Designing Print Documentation:
FrameMaker Tutorial—Tags

Developed for Advanced Documentation Students
David A. McMurrey
Pam Renwick

See the FrameMaker resource page for additional study materials. Got comments or questions about FrameMaker? Send them to the class in the FrameMaker workshop area of the Print Documentation Chatroom

The following informal introduction to FrameMaker shows you how to create, use, and modify character and paragraph tags in FrameMaker. If you see any errors or think I should have included other tasks, let me know! These tutorials only get you started, if you have more in-depth needs, see Using FrameMaker produced by Frame and Adobe. Other tutorials focus on basics, templates, tables, graphics, cross-references, book building, conditional text, and the like. (This tutorial is provided for advanced documentation students on a free, as-is basis, without guarantee of accuracy.)

This tutorial is based on FrameMaker version 5.5 for Windows. You may see some minor differences if you are using a later version.

Note: For the sake of brevity, we use an abbreviated style for menu commands throughout this lesson. For example, "Choose File > New" means "Choose New from the File menu".

About Tags

If you are not familiar with using and creating styles or tags in a word-processing or desktop publishing application, read this section first.

A tag is a unique set of formatting characteristics, for example, a heading. A typical heading might use Arial font, 24-point size, bold, italics, 18 points of space above, and 9 points below. The formatting characteristics for a bulleted list is another example where a tag would be used, as is a numbered list. Plain, ordinary body text -- the standard paragraphs of a document -- is a tag also. Take a look at any document and count the different tags that you see. Remember that text elements like headers, footers, text with tables, labels within illustrations, and figure titles are examples of tags.

Tags are valuable because:

If you design your document properly, you shouldn't have to manually create any textual elements: they should all be set up, ready and waiting. Of course, at first-draft time, it's hard to foresee all the tags you may need. But instead of just manually changing a paragraph to be indented and use a smaller type size, you should name it as a tag.

In simple documents such as letters and memos, we press the Enter key twice to create a blank line between paragraphs. When you use tags to create a professionally designed document, you rarely press Enter to create space between textual elements. You rarely use the spacebar to create horizontal space, or even use tabs. All formatting and alignment details should already be specified in the tags for that document.

Using FrameMaker Styles

FrameMaker offers unlimited tags -- and many templates that contain tags along with page-layout specifications. Explore the tags in the various templates:

  1. Open FrameMaker.
  2. Click on File > New, and then in the dialog box, Explore Standard Templates.
  3. The left column of the screen shows a list of the different types of templates that Frame offers. Click on any one and look at the description and preview shown on the right side of the screen. Use the More command button to view the rest of the list.
  4. Under Book, click on Chapter, on the left side of the screen and then click on Show sample on the right side of the screen.
  5. Scroll through this sample document, clicking on the various areas of text and looking at the tag name in the box next to the tab buttons.
  6. Click on the paragraph symbol in the upper right corner of the FrameMaker document window. In the Paragraph Catalog popup menu, you'll see all of the tags that have been designed for the document template.

  7. For fun, place your text cursor in an ordinary body paragraph and click on a different tag in the Paragraph Catalog popup, this will change the tag. When you are ready to exit the sample templates, click on Done.

It may be that one of the templates with its own specially designed set of tags is right for a document that you are developing. In any case, it's useful to know how to design your own tags.

Creating a FrameMaker Heading Style

The obvious and logical way to design tags in FrameMaker is to first design the page layout; decide on the page size, margins, text frames, and so on. For learning purposes, however, you don't necessarily need to understand how to design the overall page or how to create templates first. (See the tutorial on FrameMaker Templates.)


  1. Open FrameMaker, and then click File > New.
  2. Create a blank document (one that uses no templates) by clicking on Portrait in the New dialog box.
  3. Give the file a name by clicking on File > Save As. (If you are working in the TCM lab, save the file on your local drive).

  4. For our first tag, let's create a new heading type by modifying an existing one provided by FrameMaker:
    1. Type this text, My Heading.
    2. Open the Paragraph Catalog (click on the paragraph icon in the upper right corner of the FrameMaker document window).
    3. With the text cursor still somewhere on the line in which you typed the text, click on Heading1 in the Paragraph Catalog box.

    Now to modify it:

    1. Click on Format > Paragraphs > Designer. (Keyboard shortcut is Ctrl-M).

  • Notice that you are in the Basic properties, which you use to control indents, margins, and tabs, among other things.
  • In the Properties box, click on Default Font and then specify a different font, a different size, and any other changes you like.

