FormattingNovel writingSelf-Publishing

Formatting guidelines–PART 2 (Word options & clean ups)

From Rick:

Last time, I covered some key formatting points for your manuscripts. In this part, I’m first going to show you how to set your MS Word defaults to sensible settings to help you avoid problems.

The instructions are based on Word 2007 & 2010, but I’ll point you to where they’re located in Word 2003. If you happen to use another Word Processor, you should be able to change these settings in a similar manner, but I know that Word Perfect starts with much more sensible defaults than Word, so you won’t need to make most of these changes.

In each section of the Word 2007/2010 ribbon (the section near the top of screen where you access most of the commands), you will see some categories (Font and Paragraph, for example) have a tiny arrow in the bottom right. These arrows allow access to further options (something not obvious to most users because the arrows are so tiny). If you’re still using Word 2003 (nothing wrong with that), you’ll be using the menu items to find and make your changes. (In 2003 click TOOLS then OPTIONS to access the areas you’ll need to makes changes to, but keep in mind that the instructions below are for 2007/2010, so you’ll have to look around).

Open a blank document. Under the HOME tab, click the tiny arrow under FONT. Here is where you set your default font. I recommend either Courier New (11 or 12 point) or Times New Roman (12 point), but not Calibri, which is such a tiny font. Make sure the font style is set to “Regular” (not italic or something else). When done with your choices, click the SET AS DEFAULT box. These choices will become the default settings for ALL future documents.

Of course, you can change the font for any individual document if necessary. Just be sure if you make changes for an individual document that you don’t click the “default” box or you’ll change all documents after it.

Now click the arrow in the PARAGRAPH box and select the INDENTS & SPACING tab. Choose “Align Left.” Set “Indentation” left and right both to 0″. Set “Spacing” before and after to 0 pt each. Set “Special” either to NONE (if you want no first line indents) or to FIRST LINE (the default for “by” is 0.5″). You can set the indent to something else if you prefer, but I recommend 0.5″. For LINE SPACING, you can either choose single or double, but if you’re doing mostly manuscripts, I’d set it to double. Remember that these are merely defaults. You can always change individual documents or sections of documents to something else if necessary.

On the LINE & PAGE BREAKS tab, uncheck ALL boxes. Usually the Widow/orphan box is checked, but for manuscripts, this should be left off. In case you want to know what this option does, it prevents pages from starting with or ending with a single line of text that is part of a paragraph. Now, click SET AS DEFAULT and be sure to select ALL DOCUMENTS BASED ON THE NORMAL.DOTM TEMPLATE and click YES. This will set your defaults for all future documents.

A WORD OF ADVICE AND WARNING: Do not force these widowed/orphaned lines onto another page by extra returns (which is what leads to messy documents). I know they look awkward or unsightly, but (as I said in last week’s blog) if you attempt to adjust them then cut some lines later on, you could find these extra line spaces appearing in the middle of a page, where they’ll really look ugly. Everything will be fine in the final manuscript, and if you self-publish as an ebook, the lines will be as they should be. Your initial and intermediate drafts are not the places to get anal with formatting. Keep it simple.

Next, select the PAGE LAYOUT option on your menu. You’ll notice that the PARAGRAPH box should now show all zeroes for indent and spacing (if you did everything right in the last step). In the PAGE SETUP box, click the little arrow. On the MARGINS tab, set all margins to 1″ and gutter to Left (don’t worry what “gutter” means, just set it. If you’re curious, Google it.) Be sure the orientation is PORTRAIT. Then near the bottom be sure APPLY TO is set for the WHOLE DOCUMENT. Click SET AS DEFAULT and be sure to choose ALL DOCUMENTS again. Click YES to verify this.

Always remember that none of these changes are set in stone. You can change them if necessary. For the for adventurous among you, you can also create a special template for various documents that have custom settings. You’ll notice when you create a NEW document, you have some templates to choose from. Well, you can make your own. Google something like “create templates in word” to find instructions on how to do this.

