HvA Open Publishing — A year of implementing the Open Publishing Workflow

The first half of 2017 we used for setting up the Open Publishing Workflow in the university, increasing awareness about open access publishing in general, and polishing the individual assets of the workflow to simplify the process of going from manuscript to pdf and ePub. In the second half we published two publications in ePub and pdf and rewrote/rebuild the manuscript manual and template to better befit the simplified workflow created in the first half of the year.

Simplifying the workflow

The initial concern with the workflow was that, while the conversion from a docx manuscript to pdf, html and ePub went quite smooth with Pandoc, if something had to be edited in the ePub (or html) it quickly became a hassle. The pdf conversion allowed for more easy editing because of the use of Pandoc’s conversion to icml. But the downside of icml is that you are forced to use Adobe InDesign to export to a pdf, and you need to create an InDesign Template as well for proper styling. We tried working with some conversion methods that allowed us to convert directly from manuscript to pdf. But these made making small changes to the pdf output overly complicated and added more dependancies to the project, something we tried to avoid.

The main search was for a reliable, easy-to-use way to go from docx to pdf and ePub (and in the future html as well. Right the html publications can’t be uploaded to the systems of the university. We are still working on that). Since Adobe InDesign was already part of the workflow, and a lot of work had been put into the building of a template for it, we decided to cut Pandoc out of the process and see how far we could push it with just Adobe InDesign.

After some trial and error we figured out it was possible to ‘place’ a docx document into the InDesign template similar as to how we would do it with an icml file. We noticed that the text styles used in the docx manuscript automatically transferred to the InDesign file; and that it was possible to add these text styles to the InDesign template. This meant that we could directly import the manuscripts written by authors into the InDesign template without the need of an intermediary conversion.

Last year we also experimented with exporting from InDesign to ePub and html. The experiments were quite promising resulting into the development of some pretty advanced stylesheets for exporting to ePub and html. Those were cleaned and fixed up and were ready to use in the new workflow.

The workflow right now is very straightforward:

  1. The author writes their publication in the manuscript template using the manual.
  2. We import the manuscript into the InDesign template.
  3. We export to all the requested formats: pdf (for print and/or web), ePub, and, in the future, html.
  4. We upload it to the research registration system of the university.

Of course this is a tad bit simplified, leaving out the more bureaucratic aspects and feedback moments of the workflow. Nonetheless it sketches an image of how simple it can be. For me, personally, the only main downside of this method is that the conversion process now no longer uses any open source software. Though using open source for the sake of “using open source” (and because the name of the project is *open* publishing workflow) is not a got good reason to stick to it. We must always remember that the main aim of the project is to stimulate open access publishing within the university by making it more easier.

The new InDesign template with all its styles and assets.

New manuscript manual and template

To accompany the simplified workflow the template had to be changed. The main focus of the changes to the template aimed at restricting the usage of custom styling outside of the paragraph and text styles predefined by us. The first hurdle in this process was finding out how to do this – how to disable the use of custom styling in *Microsoft Office Word*. After struggling with this for a while we found out that this is not possible in the *Mac OS* version of *Office 2016*, only in the *Windows* version. Knowing this beforehand would have saved us quite some time. Despite not being able to restrict style usage in docx templates on the *Mac OS* version of *Office 2016*, the style restrictions created in a *Windows* version of *Word* will still be work in other versions. The changes made to the template were then reflected to the manual.

Download template here.
Download manual here.

The manuscript template manual (left) and template (right).


In the latter half of 2017 two publications were created in both pdf and ePub format using the manual, manuscript template, and InDesign template.

Cover and colophon of pdf version.

Table of contents and back-cover of pdf version.

Title-page and colophon of the ePub version.

Pages of content in the ePub version.


Plans for 2018

In 2018 we are first going to focus on publishing html publications in the research registration system of the university. The main challenge in this is that unlike pdf’s and ePubs, web publications consist of multiple files. The support for this is somewhat lacking. But perhaps setting up a separate server to handle these files could solve this problem.

Another aspect we would like to focus on is creating better documentation for how the workflow works. One of the benefits of using InDesign instead of all the other dependancies that we used to have is that far less knowledge about different tools is needed to work with it

Besides that we will continue to publish open access publications for the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. For more information you can contact me at d.k.degeling@hva.nl.

— The HvA Open Publishing Team.