Creating a Clean Manuscript

Keep it cleanQuestion: What’s the difference between a badly formatted manuscript and a clean manuscript?

Answer: The price you’ll pay to have it edited or formatted.

It’s difficult to edit a horribly formatted manuscript, so the editor might clean it up a bit to make it more manageable. Anything that cost an editor time will cost you money.

If a horribly formatted manuscript is sent to someone to format into an eBook or paperback, it’s going to cost extra because it will take extra time to create a workable copy.

The writer can save her hired hands time and at the same time save money by learning the basics of how to create a clean manuscript.

It all starts here…with this weird little symbol that probably has a name but I don’t know it. I’ve called it ‘the one who reveals all’…all the wrong formatting techniques. Here’s its mugshot:

Cleaning up a manuscript example Image 2

Here it is with a few close neighbours.

Cleaning up a manuscript example Image 3

If you click on ‘the one who reveals all’ strange creatures and mystic beings appear instantly on your manuscript and dance between your words and sentences. Little dots, circles, arrows and other mysterious beings get you looking into places you’ve never thought to look before. They’ve always been there, but in the other realm, behind the cloak of invisibility, until you clicked the magic button.

“What do I do with these mystic beings?” you ask. “Are they all bad? Can’t a few dwell within my document?”

A few can stay, but many must be packed up and shipped out. When I clean up a manuscript, this is what I look for.

Extra Spaces: You might not know this—I didn’t until I found ‘the one who reveals all’—but you might have hundreds of spaces you didn’t know about hiding out in your polished manuscript. Hundreds, possible thousands, of spaces might translate into several additional unnecessary pages in your book if you self-publish without removing them. Traditional publishers will want them removed because more pages equal more money which equals less profit.

The number one spot in my manuscript where extra spaces were sneaking around was at the end of paragraphs. Why? Because I have a habit of writing a sentence, adding a space and thinking about the next sentence. If I think I’ll start another paragraph, I don’t didn’t go back and remove that space; I left it and moved on.

Another place you might have extra spaces is between sentences. STOP. Toss out one of those oars you thought you needed to bring sentences to a full stop. In the new world—the one without typewriters—we need only one oar—one space—to navigate our way through a paragraph. That means you have to break the habit—if you haven’t already—of typing two spaces between sentences and replace that with one space. ONE. One space. Don’t listen to those old teachers, those old professors who hang on to the typewriter era of writing. It’s one space. Trust me. You’ll save yourself headaches and paper if you break the habit now.

Surprisingly the strangest places I’ve seen extra spaces were in front of paragraphs. How they got there and why is a mystery. They have to go regardless. These extra spaces play havoc with text alignment.

Spaces between the three periods or a triple-dot glyph (otherwise known as ellipsis) must also be removed. In MS Word, the moment you type that third dot (without spaces), the software automatically inserts an ellipsis for you. This will eliminate the possibility of two dots starting on one line and the third dot being carried to the next line. That looks messy and unprofessional.

In the image below you’ll see what an extra space at the end of a paragraph looks like. Spaces are exposed by ‘the one who reveals all’ by a single floating dot. If you can’t see it clearly, increase your document view to 150%.

Crop Circles: The strangest thing I’ve encountered to date by ‘the one who reveals all’ is the innocent circle camping out wherever it pleases. This can cause formatting problems and adds space between letters or words wherever it appears. The quickest way to remove circles is to backspace them into oblivion.

Cleaning up a manuscript example Revealed

Arrows without the Bows: Arrows indicate a hard return (old typewriter lingo that doesn’t really apply to computers, but somehow appears, or a manual indent). They appear either at the end of a paragraph or in the indent space before a paragraph. I remove them by backspacing.

This brings me to the topic of Styles in MS Word. On the Home page in the top menu is a selection of Styles. Highlighting a selection of text and clicking a Style transforms the text into that style (in other words, a specific font type, size and colour, as well as paragraph format, such as 0.5 indent, double space and 10pt after paragraphs).

Users can easily change the selected style or create their own to suite their formatting purposes.

To change a Style, right click the specific style in the top menu and select Modify. A pop-up window will provide the basic style elements you can select. If you want to change indent space or other paragraph formatting, click the Format square in the bottom left of this pop-up window and then select Paragraph. Another pop-up window provides options for changing the paragraph formatting.

Once you’re finished, click OK to both pop-ups. Every line formatted using that Style in your document will automatically take on the formatting you’ve selected. This is very handy when you have fifty chapter headings and you’ve decided you prefer a different font type or size. It can be changed in seconds by modifying the Style.

Cleaning up a manuscript Popups Style

NOTE: You can and should create a different style for each new formatting you introduce into a document. You might have a style for title, author name, body of text and chapter headings. Either use the existing styles or create your own with names you can identify quickly.

If you want to create a new style, the easiest way is to format the text line in the desired style using the conventional methods (those individual settings in the top menu on the Home page), then highlight the text.

In the top menu on the Home page, just to the right of Style options there is an image with two capital As ‘Change Styles’ (See image above). DO NOT click that. Instead, click the little arrow in the bottom right hand corner of that box. A new pop-up window will appear with the heading Styles [I couldn’t capture this window with my screenshot, so I don’t have an image for it.].

In the bottom, left-hand corner of this long, narrow pop-up window are three buttons with As in them. Click the one on the far left. A new window will pop-up. If you like the current formatting style you’ve chosen for the highlighted text, name it (first line under Properties) and click OK.

Instantly you’ve created a new style. It will appear with the name you’ve given it in the Style options section. You may have to click the little arrow in the bottom, right-hand corner of Styles to expand the options window to see your new style. At any time, you can format text into that style by clicking the name of the Style. You can also modify the Style by right clicking, just as you would any other style.

One final word about formatting: keep it simple. I’ve had the unpleasant experience of cleaning up the formatting of format-happy teens. Lots of different colours, font types and sizes and indenting can create work for the formatter, especially if two different word processing systems are involved. Most of the time however this type of formatting can be unformatted quickly by erasing all formatting with the Magic Eraser.

I love this eraser. By highlighting the desired text and clicking this eraser button, in one magical swoop all (most) formatting will disappear. I can also Select All text and click a Style to change everything to the way I want it. It’s like I’m the ruler of the manuscript kingdom!

Cleaning up a manuscript example Eraser

After learning all this during my first and second formatting adventure, I know to keep it simple, and keep formatting to a minimum. I also take advantage of Styles, so I can change things instantly if I want for printing, sharing with someone else or…formatting for publication.

The less you format now, the less you’ll have to reformat later.

Still confused by Styles? Check out YouTube videos for tutorials. Here’s just one.

18 thoughts on “Creating a Clean Manuscript

    • Styles was something I fell into accidentally. I had used WordPerfect from 1998 until 2010 and had no idea how to use MS Word. As luck would have it, the first thing I did with Word was format my youth novel “Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove”. To format, I followed Smashwords guide. It provided step-by-step instructions on how to use Styles. This was my fist tutorial for Word, and I was so happy to have it. I’m sure if I didn’t have it, I would have fumbled around in Word for months before I felt comfortable using it.


  1. Some of this I learned the hard way. But I have lots more to learn and you’ve helped by adding my block of information. Thank you so much for your generosity!


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