Writing your Manuscript using Word Styles: The Easy Way

oops! on key on keyboardWe’ve just passed the submission deadline for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. And I’ve heard whispers from some readers that the MSS they are being sent to read are not as professionally prepared as they should be. That’s sad. And unnecessary, too.
Professional layout isn’t difficult. Especially with Word Styles.

Some aspiring writers, I’m sure, tell themselves that the most important thing is to get their pearls onto the page. They can sort out the niceties of formatting later. But that’s a waste of effort. It means doing stuff twice when it could be done once, Right First Time. So this blog is about how to set yourself up to get your MS Right First Time, while you’re actually creating it.

This blog is long—sorry—because I’m trying to explain every step of what you need to do. But it won’t take long to do it, and you only have to set up these Word styles once, so it’s no great chore. In fact, it’s an investment. Once you’ve created them, you can keep using them in every story you write.

Easy write, right? 😉Hello I'm a Time Saver badge

What does a writer need by way of Word Styles?

Think about your romantic novel. What does a manuscript contain? I’d suggest you can probably manage perfectly well with these:

  1. A normal paragraph, indented and double-spaced. Almost all the paragraphs in your MS will be in this normal style, so it really is a good idea to get it right.
  2. An unindented paragraph. It is classy to use an unindented paragraph at the beginning of a chapter and after a text break. It is basically a normal paragraph without the indent.
  3. text break, centred. This is what you use to convey a scene break within a chapter. (Some writers use extra line spaces, but they are easily lost in reflowable ebook text. A proper text break that includes characters won’t get lost.)
  4. chapter heading on a new page, centred, bold, probably in a larger font size, and with spaces before and after so it stands out.
    Sample layout chapter 1

In the screenshot example above, from The Solway Bride, you can see three normal paragraphs (sidelined 6), the unindented first paragraph of the chapter (sidelined 5) and the chapter heading (sidelined 4). And doesn’t it look professional?

For writing your book, you can manage with these four. Your MS will look professional. Editors and agents will smile and focus on your wonderful words and your wonderful story. They will NOT have the kind of problems with your layout that might lead them to get exasperated and throw your pearls in the bin.
And yes, it does happen.

All your Word Styles start from the Normal paragraph

The basis of your new MS Word writing Style is the normal paragraph.Keep It Simple illustration

Don’t try to do anything fancy. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Your normal paragraph needs:

  • A font. Best to stick to Times New Roman, 12 point. Why? Because that’s what lots of publishers use. And it’s easy to read. Do NOT use fancy fonts, or colour, or sizes that are too small (10 point) or too big (16 point). You risk upsetting your reader/agent/editor if you do.
  • An indent. Keep it reasonably small. Half a centimetre or a little more (up to half an inch) is normal. Do NOT create the indent by using tabs or, even worse, by using the space bar. Both of those create real problems in ebooks. Also, they are a sign that you’re not using Word as a professional writer should. You don’t want your reader/editor/agent to think you’re unprofessional, do you?
  • Line spacing. Most editors and agents expect MSS to be double-spaced so it’s best to get used to creating your MS that way.
  • Left justification. Printed books use justified text with straight margins at both sides but, for manuscripts, a ragged right-hand margin is easiest to read. It’s what editors and agents expect. Best to stick to that.

Here’s how to create a normal paragraph style (in Word for Windows)

  1. Open Word and create a new blank document: Ctrl+N. Your Word screen will look something like Figure 1 below. Note that this one is using Word’s favoured Calibri font and the point size is 11.
  2. In the Home screen, right click on Normal in the Styles window (also called the Style or Quick Style Gallery). In the drop-down menu, click Modify.

    Modify Normal paragraph style

    Figure 1

  3. Clicking Modify will give you a new screen like Figure 2 below:
    the modify style window

    Figure 2

    First you need to change the font to Times New Roman, 12 point.

    change font and font size

    Figure 3

    Click on Format in the bottom left to bring up the Format menu. Click Font.

  4. In the new screen that appears, change the font to Times New Roman, Regular, 12 point. You can see the changes in blue in Figure 4 below. Click the OK button.

    change font and font size

    Figure 4

  5. Now you will be back at the Modify Style screen. Click the Format button again to bring up the menu (as in Figure 3 above). This time, click Paragraph in the Format menu. You will see a new screen like the one in Figure 5 below. This is where you will define alignment (A), the automatic indent (B) and paragraph spacing (C, D).

