MS Formatting Primer

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I decided it was time I learned about manuscript formatting, so last night I did a search and found nine articles on it.

“Manuscript Format,” by Apryl Duncan
“Manuscript Formatting” by Lee Masterson
“Proper Manuscript Format,” by William Shunn
“The Obligatory Manuscript Format Article” by John Gregory Betancourt
“Manuscript Preparation,” by Vonda N. McIntyre
“Manuscript Preparaton Guidelines,” by Marion Zimmer Bradley
“How to Format a Manuscript for Publication,” by Mary Nicole Silvester
“Manuscript Formatting for Beginners,” by Kent Brewster
“Novel Format,” by Eire Fury

Here’s what I found…

They all agree that there’s no set standard and that one should look at the guidelines for each publisher or agency before submitting. However, that being said, there are some basic standards that will put you in the ballpark.

Paper: the four who mentioned it said to use 20 lb, and preferably a laser printer.

Margins: all say at least 1” on each side, with two saying to use 1½” on the sides.

Font size: all but one said to use size 12.

Font type: Here’s where things get confusing. Five said Courier, another said go with serif types like Courier or Times, but that now some are accepting Arial, another said Arial or Times, and Vonda McIntyre said “under no circumstances use Times New Roman.”

To sum up, most suggested using monotype fonts (where an “m” is the same width as an “i”), since it helps editors figure how much space the text will need and is easier to read. And Courier was the most popular suggestion of that type.

Name and Address: Every article said to put your Name, Address, Phone Number, and e-mail in the upper left corner of the first page, single-spaced.

Word Count: Every article said to put the Word Count (rounded off to the nearest 100 or 1000, depending on length), in the upper right corner of the first page.

Title: Nearly all agreed that it’s to be centered, halfway down the page. Four said to put it all in CAPS, and two said not to.

Name: Put one blank double-space line under the title, then your name, as you wish it to appear on the book.

2nd Page: In the upper right corner of each page (except the first), in a header, put your last name, the title of the book, and page number: Tolstoy/War and Peace/112. If it’s a long title, you can shorten it down: Dickens/Two Cities/320. Six of the articles agreed on this, and only one said to put page numbers in the upper left corner.

New Chapter: Each one begins on a new page, about halfway down.

Tabs: All but one agreed on using a half inch tab.

Italics: All four that mentioned it said not to use italics or bold formatting in your manuscript, but to underline the words. This is so it will catch the printer’s eye.

Two Spaces after a Period, between Each Sentence: The three who mentioned this all recommended it. The book won’t be printed that way, but it helps make a manuscript easier for an editor to read.

Em Dashes: Use two hyphens--with no blank spaces--like this.

I hope that helps clear up any confusion of new writers, or at least given you some new confusion. If you’re interested, the last two articles I listed were among the most helpful.

Jules Hall


Paper: the four who mentioned it said to use 20 lb, and preferably a laser printer.

For those of us who exclusively use metric units for paper, what is this? In metric, we normally specify paper in grams per square metre (gsm); what area is 20lb the weight of?

Margins: all say at least 1” on each side, with two saying to use 1½” on the sides.

I'm starting to rethink my 2cm margins. Maybe 3 would be better.

Word Count: Every article said to put the Word Count (rounded off to the nearest 100 or 1000, depending on length), in the upper right corner of the first page.

I've seen at least one guideline that says to put it on the left below your name & address details, so this isn't entirely universal.

New Chapter: Each one begins on a new page, about halfway down.

Interesting. I've been starting new chapters at the top of a page.


Re: guidelines

The wider the margin the better (unless it's too wide, leaving no room for your actual text. :grin ) So yes, if you have a choice of 2cm vs. 3 cm, go with 3 (which is about 1.25"?)

I've always heard put the word count in the upper right hand corner.

As long as your new chapter is on a new page, you'd be fine. But it's a good idea to at least leave a few inches (or in your case, centimeters) up top for the editors to write down notes.


Re: guidelines

On fonts--you may want to check publication dates on the books that differ from mono spaced fonts.

I have an older version of Formatting and Submitting your ms that calls for Times, yet the newest version is back to the mono spaced fonts.

Why? Well The early version came out in the early 80's when computers were first moving into our homes. WOW Times looked great on paper, then I think the copy-editor people and those who read everyday said WHOA--this is hard to read and we are missing a lot of things, and where do we put in all those little scribbly red marks?

HINT: Ever notice if you pay attention to line number that your chapter pages are each off from each other by a small amount? NOT that this will make your work unacceptable, but hey anything to make it look more pro (right?)--to fix that and get uniform chapter start pages, always use the new page option (ctl enter in WP) to start a new page, presto all the chapter start pages when you hit your enter key down the right number of times will be in the same place.

Better yet, save yourself some time--set up a macro to do it. Set it to do the new page, space down and put the word Chapter on the new page. I even have mine set to space after the word Chapter and to tab the first line.


Re: guidelines

It's easiest to set up a Word template with these styles and use it, or convert to it, for manuscripts. After fruitless web searches on setting up templates in Word, I studied the Word 2001 Bible chapter on them and posted a summary. I've been using a manuscript template ever since, and it works great.



It isn't what editors will accept that you should worry about, but what they prefer. Courier 12 makes life much, much easier for an editor. It's far and away the easiest font to edit and to read. Even though most editors will accept Times, it's an absolute pain in the keester to edit. There simply isn't enough room between the letters and words to easily insert proofreader marks.

There are still editors out there who will reject anything not Courier 12, and many other editors who will accept several fonts, but who still swear a good bit when it isn't Courier 12. I seldom do editing work these days, but when I do I simply won't read Times. Life's too short to strain my eyes trying to edit the stuff.

Just because some editors will accept Times or Ariel doesn't mean they aren't biased, or that they'll have a good first impression of your manuscript.

The reason for one inch margins is that it makes word count automatic. But one and a half is fine, as long as it's Courier 12. The editor just counts the spaces and doing this makes word count automatic.

Whatever word count you place on a manuscript, it will propbably be largely ignored. It's just a rough guideline the editor uses before actually picking up and flipping through teh manuscript.

Using a laser printer is outdated info. It used to be that ink jet printers weren't as good. Now they are, and it's pretty much impossible to tell whether or not a manuscript was printed on a laser or a new ink jet.

When you're looking for manuscript format guidelines, it's best to look for those put out by editors, not by writers. But just about the perfect manuscript can be found here

Robert J. Sawyer is both an award winning writer and an editor, and don't dare get him started on writers who refuse to use Courier 12.

Not using Courier 12 for print publishers is simply begging for trouble, and there isn't a reason in the world to use any other font, except for foolish stubbornness.


Thanks, sc211

You really did your homework on this one! When I was a newbie, I sent such an improperly formatted ms. to an editor, that now I think back with such embarrassment. I didn't know how to use MS Works, and the ms. had a header and footer on each page that was highlighted in bright yellow. Every line was single spaced, some strange font--at least it was 12pt.... You get the picture. Anyway, the editor called me a month later saying that it was the best writing he'd seen in a long while. (It was a small newspaper.) He didn't mention the lousy way it was submitted. I guess what I'm trying to get at is, the formatting is very important--always make sure your submission looks professional--but the writing is what hooks the editor.
Thanks, sc211, for taking the time.
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