Manuscript Formatting Tips

Common formatting problems

When you are deep into your writing process and the wonderful, insightful thoughts are flowing, you get to the end of the paragraph and hit the enter key and you notice there is no indent. Where did the indent go? So instead of typing all all that inspiration, you have to struggle with paragraph indents that disappear and fonts that keep changing. And, how do you change the font size when you want a headline. Why keep going through the frustration when all these problems are easy to fix by using styles properly.

To find the root of the formatting problem you will need to learn the basic use of styles. Even if you only use two styles in your document it will be enough to keep you typing free of those pesky format changes, make creating your chapter titles easy, and get you back to typing all those inspired thoughts. To begin, let’s take a look at the areas where formatting problems can be easily avoided.

Understanding Styles and Formatting

The problem with ‘Normal’

Formatting problems usually begin with the Style named ‘Normal’ and the vast powers this Style has over other styles. Normal is the default style Microsoft has assigned a font (New Times Roman) that most everyone has on their computer, and a type size typical of ‘normal’ usage like typing a letter. And that’s OK, to a point. The problem arises when you type a whole document using only the Normal style but you have a lot of text you have changed using the Formatting toolbar. That works great if you have a talented graphic designer to sort out all the not-so-normal ‘Normal’ styles to create your final layout. Even using just Normal doesn’t mean you should continue to use bad practices like using a tab or spacing to indent and multiple returns to create new pages. So, let’s start with paragraph indent paragraph line spacing, and page breaks.

Paragraph Indents

You’re typing along when you hit the Enter key to start a new paragraph only to find there is no indent; so you hit the tab key, or worse yet, type a bunch of spaces to get an indent. Stop, that is not the way to do it, and it is a lot more work to do it the wrong way. It will also cause problems down the road, when your editor or graphic designer has to remove the tabs or spaces before they can get a consistent layout.

How to set a Paragraph Indent without tabs or spaces
With your document open go to the top menu and click on Format from the drop down menu choose Style and Formatting.
A window will open that shows a list of different Styles available. You can edit an existing Style or setup a New Style.
For an existing style click the style name and a drop down menu will appear. Select Modify...
To create a new style click the New Style... button.
A dialogue box will appear. At the bottom of the box click the Format button and select Paragraph from the drop down menu.
Under Indentation make the following settings:
Special: First line By: .25" (or more depending on preference)
This box also has controls for text Alignment, Before text (left) and After text (right) and Hanging indents, line spacing and Before and After paragraph spacing.

Paragraph Spacing

Paragraph spacing refers to the spacing between the bottom of one paragraph and the top of the next. There are some types of publications where spacing between paragraphs can have advantages and lend to the design. However, no matter how the final layout will be designed these paragraph spaces should not be included as hard returns in your manuscript. Unless absolutely necessary, like in poetry or verses, these returns in normal body text will need to be removed to create a proper flow in a page layout. In Microsoft Word as well as page layout programs, there are style and formatting settings that will automatically add line spacing before and after each paragraph. If you just prefer to type in a double spaced paragraph style you should set the spacing in your styles. With the spacing set using styles it can be easily removed or tweaked in your layout.

How to create paragraph spacing without multiple returns.
With your document open go to the top menu and click on Format from the drop down menu choose Style and Formatting.
A window will open that shows a list of different Styles available. You can edit an existing Style or setup a New Style.
For an existing style click the style name and a drop down menu will appear. Select Modify...
To create a new style click the New Style... button.
A dialogue box will appear. At the bottom of the box click the Format button and select Paragraph from the drop down menu.
Under Spacing make the following settings:
Before: 6pt (or more depending on preference)
After: 6pt (or more depending on preference)
You can set spacing one or both, either way the spacing will automatically be added when you hit the Return key.

