesign to place many more files before I can confirm with 100% certainty that using the .docx file format avoids the bug. But it’s looking good so far.

I don’t know how far back InDesign’s support of the .docx file format goes. It looks like CS4 also allows you to import such files. So hopefully this workaround also works for the same problem in CS4.

I also got a note from a reader the other day pointing out that he had also experienced the same bug in CS3, so it does not look that it was a new bug in CS4 last year, although that was the first time I experienced it myself in InDesign. (And I have placed Word documents with footnotes with every version of InDesign in the past 10 years.)

As for speculation about the reasons why the .docx file format works better, it could be that this file format is somehow “cleaner” and more reliable than the traditional the .doc file format. It could also be that Adobe has stopped testing the file importing/placing process with older file formats and is assuming that everyone is using the the .docx file format now (which certainly isn’t the case yet!).

Like I said, who the hell knows?

I should note, however, that Adobe has managed to introduce another bug when importing a Word file in the .docx file format. If you have a Microsoft Word document in the .docx file format that contains a footnote and this footnote itself contains a bookmark inserted in Word, then if you try to place the document in question in an InDesign publication, whether in CS4 or in CS5, the importing process will cause the entire application to crash.

I discovered this because, of course, as regular Betalogue readers know, Microsoft Word keeps littering my Word files with all kinds of unwanted OLE_LINK bookmarks each time I paste the contents of the Clipboard as unformatted text, which is something that I tend to do on a regular basis.

I had a Word document with a footnote whose footnote text included one of these unwanted OLE_LINK bookmarks, and sure enough it would cause InDesign to crash each and every time I tried to place the document as a .docx file. Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to identify this particular bug, and I was able to avoid the crash by simply deleting the unwanted OLE_LINK bookmark.

(The bug is only triggered if the bookmark is in a footnote. If it’s in the body text, there is no crash. And it also only happens with .docx files. If I try to place a .doc file with a footnote containing a bookmark, whether in CS4 or CS5, there is no crash.)

If I were paranoid, I would start suspecting that Microsoft and Adobe have joined forces to try and make our computing lives even more miserable than they already are thanks to their products!

[UPDATE: Any kind of Microsoft Word weirdness present in the footnotes of a Word document in .docx format will cause InDesign to crash when attempting to import the document by placing it. I just had a series of crashes again with another document even though it didn't contain any bookmarks, until I noticed that one of the footnotes had left-over traces of EndNote bibliographical references, in the format of custom fields. Obviously InDesign does not like that at all and the mere presence of such elements can have catastrophic consequences.]


One Response to “InDesign CS5: Workaround for missing footnotes bug”

  1. Betalogue » InDesign CS5 and footnotes: When the next page goes blank says:

    [...] e-mail from a reader earlier this week thanking me for my posts on Adobe InDesign, and for the ones about footnotes in particular. He mentioned this bug and the discussion thread to me, and the fact that [...]