So, that wasn’t too traumatic, was it? Unfortunately, we’re not done yet. We now need to undo Word’s “AutoFormat,” “AutoFormat As You Type,” and “AutoCorrect” options, which can lead to many unpleasant messes in your documents. The reason we’re making these changes is that Word will do some things that, while they may seem desirable, will add garbage to your manuscripts and cause issues when you convert them into ereader formats. Autoformatting puts things like tiny fractions, a raised “st” in 1st, etc. The reason you don’t want these in your manuscript is that they represent special characters in Word that other programs and Word Processors may not recognize–hence you get garbage.

I’m going to give you the changes I strongly recommend. Note that these changes are not stored in the Normal.dotm template, but are separate. you can change them at any time in Word (if you need to), without affecting the document template.

To start, in Word 2010 either click on the Office icon or from a document click FILE. Select PROOFING, then OPTIONS. (In 2007, click the Office Icon and click on the WORD OPTIONS button at the bottom of the window, then click PROOFING.)

Under the heading “When correcting spelling…” check at least:

Ignore Internet and file addresses
Flag Repeated Words

(other options to check are your choice)

Under “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word…” check all except “Show readability statistics” (you don’t need this, but it causes no harm if checked).

Now, click the AUTOCORRECT OPTIONS box near the top. You’ll be going into several of the tabs, but first, in the middle of the window UNCHECK “Replace text as you type.” If you leave this checked, you can end up with all sorts of undesirable and unexpected things in your manuscript.

Click on the AUTOCORRECT tab. Check off the options you want. Some of these can help you, but none of them are likely to cause problems. However, I usually uncheck:

Correct TWo INitial CApitals
Capitalize First letter of a sentence

I do this because there may be cases where you don’t want these changed (in trademarked names, for example). Unchecking them gives you options. (NOTE: If I had left the “correct TWo INital CApitals” checked, I wouldn’t have been able to type that as I did here. Word would have corrected my “error.”

Click the AUTOFORMAT tab. Check ONLY “straight quotes with smart quotes.” Uncheck all of the others or they can cause problems.

Click the AUTOFORMAT AS YOU TYPE tab. Check ONLY “straight quotes with smart quotes.” Uncheck all of the others.

Do the same with the MATH AUTOCORRECT tab uncheck everything. You’ll only use these if you’re doing a mathematical manuscript, and I suspect most of you reading this blog won’t be. But you now know where to make the adjustments.

I prefer to leave the “smart quotes” option unchecked and to convert them later, but that’s a personal preference. It won’t hurt to check them. Normally, Word gets them right based on its rules. It gives you left-hand quotes at the beginning of a sentence (after a space) and right-hand ones at the end of a sentence (before a space). But if you screw up and mistype something like this: “I’m not going to the store, “ he said. You’ll get a left-hand quote in the second spot because you didn’t put the quote where you should have. It should have been typed as “I’m not going to the store,” he said. In other words, Word gets it wrong because you didn’t follow the rules of punctuation and added a space that didn’t belong.

Some possibly useful links–

For Word 2003:

Turn off prompt to save template in Word 2003 (for the more tech savvy among you)


Having shown you what I believe are the best settings to use in Word for typing your manuscripts, let’s talk about cleaning up the mistakes you’ve made or will likely make at some point.

Word can make visible certain formatting marks, such as spaces, returns/enters, line feeds, spaces, tabs, and page breaks. First click the HOME tab of the ribbon, then locate the paragraph symbol (¶), called the show/hide command, in the middle of the ribbon in the paragraph section. If you click that symbol, you’ll be able to see those normally invisible characters in your document. Click it again to turn it off.

This will show you tabs as a right-pointing arrow. If you see an indented paragraph without it, then you can assume it used first-line indent. Each space shows up as a centered dot. You’ll also see the returns as that paragraph symbol. Line feeds (which are different from returns) show up as an angled arrow. These should all be replaced by paragraph symbols, which I’ll explain how to do in a moment. Likewise, multiple spaces, including two spaces between sentences should be eliminated. You also need to remove spaces at the end of paragraphs. I’ll show you the easy way in a moment.

NOTE: Some people like to leave the “show formatting” turned on as they type to catch mistakes, but I find that distracting. Still, it’s another tool you can use.

