Create a Well-Formatted Document

Some time ago I posted an article titled “Basic Computer Skills for Authors.” Then I wrote an article titled “Converting for Kindle” that gave tips on how to format a document and upload it to Kindle using basic HTML. After reformatting Word documents for clients, I realized that a third article is imperative, “Creating a Well-Formatted Document.” 

Consistent Format

When reviewing a document before I begin to reformat, the first thing I notice is inconsistency, as if the author were thinking, “Shouldn’t documents have multiple font settings, font sizes, and headings? Isn’t a document that’s fully clad more appealing to the reader? Shouldn’t I show the reader that I’m mad by doing this to the word mad: MAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?” 

No. They shouldn’t, it isn’t, and he shouldn’t. 

Using Format Tools for Efficiency

The second thing I notice is that authors may not use Word’s formatting tools. Spaces are used to center, multiple paragraph breaks are used to push content down to the next page, and tabs are used instead of a left indent. 

If a client is preparing a manuscript for publication, including e-book publishing, simple formatting is important. Sticking to basic fonts like Times New Roman or Arial is a good first step. In fact, e-book readers have pre-selected fonts, and most platforms will convert fonts they can’t read. 

Formatting Techniques 

1. Always save the document before you make any major changes, such as reformatting. If it’s a new document go to File > Save As, indicated in the image below. If it’s a document that has already been saved, just click the diskette icon on your menu bar. You can also use the keyboard shortcut “ctrl + s.” Hold down the “ctrl” key while pressing the “s” key on your keyboard. If your document is new, using this shortcut will prompt the File, Save As menu to appear so that you can name your document and save it in a file. Save frequently, especially before making major changes.

Click on image to enlarge.

Word has an autosave option. Go to Tools > Options, click the Save tab and check “Save AutoRecover info every: . . . ,” then specify minutes. 

2. Turn on your formatting marks. Click the icon indicated here:

Notice the formatting marks in the image below. The arrow pointing down and to the left indicates a “soft line break” (shift + enter). The other symbol is a paragraph mark that indicates a “hard line break” (enter). The arrow pointing to the right is a “tab” mark. All the dots indicate spaces.

Click image to enlarge.

Formatting marks don’t lie. They show you where you’ve been inconsistent in your formatting. They can be annoying when typing. I turn mine off when typing and turn them on when reviewing and reformatting a document. 

3. Make sure your rulers are showing. Go to View and check Ruler.

The rulers will help you align and adjust consistently and show where margins are set. 

4. Use a first line indent for paragraphs. To create this indent, move the top triangle shown below.

Click image to enlarge.

Don’t space or tab the first line of a paragraph to make the indent. Tabbing requires you to adjust each paragraph manually. Spacing leaves lines uneven. Automatic first line indents allow all lines to adjust at once, creating uniformity and less work. Furthermore, margin settings are much easier to adjust later if you want to change the size of the indent. 

Use the hanging indent to align subsequent lines after the first line. To do this, move the bottom triangle shown above. The hanging indent is used for bibliographies (APA style) and numbered or bulleted lists. Most authors won’t need to use the hanging indent in their manuscripts as long as the body contains conventional paragraphs. 

5. For block quotes use the left indent. Move the square indicated below. Notice in the image below, the entire paragraph is moved over 0.5”, hence a “block quote.”

Click image to enlarge.

When you move that square, the first line indent and hanging indent both move. 

6. If you want your text to start on a new page, do not do this:

Go to Insert > Break, and make sure to choose “Page break.” Another way to insert a page break is to use “ctrl + enter” on your keyboard pad. Do this at the end of every chapter to make the next chapter start on a new page. 

If an author does the above “no no” to a book he plans on publishing, the published pages will not have the same page breaks because paper sizes and font sizes will be different.

Be in control of your document

It’s important that authors are in control of their own work and are very clear and consistent when creating their documents. Knowing publishing and printing procedures, and knowing where to go to become familiar with such procedures, is also important. Otherwise the author may not be happy with the end result. These techniques will ensure the author is pleased with his work. 

In the end, my best advice is to take a basic computer class. Unfortunately, many people who haven’t learned basic computer skills are quickly being left behind. Computers, software, and the Internet are constantly changing. Even people with more refined computer skills have to learn new things to stay proficient. Authors who don’t have strong computer skills may miss publishing opportunities. Weak computer skills may also contribute to poor Internet book marketing, resulting in low e-book sales. 

Other Resources

–Alina Padilla

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Filed under Writing

5 responses to “Create a Well-Formatted Document

  1. A.Sinclair

    Very nicely done.The illustrations really help.

  2. Pingback: Round-up: Ager, Cory, indie rocktards, Depress, Gap, Chung. « We Who Are About To Die

  3. Thank you both. I was worried the illustrations would be a little over the top for a blog post. In this case, the article wouldn’t have been effective without illustrations.

  4. Rita

    Very helpful. Thank you very much!!

  5. Buck

    Thank you for the efforts applied to give out this free lesson. I am applying these helpful tips immediately.

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