  • Then click on Apply to make your changes take effect. (Don't click on Update All: this changes all instances on Heading1.)


    Now to make it a tag that you can use any time:

    1. Open the Paragraph Designer dialog box as you did previously.
    2. With the text cursor on the line containing the new heading you just designed, click on the Commands button (lower left corner) and select New Format.
    3. In the New Format dialog box, give the new style a name, for example, MyHeading1. Store in Catalog and Apply to Selection should both be checked.

    4. Click on Create, and notice that your new tag is now available in the Paragraph Catalog.


    Note: In the Paragraph Designer box, notice that in the Basic options, you can specify what tag should be created when you press Enter. When you've finished typing a heading, you'd normally want to start a regular body paragraph after it. Look at the lower right hand corner on the screen-print in step 2.

  • Creating a FrameMaker Paragraph Tag

    Creating paragraph tags -- tags for ordinary body text -- is pretty much the same as it is for headings:
    1. Type three or four lines of text, each separated by only one carriage return (one paragraph symbol).
    2. Place the text cursor on the second of those lines, and open the Paragraph Designer (Ctrl-M).
    3. In the Basic properties, specify:
      • First and Left indents as 0.5.
      • Alignment as Justified.
      • Above and Below line spacing as 9.
      • Line Spacing as 12.
    4. Then press the Apply key to see how this looks.
    5. Give this new tag a name in the same way you did in steps 2 through 4 in the section above. Name this new tag, MyIndent1.
    6. Next, click on Default Font in the Properties box, and specify a different font and size, for example, Courier New and 10 points.
    7. Now click on Apply.

    Creating a FrameMaker Bulleted-List Tag

    To create and modify a bulleted-list tag:
    1. Type several lines of text, separated by only one carriage return each.
    2. Position the cursor on one of the middle lines, open the Paragraph Catalog, and select Bulleted.
    3. Modify this style by opening the Paragraph Designer and specifying:
      • Under Indents, First as 1.0 and Left as 1.25.
      • A left tab of 1.25. (Under Tab Stops, click on Edit, type 1.25 in the New Position box, and then click on Continue.
    4. Under Commands, click on New Format and name this new style MyBullet1. Click on Create and then Apply. Exit from the Paragraph Designer by clicking on the X at the top of the dialog box. Position the cursor at the beginning of the text and press tab to move the text way from the bullet.

    FrameMaker is not too hospitable about enabling you to change the bullet symbol in a bulleted list. Its symbols are not easily accessible; they are in the Quick Reference book and not online. If you can't get the book:

    1. Go to the Start menu at the bottom right of your screen.
    2. Select Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Character Map.
    3. In the character map, click on Font, and change it to Wingdings.
    4. Look at the different Wingdings; select the one you want to use instead of the standard bullet, and click on it. The keystroke required to get this character is given in the lower right. In this example, use the open square without shadowing; it corresponds to the letter o.

    Next you have to create a character format that specifies the Wingdings font in order to use the symbol:

    1. Place your text cursor in the line containing the Wingding characters.
    2. Open the Character Designer. Format > Characters > Designer (Keyboard short cut Ctrl-D).
    3. Check that Wingdings is displayed in the Family box. In the Character Tag box, type boxster1.
    4. Press Apply.
    5. Exit the Character designer by clicking on the X at the top left-hand side of the dialog box.

    Now to activate this symbol in your bulleted list:

    1. Position the text cursor on the bullet you just created with MyBullet1.Open the Paragraph Designer.
    2. Click on Numbering under Properties.
    3. In the text box just below Autonumber Format, delete the \b and type the letter o. It should now be o\t. (Remember that the letter o corresponds to the open box symbol in the Wingdings font; \t indicates a tab.)

  • In the Character Format box to the left of the Building Blocks, select boxster1 from the list.
  • Press Apply and close the Paragraph Designer dialog box. The bullet your text cursor is on will be the open square style.


