Formatting can age you by ten years, create gray hair, and you may end up in therapy after trying to get your manuscript to behave, but it’s a necessary part of every writer’s life. I’m going to touch on some basic formatting rules using Microsoft Word, and I’ll also touch on some other basic formatting rules for you to apply to your manuscript.
When submitting to agents, be sure to follow their instructions for formatting. Some may be different than others. If you’re submitting to publishers, be sure to adhere to their style requirements. Every publishing house will have a house style, but the publishing industry as a whole follows the Chicago Manual of Style.
I’ve included screen shots of my Microsoft (which is for Mac, but the things I’ve included should look the same across Mac an PC platforms) for your enjoyment.
- One inch margins all around.
- This is under the “Layout” tab in your ribbon. Set all margins to 1.
- Times New Roman font
- 12 point font
- This is under the “Home” tab in your ribbon. Change the font type and size here.
- Double space your document
- Indent the first line by 0.5”
- This is under the “Paragraph” setting. Your screen should look just like this.
- Set the left indention to 0″
- Special: to First line
- By: to 0.5.“
- Set your line spacing to Double with 0 pt Spacing before and after.
- Only one space after a period
- Use the serial comma.
- This is the only part that may be a little different on the PC version of Word. You’ll want to find your Grammar Settings and go in and set them to your preference. There are so many things Microsoft Word actually does for you if you have it set up correctly. On Word for Mac, I went into Tools > Auto Correct > Show All > Spelling and Grammar > Settings and then modified my grammar settings.
- Only one space after a colon. I haven’t found a setting that automatically sets this for you, but if I do, I’ll post it.
- Punctuation goes inside a quotation mark in the US, but can go outside of the quotation mark in the UK.
- There are many ways to use ellipses (…) but the most common use I see is trailing off.
- Example: She stood with her hands on her hips. “What do you mean you can’t go to … Oh.” The look on his face said it all.
- There are also many uses for the em dash (–). It can be used to interrupt dialogue.
- Example: “I said go clean your room.” “But Mom–” “Now!”
- An em dash can also be used in place of commas.
- Example: Because we haven’t packed–or even done laundry–we are unprepared for our trip!
Those are the formatting basics. There are so many other formatting tips and tricks. My biggest piece of advice is to get the Chicago Manual of Style and reference it; it’s a publisher’s go to guide.
Do you have any other questions about formatting? I’m happy to answer in the comments.