phone 770.642.6400
  HOME   |   CONTACT   |   BLOG   |   CART

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.



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.


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.


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.



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.



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.


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.



Author: Kimberly Martin

Comments (37)

  1. I want to know about the main heading as well as sub heading treatment while writing a book in ms word. What is exactly paragraph brake

  2. Dear Kimberly,
    I am in the process of editing a novel of over 600 pages. I have been reading advice on not having too many italics in a book being used in the first person, as character thought processes, when the main body of the book is written in the third person. These italics usually follow the dialogue, but are mainly not included within the dialogues inverted commas. These italics are either at the beginning or at the end of a dialogue stream. Do you have any advice as to reducing the italics, but not to the disadvantage of the dialogue prose. I feel I have got into the habit of using too much italics in the thought processes of my characters. Are these insertions normal in a novel or do they make it harder to read?

  3. I would like to know how to set dialogue within a paragraph in a novel. Some of my dialogue is in speech form and some in italic thought form, when the person is thinking to themself. If you have dialogue within a long discriptive paragraph, do you place the dialogue on a new line as an indented paragraph in its own right? If you have italic thought dialogue in a long discriptive paragraph, do you also place that on a new line as an indented paragraph in its own right? At the moment I have long paragraphs, which seem a little hard to read because of speech and thought dialogue buried in a long paragraph? I know when diologue is spoken between two people, it is set down as dialogue each in its own line. But sometimes it does not work out like that… Somebody suggested to buy an already published novel by a successful author and learn from that…every author seems to have their own preferences though. What do you suggest. John.

  4. Hi Kimberly. I know this is a self publish site, but I have a question about the scene break. And you are by far the most helpful site I have seen. I plan to send my manuscript to an agent, but I wanted to know if in the scene break should I still add the *** to indicate a change or allow them to inform me if it is needed? It is so mind boggling. Some say don’t add, and some say do add them. I’m a little lost, I appreciate any feedback. Thank you for help.

    • If you are sending it to an agent, you should ask them what they prefer. Each agent may be different in how they want the manuscripts formatted for submission. If you can not get an answer from them, I would suggest leaving in the *** to indicate a scene break. That is how we always requests document sent to us for formatting.

      Kimberly Martin
      Jera Publishing

  5. Thanks for info. Have formatted my doc with para indent.
    With this in mind is there anyway to have the first line of each chapter without this indent which I believe is the normal case

  6. Hi Kim. I too am from the old school and double space between words. It’s a habit I find difficult to break. I have Word starter on my puter. My problem is when I cut and paste a chapter of my novel into Microsoft One Drive which is a cloud service or into an e-mail when an agent asks for the first chapteer the formatting gets all screwed up, ie: the chapter numbers and names are not longer centered on the page. I’ve even seen where the type face/size changes. This is quite annoying since I then have to go in and fix the formatting. Any suggestions? Thanks

  7. Well if anything of what you posted here would actually work, would be be awesome. I have been at it for hours on the first page now. Trying to start my book, using word 2007. Followed the instructions to start, with the indenting and no space between same paragraphs. Does nothing but mess up everything on the page when applied.
    Been all over the net, and cant find anything anywhere that actually helps someone start typing a book, without all this setting up nonsense etc. I had better luck using wordpad to type out shorter stories, or poems.
    Frustrated doesnt even cut how mad I actually am.

    • Unfortunately, if you want to have a properly formatted book, you need to do some initial setup and learn how to use styles and section breaks, etc. You may find is easier to start with a template. See:

      Kimberly Martin
      Jera Publishing

  8. Hello Kimberly Martin,

    I stumbled upon your site and found it quite interesting. I am a scientist and am about to start writing a book. It is a daunting task for me, as I have written many internal progess reports over the past two decades, but anything beyond that dates way back to graduate school (no, I’m not going to date myself!). I want to write it the right way from the get-go, and was wondering if you could point me towards a resource that goes over all the important physical and organizational aspects of writing nonfiction in Word.

    I’m not even sure how to get started. Is it best to subdivide the document into separate chapters, stored as separate files, to be merged later, or keep it all in one document?

    Thank you,

  9. Thanks Kimberley, although the mss has been edited and checked carefully for that sort of thing by a professional editor. Indeed the POD paperback version is fine. I wondered if there is an easy way to fix it with the ebook?

  10. Hi Kimberley Martin, thanks very much for a great post. Point 8 happened to me. The gaps to signify scene changes had been closed up in the formatting process. So I did what you said with the asterisks and my publisher has now done it. However, the paragraph indentations are now all awry. Some are much fruther in than others. They are very erratic. Any suggestions why this might have happened?

    • You may have extra spaces in front of some paragraphs or tabs, but not others. If a style is used to indent the first line of a paragraph, and some of the paragraphs also have spaces or tabs in front of them, some will end up indented more than the others as the style indentation PLUS the spaces or tabs will be used.

  11. Thank you! I was really frustrated with 365’s layout and couldn’t find the paragraph options. You helped me to get my fiction manuscript in perfect shape for submission to agents. I’m so relieved!

  12. Some very helpful comments. In general I follow them. The idea that I will find hardest though is the lack of two spaces between sentences. This, as maybe you can see from my message, has been engrained in me. In fact if I look at a book that has only one space between sentences I find it very off-putting. This will take some getting used to!

    • There is not a typical amount of spacing. You do not want the text to start more than about 1/4 or 1/2 of the way down the page however. If your book is a smaller size, say 5 x 8 versus 6 x 9, start the text up a little higher on the page or it may look a little odd.

