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Common Mistakes Made When Writing a Book in Microsoft Word

When writing your book you should separate the writing from the formatting. Write first, format later. However, there are some steps you can make when writing that will make the job of formatting easier and help prevent errors in the formatting process.

Below are some of the most common issues I see in documents sent to me to be formatted.

  1. Extra spaces or tabs used to create an indent for the first line of each paragraph
  2. Two or more paragraph breaks between paragraphs
  3. Two spaces between sentences instead of one
  4. Manual line breaks at the end of each line of text in a paragraph
  5. Two line breaks inserted at the end of a paragraph instead of a paragraph break
  6. Using tabs at the end of a paragraph to create a new paragraph
  7. Creating complex tables, charts, graphs at a page size larger than your book size
  8. Using only a paragraph break to create a scene break between paragraphs
  9. A series of paragraph breaks (created by hitting the enter key) to force text onto the next page

You should also check with your book formatter to see if they have specific requirements as to how your document should be setup before sending to them.

If you have a document already written that has some of these issues that you would like to clean up you can try using Word’s find/replace to clean them up automatically. If you are not sure which find/replace command to use to correct an issue, leave a comment describing your scenario and I will reply back with a find/replace for you to try.

To view the formatting markup (as shown in the screenshots below) find and toggle on the Show/Hide icon in Microsoft Word.
The location for this in Word 2007 is shown below:

1. First Line Paragraph Indentation:

Do not use extra spaces or tabs to indent the first line of each paragraph. When formatting, the book formatter will use style settings to set the first line paragraph indent. If you used extra spaces or tabs to create a first line indent in your document the formatter will need to delete them from your document.

WRONG:

>

The reason many authors do this is that in Microsoft Word 2003 and below the default “Normal” style is set to not indent the first line of a paragraph so authors manually create an indent so they can distinguish paragraph breaks without realizing they should be modifying the style to do this automatically.

Instead of manually adding the indentation you should be changing the style settings for the style you are using for the main chapter text, if using Word’s defaults this would be “Normal”.

In Word 2003 select Format > Styles and Formatting from the menu. In the Styles and Formatting box that appears look for the “Normal” style. Click on the drop down arrow to the right of it and select Modify. In Word 2007 right click the Normal style in the Home /Styles ribbon. Click on Modify.

Click on the Format button at the bottom right of the box that appears. Select Paragraph…

Under Indentation enter 0.5 and check “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style”

Now when you type your text into Word using the “Normal” style and start a new paragraph it will be indented automatically and no extra spaces or tabs should be used. Now when you send your document to your formatter they will not need to remove any tabs or spaces which will speed up your job and reduce the possibility of errors.

CORRECT:

2. Extra Paragraph Breaks Between Paragraphs

Another common mistake similar to the first is adding two or more paragraph breaks between paragraphs (hitting Enter more than once at the end of a paragraph). The reason is the same as above, Microsoft Word’s default style (in Word 2003 and below) is set to not add spacing between paragraphs by default so authors add them in manually with extra paragraph breaks instead of modifying the styling.

WRONG:

Your formatter will need to remove all of these extra paragraph breaks into order to format your book properly which can result in errors and take more time.

A single paragraph break should always be used between paragraphs, not two or more. If you find it easier to write with extra space between paragraphs then you can change the style of “Normal” (or whatever style you are using for your main text) to add the space for you automatically. Using the directions above Uncheck the “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” and make sure Auto is selected for space above and below.

Then when you hit the enter key to start a new paragraph using the “Normal” style (or whatever style you modified) Word will automatically add extra spacing between the paragraphs.

3. Inserting Two Spaces Between Sentences

When people used manual typewriters people were taught to hit the spacebar twice between two sentences. However, with modern word processors and fonts only a single space should be inserted between sentences. If you place two between sentences it will throw of justification and the formatter will need to remove the extra spaces.

4. Inserting a Manual Line Break at the End of Each Line

This is also commonly done by people who learned to type on a manual typewriter. You should not create a line break at the end of each line of text but instead let the text wrap naturally to the next line.

5. Using Two Line Breaks at the End of Each Paragraph

Do not use a line break or multiple line breaks (pressing Ctrl + Enter) and the end of a paragraph. Instead hit the enter key once to create a paragraph break.

WRONG:

CORRECT:

6. Using Tabs at the End of a Paragraph to Create a New Paragraph

When you reach the end of a paragraph do not hit the tab key to move your cursor to the next line to start a new paragraph. Instead hit the Enter key once to start a new paragraph.

WRONG:

CORRECT:

7. Creating Complex Tables, Charts, Graphs or Similar at a Page Size Larger Than What Your Book Will Be

Usually you will write your book in a typical 8 ½ x 11 page size. However, if you will be creating tables, charts, graphs or other similar items you should consider setting your page size to the size you plan on printing your book. If you create it for a full size sheet and your book is 5 x 8, they will likely have to be redone to fit within the smaller size.

8. Using an Extra Paragraph Break (Or More) to Create Extra Space for a Scene Break

It is common when writing to create a visual break when there is a scene change in a book. Often this is done by simply inserting a few extra paragraph breaks before the new scene. The problem occurs when your book is sent to your formatter as one of the first things they will usually do is a find and replace to replace two paragraph breaks with a single one as placing two paragraph breaks between paragraphs is a common mistake they correct for (see #2). If you only use paragraph breaks to create the scene breaks they can be lost in the formatting process.

Instead I suggest inserting a few asterisks (***) between scene breaks then instructing the formatter on how you want them to appear visually. This way they will not accidently be lost and it will be clear to the formatter where the scene break is so they can format it accordingly.

9. Using Paragraph Breaks to Create a Page Break

Do not use a series of paragraph breaks, created by hitting the enter key, to force a page break.

WRONG:

Instead, insert a hard page break (Insert > Page break) to start a new page. Also, only place a page break in places such as between chapters, after title pages, etc., not between pages within a chapter.

CORRECT:

 

Author: Kimberly Martin
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Comments (2)

  1. I seem to have used the wrong box to convey my utmost surprise and thanks. I am doubtless one of many who have used indentation manually for paragraphs,, breaks and change of scene. Hundreds of them. In order to correct these mistakes , do I have to undo all that effort before I follow your
    guide? I noticed the 05 Normal – I did in fact indent 5 spaces each time. What
    a waste of effort.
    With many thanks, BB Shane

    • You can use Word’s Find and Replace to search for two spaces and replace with one, and repeat until it returns a 0 found message. Then do a find and replace for a paragraph break followed by a space and replace with just a paragraph break. That will remove the last space in front of all of the paragraphs.

      I recommend saving a backup copy of your document before you do this as it may have unintentional results.

      Do not fret too much over using spaces to indent your paragraphs if sending it off to a formatter. Most formatters should be very use to getting documents like this and be able to clean them up quickly. Most of the documents we receive from clients are done that way and we fix them as part of our normal formatting process.

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