    Figure 5

  6. First, at A, click the drop down Alignment menu and select Left. In Figure 5, Left alignment is already shown.
    Next, at B, click the drop down Special menu and replace (none) with First line. In the box alongside, labelled By, specify the indent. I recommend 0.5-0.8 cm (or about 0.3-0.5 inches in old money). You don’t need more than that. Large indents look odd in reflowable ebooks.
    Then, at C, change Line Spacing to Double. The right hand box, labelled At, will become blank. That’s as it should be. Don’t try to put anything in there.
    Finally, at D, reduce Spacing After to zero. You don’t want extra spaces between paragraphs. Double spacing is quite enough. For the same reason, tick the box alongside “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.” Your screen should now look like Figure 6 below.

    alignment, indent, paragraph spacing

    Figure 6

  7. Nearly there, honest! Before you click the OK button, click the tab at the top of the screen to take you to Line and Page Breaks. You will probably see that Widows/Orphan control is ticked as in Figure 7 below. Untick it. That’s because using Widows and Orphans can muck up reflowable text in ebooks. Click the OK button at the bottom of the screen.

    widow/orphan controls off

    Figure 7

  8. You will be returned to the Modify Style screen. You’ll be able to see what your paragraph style now is to check you haven’t missed anything. Click the radio button for “New documents based on this template.” Tick the box for Add to Quick Style list if it isn’t already ticked. Click OK.

    check paragraph style changes

    Figure 8

  9. Type some text into your document. Then Save the document and Close Word. (You can delete the document later if you want to.) Before Word closes, you should see a screen like Figure 9 below, asking if you want to save the changes to the global template, Normal.dotm.  You absolutely do! You don’t want to lose all the work you’ve just done, do you? Click Save.

    save global template

    Figure 9

  10. And that’s it. You’ve created the basis for your new manuscript style. What’s more, it’s now the standard Normal paragraph whenever you’re writing. So it will always be there.

Creating an unindented paragraph style

  1. This style will be exactly the same as your Normal paragraph but without the indent.
  2. Open Word and your previous document. First you want the Styles Pane (also called the Styles Window). Click on the little box in the bottom right of the Style Gallery Window and the pane will appear. You can move it to a convenient spot on your screen. I usually keep mine outside the document I’m working on  (though figure 10 below shows it inside).

    show styles pane

    Figure 10

  3. Click the the left hand button at the bottom of the Styles pane, labelled New Style. You will see that I have moved the Styles pane so that it does not cover the text in my document.
    New Style button in Styles pane

    Figure 11

    You will see a screen like the one in Figure 12 below, inviting you to create a new style.

    create new style window

    Figure 12

  4. In the Name box, type No Indent.
    In the Style for following paragraph box, use the drop down menu to select Normal.
    At the bottom of the screen, click the radio button labelled “New documents based on this template”.
    Tick the box to Add to Quick Style list.
    (The no indent style is used only for first paragraphs. The following paragraph should be normal. If you set No indent up in this way, when you hit Return at the end of a no indent paragraph, the next paragraph will automatically be in the normal style.)
  5. To remove the indent from the Normal style, open the Format menu (bottom left, remember?), and click Paragraph to bring you to a screen looking like Figure 13 below.
    Ensure Special is set to (none).
    Ensure that, under Indentation both left and right are zero.
    Do the same for Spacing.
    Ensure the box for Don’t add space is ticked.
    Click OK.

    remove indent from Normal para

    Figure 13

  6. You will be returned to the Create New Style screen which should look like Figure 14.

    No Indent style created

    Figure 14

  7. Ensure you have clicked the radio button labelled “New documents based on this template” and  ticked the box to Add to Quick Style list. Click OK. The new style No indent should have been added to your Style pane.
  8. Save your document (which will also save your Styles).

Note for ebook formatting: If you’re planning to upload this MS as an ebook, your unindented paragraph style should have a very tiny indent that is invisible to the naked eye. Set Special to First line and in the By box put  0.1mm or 0.01cm. The reason is explained in my earlier formatting blog.

Creating a text break style

  1. For a text break, I recommend you use a character you would not expect to use anywhere else in your MS. That makes text breaks easier to find. Some authors use asterisks. Since I sometimes have asterisks in my text, I use 3 tilde characters with spaces: ~ ~ ~ But what matters is setting up the style.
  2. Click on the New style button (Figure 11 above).
    In the Name box, type Text Break Centred.
    In the Style based on box, use the drop down menu to select No indent (because you want your text break to be properly centred and if you use an indented style, it won’t be).
    Then, in the Style for following paragraph box, use the drop down menu to select No indent.
    In Formatting, change alignment to centred.
    At the bottom of the screen, click the radio button labelled “New documents based on this template”.
    Tick the box to Add to Quick Style list.creating text break centred styleFigure 15
  3. Click OK and your new text break style will be added to your Style pane.

    style pane including no indent and text break

    Figure 16

Creating a Chapter Heading style

  1. You could create a new style called Chapter Heading but I recommend you don’t. Better to use one of Word’s inbuilt heading styles and modify it. Why? Because that makes creating a Table of Contents (vital for ebooks) much easier later on. We’ll use Heading 1.
  2. In the Style pane, right click on Heading 1 and click Modify…

    Modify existing style

    Figure 17

  3. A screen like Figure 18 will appear and it will probably be nothing like what you want.

    create chapter heading

    Figure 18

  4. In the Style based on box, use the drop down menu to select No indent (because you want your chapter heading to be properly centred and if you use an indented style, it won’t be).
    In the Style for following paragraph box, use the drop down menu to select No indent.
    Then, in the Formatting boxes, change font to Times New Roman, 14 pt, Bold. (Or 16 pt if you prefer but don’t go larger.) Unselect Italic if it’s selected.
    Select centred text and double spacing
    At the bottom of the screen, click the radio button labelled “New documents based on this template”.
    Tick the box to Add to Quick Style list.
    Your screen should now look like Figure 19

    chapter heading changes

    Figure 19

  5. Now we’re going to do the spaces before and after. Select the Format menu (bottom left) and select paragraph.
  6. Ensure Alignment is centred and Indentation is set to zero.
    In the Spacing boxes, insert Before 60 pt and After 36 pt. These are good spaces without being excessive and work particularly well on ebooks.
    Click OK.

