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.



Quick & Easy Guide to Dashes


hyphen (-)

A hyphen goes between words or syllables to link them together.

Example: Editors appreciate dash-savvy writers.

All English keyboards: the hyphen is the minus key next to zero.

en dash (–)

An en dash denotes a range between numbers or dates. It is so called because it is the same length as the letter “n.”

Example: The author used multiple dashes on pages 4–90.

Microsoft: alt + 0150

MS Word auto-format: enter [space], [hyphen], [space] between words.

Like this: word – word

Apple: option + hyphen

Smartphone or tablet: hold down the hyphen key until more options appear. The N-dash is probably the middle choice.

em dash (—)

An em dash denotes an interruption. It is so called because it is the same length as the letter “m.”

Example: Authors—even professional ones—often use dashes incorrectly.

Microsoft: alt + 0151

MS Word auto-format: enter [hyphen][hyphen] between words without spaces.

Like this: word–word

Apple: shift + option + hyphen

Smartphone or tablet: hold down the hyphen key until more options appear. The M-dash is the widest choice.