Basic Computer Skills for Authors

Basic computer skills for authors are important when presenting a manuscript to publishers. Basic computer skills go beyond typing skills. Some writers were writing back when typewriters were THE advanced technology. There’s nothing wrong with this. Old school typists exude disciplined typing ability. While this is a good asset to have, computer skills separate professional writers from amateurs. Basic computer skills reduce the need for intensive production work during layout.

The following strategies assist in the layout of a manuscript and follow standard conventions for submitting to publishers.


1. Allow lines to wrap normally in paragraphs.
Hitting enter after eye-balling where a line should break is a very “typewriter thing” to do. The enter key has taken the place of a carriage return on a typewriter. A word processor is designed to allow lines to break naturally, without the typist guessing when to hit the enter key. Not allowing lines to wrap normally can cause them to break in odd places on the page. If this happens and the person typing tries to make changes, such as adding words, the lines will become too short, or the last few words will wrap over by themselves.

Here is an example of a forced line break:
Billy likes long socks, preferably socks that cover his knees. If Billy’s socks slouch,
he will not be happy.

This is what will happen if the author tries to add words to the sentence above:
Billy likes long socks, preferably socks that cover his knees. If Billy’s socks slouch,
  he will tape them above the knees and
he will not be happy.

Imagine a 300 plus page document like this.

2. Use page breaks to start a chapter on a new page.
A lot of authors will hit the enter key, and continue to hit it until “Chapter Five” gets pushed down to the next page. Yikes! When the manuscript is printed at its final size, the pages will end up in different places than what was shown on the computer screen. There will be big gaps in the manuscript, and the chapter will appear in the middle or the end of the page, instead of at the top. Using a page break will automatically force “Chapter Five” down to the next page without all the paragraph breaks.

3. Place one space after a period, not two.
Typewriters were designed to use only single spaced letters. So, in conventional English typing standards, two spaces were manually placed after a sentence to separate one from another. Our word processors were designed with this in mind, and now it’s only required to use one space after a period. Two spaces leave an unpleasant, unnecessary gap between sentences. Regardless, word processors alleviate the need for two spaces.

4. Use automatic first line indents instead of tabs or spaces.
Tabbing will require each line to be adjusted manually. Spacing leaves lines uneven. Automatic first line indents allow all lines to adjust at once, so there’s no going back to the document to tweak each paragraph.

5. Double space throughout a document.
This is a standard submission convention for submitting to publishers. This also makes the document easier to read and allows for note taking. Set the text to automatically double space.

6. Use one-inch margins all around a document.
Using one-inch margins all around a document is not only a standard convention, but also it provides a consistent look.

7. Use one extra line break to separate scenes in a chapter.
This gives the reader a clue that the scenes are changing.

8. Don’t use any extra line breaks after paragraphs, aside from number 7.
Using extra line breaks after paragraphs (with the exception of number 7) makes the document appear sloppy or too broken up.

9. Use standard 12-point Times New Roman font throughout.
This is also a standard convention for submission to publishers. Using 12-point Times New Roman font keeps the document simple, uniform, and easy to read. Too many different fonts and styles can make the document appear unpolished. Font changes, if any, will occur during the typesetting process later.

10. Obtain a correct word count.
Giving a correct word count is more accurate than a page count, which can change depending on the final layout. Only include a count from “Chapter 1” to the end of the book.

11. Send pictures or book graphics to be included in the text of the manuscript as separate files.
In the manuscript where the graphic would appear, type the comment, “insert (give file name).” Make sure to give the specific file name, as opposed to “insert picture of me and my family.” Chances are, you will have many similar pictures. This makes sure the right picture goes where you want it.

Following these basics computer guidelines will allow for a clear, consistent, and legible manuscript. These basic guidelines will also help the final formatting and layout process go smoother. Although this service is provided at no cost by Precise Edit, many editing services charge extra for formatting. Check with the editor for service details and rates. The submission process should be about the author’s content, not about how difficult it was for the publisher to review the author’s manuscript.

Article written by Alina Padilla
Precise Edit Marketing Support

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Filed under Authors, Editing, Writing

3 responses to “Basic Computer Skills for Authors

  1. lillieammann


    Excellent advice. It always surprises me how many writers don’t know these simple basics.

  2. Thanks.

    Unfortunately not many do. Just knowing the basics can save so many authors time and stress, and allow them to focus more on marketing their work.

  3. This is really helpful! Thanks for posting it!
    I’m still confused about how to “let” my word processor wrap my lines, though. I’m submitting poetry to a literary journal that says to let the lines wrap– no line breaks or hard returns either. So, if a line of my poem is supposed to have only one word, how do I “Let the word processor wrap the lines” and communicate that this is a line break? Hope that question makes sense! I’ve been googling it for while and haven’t figured it out. Thanks!

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