Thursday, July 12, 2012

MS Word Common Mistakes & Fixes by Terry Wright

MS Word Paragraph Formatting

As a contest judge, editor, and electronic publisher, I read a lot of manuscripts for short stories and novels, and the first thing I notice when I open a document file is the way the text is laid out on the page. Are the paragraphs indented properly? Is there extra space between paragraphs? Are the margins set to 1” all around with a ragged right margin? Is the header ½” with title and author name on the left and page numbers on the right? Believe me, I’ve seen some really messed up formatting.
Why is formatting important? First, this industry requires a certain level of professionalism from writers, a standard of presentation that says “I’m not a beginner,” or vise versa. Second, in this age of electronic publishing, which includes print-book block preparation as well as e-book formatting, a manuscript with improper page and paragraph setup requires hours of work to prepare the book for publishing.
Microsoft Word supplies us with a handy tool for checking paragraph formatting. It’s the backwards P, the paragraph symbol or pilcrow. You’ll find the icon button on the toolbar right before the styles menu.

When you click the pilcrow icon, ligatures appear on your pages. The pilcrows mark every place where you’ve hit the “enter” key. Small dots represent every time you’ve hit the “space bar.” Little right-hand arrows mark whenever you’ve used the tab key to indent your paragraph.

If I see a pilcrow at the end of every line, I’ll know the writer used the enter key like the carriage return on a typewriter. If I see the right-hand arrow, the writer used the tab key to indent the paragraph rather than using the paragraph setup drop-box on the menu bar.

Instead of manually formatting your paragraphs as you type, use the paragraph drop down box to do it for you automatically. Set the indentation left and right to 0”, the special indent to “First Line” by 0.5”, the paragraph spacing to “0 pt” before and after, and the line spacing to “Double”. These paragraph formats can also be applied to your “Normal” styles, as well.

Setup your paragraph formatting before you begin typing, or if you need to change your paragraphs, be sure to select them with your cursor, (or “select all”) or the new settings won’t be applied.

Next week, setting your styles.


Patricia Stoltey said...

When my first editor pointed out that little paragraph symbol and showed me how many extra spaces I had in my manuscript, I was amazed. Now I make that review part of my self-editing process, especially for electronic submissions.

Linda Collison said...

Terry, this was a very helpful post, especially for those of us who learned on a typewriter.