  13. I have found your article and replies to comments enlightening and most useful in the preparation of legal documents. Thank you. I have been using the format painter in conjunction with Find and Replace to make corrections. Is that a good or bad idea?

    You’ve now made me want to write a book. :)

  14. Reply from a previous comment.

    I was planning on submitting the manuscript for consideration to an agent when finished. However, I do not wish to have my manuscript denied due to improper formatting, and I lack the understanding to submit my manuscript to Amazon when finished.
    This is beginning to concern me due to the fact I have found a way to indent on Google Docs, but when I attempt to indent a paragraph with one of the options, to me it appears unprofessional, sloppy, and perhaps causes a strain to read. I found a second app, Polaris Office 5, has the same paragraph indentation options, but with a variety of ways to customize the documents.
    Maybe I am stressing things too much and should focus on completing the manuscript. I can’t help but stress this though, as I wish to know what to do ahead of time instead of scrambling around in a mad hurry to polish it off perfectly before submission.
    Do you think it is better leaving the paragraphs unindented with an explaination in the query letter, or to indent and submit what I believe, appears “funky”?

    • If you are submitting to an agent they most likely have their own specific requirements, and you will want to follow them before submitting so your manuscript is not rejected automatically. You need to do some research to see how the agent wants manuscripts formatted for submission. You may want to get a copy of Microsoft Word as they will probably want the manuscript submitted as a Word document.

  15. Hello.

    I am currently in the midst of a predicament with a YA manuscript I am working on.
    I am using google docs app for android and was previously under the impression that I needed to manually indent each paragraph with the space key and break paragraphs with the enter key. I know this is more for users of Microsoft word, but I was hoping you could point me in the right direction. Any help is welcome. My current device is a Samsung Galaxy S5. It is literally all I have to work with.
    You can email me directly at for the quickest way for a response.


    • I am not familiar with the Google Docs app for Android. Are you only writing the book this way or do you intend to use this for the final formatting of your manuscript as well? If you will be sending it to someone else to format, or using a different program to format after you are done writing the book, then don’t worry about that for now and just correct any issues in formatting.

    • Spacing is as much up the the artistry of the author as the words themselves. Same goes for ‘incorrect’ grammar used intentionally.

  16. I wrote 300 pages and used the tab button on my keyboard…

    Now when I try to publish it, it’s looking for the rule in first line tab.

    I highlighted everything, went to tab and cleared out all of the tabs; however, that only removes it cosmetically.

    My manual pushing of the tab button is still there, so when I go to upload my book, the tab is taken into consideration (twice, now that I set the rule via First Line Tab).

    I tried copy and paste with no formatting, but I can’t get rid of the tabs.

    How can I delete each tab stroke I hit?? Please help. 300 pages stinks.

    • If I understand it correctly, you did not actually remove the tab, but reduced the tab indent to zero. To remove the tabs using Find/Replace you would enter ^t into Find and leave the Replace empty. That would remove all of the tabs in the document.

      Keep in mind that that will remove all tabs in the document, not just the ones you used ot indent the first line of paragraphs.

      Kimberly Martin
      self-publishing coach
      Jera Publishing

  17. So, I guess it’s called a manual line break in my case–the writer pressed enter twice for new paragraphs, to create a space between each paragraph. I’m not sure what to enter for Find/Replace to fix that (to get rid of the extra, unnecessary space between the paragraphs).

    Thanks. Your article has been bookmarked. :)

  18. What’s the rule when you change point of view between paragraphs? You know, when you see multiple spaces between two paragraphs within the same chapter? Do you manually enter those spaces?

    • That is called a scene break. It is also used when there is a change in scenery (location) or a jump in time. There are a few methods you can use. One method is to use a blank space as you mentioned, another is to have a symbol of some sort centered in the line between the two paragraphs, such as:

      After dinner, the two parted ways and headed home.
      Two weeks later, Gregor woke from troubled dreams and he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.

      If you are sending your book to a designer they may request (we do) that you place three asterisks (***) between the scene breaks. This helps them easily find the scene breaks and apply the proper styling, which may be just a blank space or a symbol depending on your preference. If you send your manuscript to a designer with scene breaks that are not marked in some way other than an extra paragraph break, they could easily get overlooked and accidentally dropped from the final format.

      However, if you are using the blank space method and designing the book yourself, you should not simply hit enter twice or more to insert that blank space. You should instead use Word’s “Space After” style setting and apply that style to the paragraph before a scene break. That will place extra space following that paragraph without having an extra paragraph mark floating around just waiting to cause issues.

      Personally, I prefer a symbol of some sort to indicate a scene break. It causes less issues when formatting your book and makes it clear to your reader that there is a change in POV, scene, or time. If using a blank space and the scene break falls at the bottom or top of a page, there is no longer a clear indicator of the scene break as it will not be very noticeable where a symbol will be.

      Kimberly Martin
      self-publishing coach
      Jera Publishing

  19. I’m calling bs in this entire thing. Not all of us have Microsoft word.Not all of us are writing a book to be serious, maybe we’re doing it for the hell of it. And maybe we don’t have published so we have to press tab and enter and those line breaks are also called periods which are pretty necessary

    • If you are not using Microsoft Word then this article does not apply to you as it is an article about mistakes made when using Microsoft Word. You do not have to use tab to indent the first line of your paragraphs, the article explains a better method using styles that works regardless if you are publishing or not. Line breaks are not periods, which are necessary. Line breaks are when you press Shift + Enter to break to a new paragraph (wrong and unnecessary) instead of just Enter (correct and necessary). Line breaks do not create a true paragraph break which can cause issues.

      Kimberly Martin
      self-publishing coach
      Jera Publishing

  20. 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.

Leave a Comment