Page Breaks

Authors generally understand that new chapters begin on a new page. So when you get to the end of the chapter and just keep returning until you are at the top of a new page, right. Please don’t, it doesn’t work at all since the line spacing will keep changing and chasing the new chapter down the new page or brings it back to the bottom of the page. Page breaks should be entered using the Insert > Break > Page Break function. There are several types of breaks but if you just want a new page Next Page is fine. This break stays with the final text before the new page. This new page will remain separated no matter how much text is added or deleted prior to the break.

How to set a Page Break
From the top menu click 'Insert' then choose 'Break'
A box will open to ask what type of break you would like.
Click the 'Page break' radial button and click OK.
You will now have a nice clean new page to begin a new chapter without all the paragraph returns.

Fonts Sizes and Styles

In Microsoft Word and page layout software the look of the text is controlled by Styles. Styles can be configured to control the font style, size, bold, italic, and all the font variations available. A style also sets the paragraph indent, spacing spacing, paragraph spacing, and lots of other factors. What most people don’t know is the cause of most formatting problems, is that one style can be dependent on another styles in a couple of ways.

The first way styles affect each other is the ‘Style based on‘ setting. Using this setting changes to the base style will automatically make changes to all the styles with the same base. This happens with no notice and can make fonts change for no apparent reason.

The other is the ‘Styles following paragraph‘ that controls what style used after a paragraph return. With each new style a new following style can introduce a jumbled mix of styles with different paragraph indents, and font settings. To avoid this problem it is important to check each style for what style will follow it. The safest choice is to choose the same style to follow and learn to make any style changes by selection from the Style menu before typing.

How to set a style to keep the same style after each return:
I prefer to create a new style and use it consistently throughout the document. Here is now:
On the top menu click on 'Format' and choose 'Style and Formatting'.
A window will open that shows a list of different styles available.
Click the 'New Style' button. Under properties make the settings as follows:
Name: Body Text.
Style type: Paragraph
Style based on: (no style)
This keeps the new style from changing based changes made to the based on style.
Style following paragraph: Body Text
This makes sure the style stays the same after a paragraph return.

Note: 'Normal' is default built in style that it is used universally throughout all your Word documents so beware that making changes to the 'Normal' style can cause other documents to change when they are reopened.

Centering Text

There are, on occasions, places where centering text might be necessary or helpful in setting it apart from the normal text. This is typical of Headings or Subheadings, but can also be a poem or other types of unique content. When you’re typing along and decide to center some text what choice do you have, you type the text and go back and space or tab on the left until you have the text approximately centered, right. No, no, no, please don’t. This causes a nightmare to editors and especially graphic designers. All these spaces have to be removed, all of them. So let’s not add them in the first place, OK. And, you would not believe how easy this one is because Word has text alignment functions for centering in both Styles and in the toolbar. With the click of a button your text will be centered, without extra spaces. Your graphic designer will be so proud.

How to center text with the click of the mouse.

Using the Formatting Tool Bar to Center text
In Word right click on the top tool bar and a menu will drop down. Make sure Formatting is checked.
In the Formatting tool bar will be a row of three symbols of lines, in the first icon the lines are aligned to the left (Align left) in the second icon the lines are centered (Center) and in the last icon all lines the same length (Justify). You can type your text first and leave your cursor on the line and choose the center icon, or choose the icon first and begin typing. You will need to choose left or justify to go back to normal justification.

Using a Style to set Centered text *** Recommended Method ***
If you would like to create a style that will do this automatically when that style is chosen that's easily done and only has to be set once.
If your Styles and Formatting menu is not open yet, go to the top menu under Format choose Styles and Formatting.
In the new list that appears click button labeled New Style...
Name: Centered
Style type: Paragraph
Style based on: (no style)
Style following paragraph: Centered
Set to the same Centered style for typing multiple lines of text or set to Body Text if used for only one line of text like a headline.
Under Formatting chose the same font as your body text or make adjustments if you would like the text to appear different
(bold, italic, larger) from your body text.
Click the Center icon. Click OK to save the new style and close the box.
Your new Centered style will appear in the list. When you select this style the text will automatically be centered. If you set the Style following paragraph to Centered you will need to select your Body Text style to go back to normal body text.