    space before and after chapter heading

    Figure 20

  7. Your heading style should look like this

    Heading style for chapters

    Figure 21

  8. Chapters must start on a new page. You need a Page Break at the end of a chapter. Do NOT create that by repeatedly hitting the Return key until you get a new page. That creates havoc on an ebook. Instead, and easier, insert a Page Break by hitting CTRL+Return at the end of your chapter.
    BUT there is an easy trick you can use so you don’t even have to do that.
  9. Before you click OK to finish creating your new Heading 1 style for a chapter heading, click on the Line and Page Breaks tab at the top of the screen. Then…
    Untick Widows/Orphans control if it is already ticked
    Tick Page break before
    Click OK.

    page break before chapter heading

    Figure 22

    If you use this trick, your page breaks will be automatic. If you prefer not to use this, you’ll need to create a page break at the end of each chapter with CTRL+Return. Your choice.

  10. To see how it works, look at the screenshots below. On the left, I’ve typed the words “Chapter 2” at the end of a page. In the second screenshot, with my cursor on that line, I click Heading 1 in the Style pane and I have Chapter 2 as a heading on a new page.
    Magic, no?
  11. Click OK and Save your document. Close Word making sure you Save the global template, normal.dotm, as shown in Figure 9 above.  

Applying Styles while you write

  1. If you keep the Styles pane floating to the side of your manuscript, all you have to do is click on the style you want for the paragraph your cursor is on. You can also use the Styles Gallery at the top of the screen, but it usually shows only 3 styles, so is less user-friendly.
  2. Click on style and it’ll be there. It’s a really good idea to get into the habit of using them.
  3. On a Mac, using Styles is not exactly the same, but near enough. I hope Mac users can cope with these instructions but let me know if you need clarification. I use both Mac and PC.
  4. Yes, this blog has been long. But remember—you only have to follow these instructions once. And after that, it’ll all be more or less automatic. What’s not to like? 
    old habits to new

If anything isn’t clear, do tell me in the comments and I’ll try to make my instructions better. Good luck with using Styles.

Libertà co-founder Joanna Maitland

Joanna, would-be Styles advocate

PS In response to one of the comments, I’ve added a note about formatting the unindented style so that it will upload correctly.

12 thoughts on “Writing your Manuscript using Word Styles: The Easy Way

  1. Amorina Rose

    If you self-publish would the manuscript then be formatted? I understand border spacing etc will need to be addressed in a print book but what about the eBook?

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Barb. Hope you’re seeing your comments now.
      The answer to your question is almost. There is another wrinkle that I left out, because this was intended to be a simple guide. (Why is simple always so long???) If you uploaded this format to Amazon KDP, your unindented paragraph style would show as indented. To prevent that, your unindented paragraph style needs to have a very tiny first line indent. I use 0.1 mm which works but is invisible to the human eye. I explained this in an earlier blog about formatting for upload. It’s here
      Of course, for upload you also have to add front and back matter, and that needs formatting in a slightly different way. I covered front matter here but I haven’t yet blogged on back matter.
      You mention border spacing. 2.5-3 cm or 1-1.25 inches all round is pretty standard. When you upload an ebook, the borders don’t matter much because, with reflowable text, readers can change them to narrower or wider.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Your comment reminded me that I need to be clearer on the unindented style. So I’ve added an extra note to the blog. Thanks for that. Helpful.

  2. lesley2cats

    As a Mac user I did get a little confused at times (well, it is early Sunday morning) but I managed to sort myself out. There are things there I didn’t know, and I’ve been using Word for around 30 years, so thank you, Joanna.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Glad it was helpful, Lesley and sorry about the confusion. I prefer Word on the Mac, myself. The Style Pane on the Mac is easier to use and it has the wonderful function whereby you can have coloured sidelines on your MS showing you the style of every paragraph. For non-users of Mac, the example in the blog of text from The Solway Bride is a Mac screenshot and those coloured sidelines are Mac standard. I use them all the time.

  3. Elizabeth Bailey

    OMgosh, if I’d known it was this easy, I would have set it up long ago! Thank you. I will have a play before starting a new MS. The current one is rolling along in my usual haphazard DIY fashion which more or less adheres to your template but done manually of course.

    1. Joanna Post author

      The thing I like about using Styles is that I don’t have to do anything manually, Liz, once I’ve set it up. Hope it works for you.

    1. Joanna Post author

      If my blog has been useful, Helena, then I’m really pleased. Thank you for reblogging it. Thank you also for the kind words about The Aikenhead Honours quartet. Must admit I’m very fond of those stories.

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