  • Creating a FrameMaker Numbered-List Tag

    In the introductory tutorial on FrameMaker, you learned how to create numbered lists and how to restart a numbered list at zero. You'll probably encounter situations in which you'll want a lower level, or "nested" numbered list. Typically, a second-level numbered list uses lowercase letters in contrast to the Arabic numerals used in the first-level list. Also, the second-list items are indented to the beginning of the text of the first-level items. The following shows you how to accomplish this.
    1. Open FrameMaker and type in eight lines of text, each separated by a single carriage return.
    2. Position the text cursor on the second line of text you just created and select Numbered from the Paragraph Catalog. Do the same for the third and fourth lines.
    3. Position the cursor on the fourth line (which should be numbered 3), and open the Paragraph Designer. Click on Numbering in the Properties box.
    4. In the text box under the Autonumber Format, change <n+> to <a+>, and press Apply. You'll notice that the number 3 changes to the letter c. To change it to the letter a, change <a+> to <a=1>. The n specifies Arabic numbers, the a, lowercase letters. The =1 specifies that the item should be the first character in whatever tag was specified (1, I, A, a, and so on). The + means that the value should incremented by 1.
    5. But we also need to indent the second-level list item. Start by clicking on Basic under the Properties box. Notice that the text of the first-level item is indented 0.25 inches. To indent the second-level item, you need to set the First indent to 0.25, the Left indent to 0.50, and change the 0.25-inch tab to 0.50. (To change the tab setting, select 0.25 L under Tab Stops, click on the Edit button, and change the 0.25 to 0.50.) When you've done all this, click on Apply. Go ahead and give this second-level list style a name, for example, Alphanum. New Format > Create.
    6. Notice, however, that we still have a few problems. Move the text cursor to the next line, and change it to the Alphanum style. To make it increment as expected, open the Paragraph Designer, click on Properties, Numbering, and change <a=1> to <a+>. When you press Apply, the second a will change to a b.
    7. Now move to the next line, line 7, and change it to Alphanum. It's also an a. The way out of this dilemma is to make the Alphanum tag <a+> and manually change only the first item to <a=1>.
    8. Your list should now consist of two Numbered items (1 and 2) then three Alphanum items (a, b, and c). Notice what happens though when you move to line 8 and try to go back to a first level numbered item: it is 4 instead of the expected 3. Why? Because 4 and d are the same character in terms of sequence. To fix this problem, don't manually tag every list item as we did above. Use what FrameMaker calls a series label.
      1. Go to the first-level list item numbered 2; open the Paragraph Designer; click on Numbering; insert an A: in front of the <n+> and click on Update All. If prompted, click on Remove Overrides.
      2. Go to the second-level list item with the letter b; open the Paragraph Designer; click on Numbering; insert an B: in front of the <a+> and click on Update All. If prompted, click on Remove Overrides.
      3. What this does is to create separate numbering "streams" for the two list styles. With the Paragraph Designer open to the Numbering options, click on each of the numbered list items and see what the Autonumber Format box looks like.

    This is just a brief overview of how to handle numbered lists in FrameMaker. It may seem bewildering and complicated, but once you get familiar with it, this system gives good, reliable control over all numbering streams in your document. If you have numbered chapters, you can create a C: series label; an F: series label for numbered figures, and a T: series label for numbered tables. See the chapter in Using FrameMaker on formatting text, specifically, the section on formatting lists.

    Creating a FrameMaker Text-Label Tag

    Technical documents often contain special notices, those note, warning, caution, and danger notices that highlight special points or alert you to potential problems. These must use a consistent format and style and are especially good candidates for FrameMaker tags.

    To develop one of these tags:

    1. Create several lines of text in FrameMaker.
    2. Before creating the paragraph tag, create a character tag called boldital. Open the Character Designer (Ctrl-D), type boldital in the Character Tag box; leave Family, Size, and Color to As Is; change Angle to Italic; change Weight to Bold. Click on the Commands button, select New Format, and make sure that this new character tag will be stored in the catalog and applied to the selection, and then press Create.
    3. To create a warning note, put the text cursor on one of those lines, and open the Paragraph Designer.
    4. In Basic properties, make the Left margin 1.0 inches but leave the other margin settings at 0.0. Also, set a tab at 1.0 inch (left align).
    5. Now go to Numbering properties, and put an x in the Autonumber Format box, type Warning:\t in the box just below Autonumber Format, and then click on that character tag you designed earlier, boldital. (Make sure that boldital appears in the Character Format box).
    6. Save this new paragraph tag: click on Commands and select New Format, name the style warning1, make sure that this new tag will be stored in the catalog and applied to the selection, and then press Create.
    7. Test out this new tag: notice how run-over lines align to the text and not the label.

    If your instructor or syllabus requires it, continue with FrameMaker Styles Practice.

    If you've completed this tutorial and are taking an online course in print documentation, go to the FrameMaker workshop area of the Print Documentation Chatroom and let the rest of the class know how you did on this tutorial.

    This information is provided and maintained by David A. McMurrey. For information on use, customization, or copies, e-mail