12 Common Format Problems in Manuscripts Submitted for Publication
Many of you know that I edit a bi-monthly newsletter for my 55+ community. It is a fun job, but at the same time, it can be quite frustrating. Common formatting problems creep into manuscripts submitted for publication, and these can be quite distracting to the editor or proofreader (ME!).
Editors consider many factors when reviewing an article for publication (grammar, punctuation, word use, and correctness of facts, and so forth), but an article’s format grabs our attention first.
A Hodgepodge of Formats
Imagine the problem in publishing a 24- to 28-page newsletter with 15-20 articles and committee reports, when each article or report has its own mix of formatting:
- all capital letters or first letters of words capitalized on titles
- titles centered by spacebar
- authors’ names italicized, bolded, or underlined
- article subheads italicized, bolded, or underlined
- mixed fonts and mixed font sizes
- block text with whole article in one huge paragraph in bold or italics
- randomly added extra spaces or omitted spaces between words
- two spaces added after periods instead of the standard one
- right margins justified
- no paragraph indents or line spacing between paragraphs
- article submitted in body of email (throws off all formatting)
- “scare quotes” (using quotes around commonly used words or phrases)
The most difficult-to-read submission for our current issue had one huge, unbroken paragraph with both left and right justification (block text), typed single space in bold. And it was loaded with spacing and punctuation errors. This article was so hard to read that I almost gave up on it. Alas, since it was from a neighbor, I persisted and corrected the format.
Another writer submitted his article in the body of an email which completely threw off all internal formatting, creating awkward line spacing and chopped-up sentences. Comprehension of this material was almost impossible.
You get the picture: a hodgepodge of formats among the submitted articles. Format decisions affect readability. Some of these listed items may seem picky to you, but when you have twenty articles to publish, all with differing formats, and your deadline is fast approaching, well, Houston, we have problems.
How to Help Your Editor: A Baker’s Dozen of Tips
Use these suggestions and your editor will love you:
1. Use a consistent format. Research the editorial preferences of the newsletter, newspaper, or journal for which you want to write and use that format consistently.
Forget the fancy fonts, the bold type, the italics, the underlining on the titles and in the body of your article. These are not only distracting to your editor (and ultimately your reader), but they slow the editing process down. An editor, proofreader, or publication formatter must take out all of these extra features before they can put in the publication’s standard format, and all this before they get to your writing content. (Use italics at the direction of your editor to indicate only words that must be italicized in the final product.)
Note: Newspapers and journals vary on their formatting, so you must ask for a “style sheet” which outlines the publication’s desired format.
2. Use only one font throughout your article (Times New Roman or Courier are good). Avoid fancy fonts when submitting articles.
3. Use 12-point type throughout your article. Smaller type is more difficult to read.
4. Double space your article. This allows your editor or proofreader to write in minor corrections or other notes.
5. Use one-inch margins all around.
6. Use capital letters on first letter of words in title (newspapers capitalize only the first word of an article title).
7. Use one space (not two) after periods. This is standard.
8. Use left justification with ragged right margins. The extra white space on the right side helps the reader keep their in place while reading. Block text is difficult to read. Right justification also creates awkward spaces as it attempts to evenly distribute the words on each line.
9. Show paragraph breaks by indents (use the tab key, not the space bar), or by a blank line between paragraphs. It seems popular for many writers to eliminate indents, but personally, I prefer them. Once again, find out what your editor prefers.
10. Left justify titles and bylines on separate lines. This enables the person formatting the publication to more easily add the publication’s preferred formatting.
11. Write shorter paragraphs. These are easier to read.
12. Do not use “scare quotes” on generic words. Some writers want to emphasize words by using quotes around them, but quotation marks should only be used on quoted material and on words used in non-standard ways (irony, made-up terms, or quoting someone else who uses a word incorrectly).
13. Submit your article as an attachment to an email. This will keep your format intact and sentences will flow as you present them.
Well, if you are wondering, our newsletter is on its last round of proofing, and I expect it to be finished and off to print by noon on Wednesday. Then I am off on my vacation: a cruise in the Mediterranean. I hope to write some posts while on my trip. First stop: Venice.
Janice Hall Heck, retired educator, blogger, wannabe photographer, and nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ, is quite possibly a grammar geek.