Manuscript Formatting Essentials
Whether it’s a book or a short article that you’re writing, it’s essential that you present your work professionally and in a way that readily identifies you as the author.
Your manuscript front sheet should always show the title of the work and the ‘byline’. The byline is your name and identifies you as the author. Some authors do not wish to use their own names and use a pseudonym.
The title and byline should be in a prominent position across the middle of the sheet; approx one third to one half of the way down.
Your manuscript front sheet should also include the date and your contact details including your address, telephone number and any e-mail address you use for your writing.
The body, or general content of your manuscript, should be presented clearly. Make sure that you use double line spacing. This leaves one full line space between each line of text, making the paragraphs much easier to read. Since very few people indent the first line of a paragraph nowadays, you will need to make each new paragraph clear to readers. Alternatively, you may choose to indent the first line of each paragraph. It is still perfectly acceptable.
Page margins should be of a decent size, to avoid cramming the page with text. It is normally recommended that a margin of 1.5 inches (approximately 38 mm) (left, right, top and bottom) be used.
Regardless of whether you’re writing a short story or, for example, a novel, ensure each page is numbered, excluding the cover sheet.
Many experts advise that ‘mf’ should be included in the bottom right corner of every page of the body of the text in your manuscript, except the last page. This apparently indicates to editors that more sheets are to come (‘mf’ being an abbreviation for ‘more follows’). On the last page, you should replace mf with ‘end’, to signify that the last page has been reached. This approach also allows readers or editors to know if pages are missing from the end of your manuscript. See also this post with lots of advice to prospective authors.
A common mistake made by many inexperienced writers is in the use of fonts. Since computer word processing packages have many different fonts, there is always a tendency to style a manuscript using a font that you believe looks good. Usually, this is at the expense of readability. Remember your manuscript is not an exercise in graphic design. It is there to show your writing and capture your audience’s attention as good as you can.
Some fonts are easier to read than others. This can sometimes be subconscious to the reader but the effect can still be pronounced.
When selecting a font, it is advisable to stick to the type of fonts you find in books. Look at some of your books and you will soon see that most of the fonts used are similar in style. This is because this type of font is recognized as being the easiest to read when presented in large blocks of text. Fonts to use include those similar to:
- Times New Roman
Although some fonts look good stylistically, they are not as easy to read and are more intended for graphical design use and are unsuited to writers’ manuscripts. These include commonly used fonts such as:
- Comic Sans
Never be tempted to use a font that is designed to replicate handwriting.
Don’t be tempted to bind your manuscript with either binding or staples. Leave it as a loose-leaf document. This is easier for editors to deal with and make sure your manuscript is well-structured. The precautions you took earlier in marking each page will provide the necessary visibility of the page numbers.