Cleaning up a messed-up manuscript can be a challenging and time-consuming process. After you’ve had to do it, you’ll be more careful in the future (I hope). Most problems can be fixed easily with SEARCH & REPLACE. I’m going to give you a brief listing below of some basic cleanups. These are the basic ones only, not all-inclusive.

Before I give the list, you need to familiarize yourself with the SPECIAL character menu in the search. On your HOME tab, at the far right of the ribbon, click the REPLACE option. At the bottom of the window you’ll see SPECIAL. Click that to show a list of the various characters you can search for and replace with. Note that here is where you can change double hyphens (–) into em-dashes when you need to.

Things to search and replace are listed with the search and replace items in ( ).

For example, to do the first one below, click into the SEARCH box and press the space bar twice. Click into the REPLACE box and click the space bar once. Then click “Replace all.” Before you do anything else, scroll through your document and be sure this didn’t screw up anything. Just look and don’t touch or type anything yet. If it did mess up, use UNDO to undo the search & replace. Then you can proceed in a different manner. For example, instead of “replace all” you can replace one at a time. If you have a lot of double spaces, this could be time consuming, but it gives you total control.

SEARCH (two spaces)
REPLACE (one space)
If you’ve used spaces for formatting, you’ll need to repeat this search many times, until Word tells you it can’t find any more double spaces. I strongly recommend making this the FIRST clean up.

NOTE: If you’re paranoid, you can always SAVE the document after each replace step in case you need to go back to a previous state if you find a major problem. Then you simply delete all of these backups later and use the most recent one once you’re happy with the result.

SEARCH (space)(paragraph mark)
REPLACE (paragraph mark)

SEARCH (manual linefeed)
REPLACE (paragraph mark)

If you want to remove tabs and change to first line indent later then do this next step.

SEARCH (paragraph mark)(tab character)
REPLACE (paragraph mark)
If you’ve put any tabs in the middle of lines, this won’t remove them. To do that, find (tab) and replace with nothing by clearing out the “replace” box)

If you want to preserve the tabs at the start of a paragraph, then modify the replace to add some character to change the tab to, such as an @ symbol or some other symbol not used anywhere in the document. Do this with–
SEARCH (paragraph mark)(tab character)
REPLACE (paragraph mark)@

To clear extraneous tabs, replace all tabs with nothing. Then go back and replace the @ with a (tab character).

Sometimes you may have an extra space at the start of a line after a paragraph mark. You remove these similar to the space before the paragraph mark:

SEARCH (paragraph mark)(space)
REPLACE (paragraph mark)

To first-line-indent all paragraphs after clearing out the tab characters, highlight the entire document (CTRL A will do this for you). Go to your ruler line at the top of the document page and note the two wedge-shaped pointers tip to tip at the left. The top one indents paragraphs; the bottom one changes margins.

Move the top one over to 1/2″ while the document is completely highlighted, and all of your paragraphs (every line that follows a paragraph mark) will be indented by that amount. Keep in mind that ALL such lines will indent, including centered lines (such as titles) and scene breaks. You’ll have to manually undo these. Undo a single indent by putting your cursor at the start of that line, then move the top wedge back to the left.

These are the basic fixes, the problems I see most often, but they are not all you have in your manuscript. You should go through your document with the ¶ (show/hide) turned on to see if any odd things show up. Then you can figure out how to fix them. One thing I find is that you may think you had a space where you really had a tab mark in the center of a line. After removing the tabs, you may find some sentences not spaced properly.

HINT: When removing tab marks, one way to remove only the ones at the start of a paragraph is to search for (paragraph mark)(tab character) and replace with (paragraph mark). That leaves the extraneous tabs in the document. You can search those out one by one and fix as needed.

Hopefully now that you know what to avoid, you won’t have so much cleaning up after this. You’ll also better appreciate what editors have to deal with and why they’ll reject an otherwise good story simply because you didn’t take the time to clean it up. Messy manuscripts will also stop readers from critiquing your work on critique websites.

If you want to give yourself a chance of having your work read, pay attention to formatting and use STANDARD formatting, not what you think looks good or what you like. My father taught me that “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

I will do a Part 3 next week to cover some other formatting questions and issue I’ve come across. If you have any questions for us, please submit a comment on the blog or email us through the blog and we’ll try to answer them.


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