Hard-Core Manuscript Formatting

Or, Making your Typesetter Love You.

This is Part Two on my series of MS Formatting. For the basics of MS formatting, read Part One here. Get a template here in Part Three.

Remove all double spaces.

First, find and replace all double spaces with single spaces. Each period should be followed by ONE, not two, spaces.

Then do the exact same find and replace (just hit the “Replace all” button again) in case you had any rogue triple spaces lurking around.

Be consistent with your punctuation

These are the steps I go through to make sure all the punctuation is consistent. You really only have to do all of the following if you’re a typesetter, are perfectionist or anal retentive, or are trying to woo your publisher’s typesetter.

Publishers have their own style guides, but at least in terms of punctuation, it looks like American Publishers model their styles after the Chicago Manual of Style.

I recommend using the “Easiest Options” below while drafting your manuscript, and then doing a find/replace while revising and rewriting.

Ellipses (…)

  • Easiest option: three periods without spaces (d…b)*
  • Word’s auto-formatting: an ellipsis special character (d…b)*
  • AP style: three periods with a space before and after (d … b)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style‘s preferred option: three periods with five spaces (d . . . b)

*If you do either of these options, get in the habit
of typing a space before and after (
d … b).

The problem with CMOS’s favorite is that those internal spaces need to be non-breaking spaces, otherwise if the ellipsis falls at the end of the line, it might look like this .
. .

. . . which is really horrible typography. If you’re typesetting an actual book, do not use the ellipsis special character. Use periods with non-breaking spaces. (In Word: [Option][Space], on PC: [Ctrl][Shift][Spacebar], in Adobe: [Command][Option][X] for Mac or [Ctrl][Alt][X] for PC).

If you’re submitting a manuscript, it doesn’t really matter what you do (three periods, three spaced periods, or the ellipsis special character) as long as you are consistent and use a space before and after the ellipses.

However . . . when ellipses are used with quotation marks, you delete the space between the ellipsis and the quotation mark:

“Trailing off . . .” not “Trailing off . . . “

“. . . continuing.” not ” . . . continuing.”

Again, whatever method you use for ellipses, be sure you are consistent. Even if you use the auto-formatting that switches periods to the ellipsis special character, some triple-periods might still be hiding somewhere.


I have a Quick and Easy Guide to Dashes if you need a primer on the differences between hyphens, em-dashes, and en-dashes and when to use them. Note that in monospaced typefaces like Courier, all dashes have the same width. An em-dash will be indistinguishable from a hyphen. I recommend using two hyphens if you will be editing or revising in Courier.

  • Easiest option: two hyphens without spaces (d–b)
  • Word’s (inconsistent) auto-formatting: an actual em-dash, with no spaces (d—b)
  • AP style: an em-dash surrounded by spaces (d — b)
  • Poorly advised attempt at making AP style prettier: an en-dash surrounded by spaces (d – b)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style’s preferred option: either two hyphens or one em-dash, no spaces. Be consistent!

Changing inch marks ″ to smart quotes “”

Say you use an online program (or app) for drafting, but you revise in a desktop program like Word. Sometimes switching between text editors really screws with your paragraph breaks and quotation marks. Quotation marks should be curved, like micro sixes and nines (“”, zoomed in: 66 99) not straight lines, which are actually inch marks (″, zoomed in: ||  ||).

If you’ve only used one word processor for the duration of your draft, your quotation marks should be consistent. You can turn on auto-format by following these instructions.

If you already have all the quotation marks typed, find/replace all automatically by typing ” into both the find and replace boxes and selecting “Use wild cards” before hitting “replace all.” Some might format awkwardly, so be sure to have a proofreader look for wacky smart quotes or replace each one at a time.

Repeat for foot marks ‘ and prime ′ to turn them into apostrophes ’ or single quotes ‛ and ’

If you cannot fix the quotation marks automatically, then you’ll have to do several Find/Replace searches. But first you need to search for all soft returns / line breaks / carriage returns (see below) in your document and replace them with paragraph breaks.

Once you are sure all of your paragraph breaks are consistent, follow the F/R searches below to manually fix all of your quotation marks:

  1. Find: [space][“] Replace: [space][left curly quote “]
  2. Find: [paragraph break*][“] Replace: [paragraph break][right curly quote ”]
  3. Find: [“][paragraph break] Replace: [left curly quote “][paragraph break]
  4. Find: [“][space] Replace: [right curly quote”][space]

Repeat for double prime ″ and foot marks ‘ and prime ′

*see below for codes

Awkward invisibles

Sometimes if we use different word processing programs while typing, the programs will use a line break instead of a paragraph break. Line breaks are also called carriage returns or soft returns.

For consistency, change them all to a paragraph breaks.

In Word, here are the codes you’d enter into the find/replace boxes:

  • Find line breaks: ^l or ^11
  • Replace with a paragraph break: ^p

In Open Office, the code for a paragraph break is [/n]. In Pages, select the invisibles from the drop down menu.



13 thoughts on “Hard-Core Manuscript Formatting

  1. Timothy Price says:

    I do typesetting using the LaTeX markup language, and I write web applications our evaluators use to write assessments of buildings that are saved in databases and then the assessments are pulled out of the databases and typeset using a Java-based reporting system. In both LaTeX and the web apps, curly quotes from word processing programs are the bane of my existence.

  2. danniehill says:

    One hears so much about the ‘do your own thing’ grammar of today and it is true that many rules can be broken in a novel. But in formatting there are rules that need to be followed if only to make the words on a page look nice. Very good information!

  3. tric says:

    Now I feel totally depressed. Not only do I not know most of this, but I hate even reading it, but in time I do wish to write and I know I will have to pay a lot more attention to all you have written.
    If you were to start someone off (as uninterested as I am) where would send me?

    • Lara says:

      I’m confused. Why would you want to do something so time consuming as writing if you’re uninterested in it? Remember this is “hard core” manuscript formatting. See my other posts in this series for basic formatting (this is advanced stuff that is NOT mandatory), and remember that any manuscript formatting is only necessary if you are submitting to an agent or publisher.

      If you are wanting me to point you in the direction of writing sources, you’ll have to let me know what it is you’re wanting to write and/or what you struggle with before I can give a tailored recommendation 🙂

  4. Matthew Wright says:

    All these formatting tips are essential for modern writing – and, unlike grammar, are rules that should NOT be broken! That said, there are tech trip-ups. The ASCII set needed for some of these special character differs between Mac and Windows environments – this is why, sometimes, you’ll see a PDF with a “?” character or an ampersand-code string instead of a letter. They can also throw InDesign when typesetting. But it’s well worth an author making the attempt before submitting for publishing, definitely.

  5. ksgarvin says:

    I work as a copy editor, so I’ve seen an amazing variety of formatting come across my desk, and the two-space issue is one I have to deal with all the time. There are people who will fight tooth-and-nail to keep their precious two spaces even after we’ve explained why they aren’t needed in the 21st century.

    • Lara says:

      I don’t fight it, I just delete the extra spaces for them. If it did come down to arguing, I might get snarky in correspondence with them, typing “w” as “uu” and “m” as “nn” and adding an exclamation point to the end of each sentence.

      Double spaces after a period are, as typos, unprofessional and obtrusive.

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