Get to Know: Microsoft Word

I read lots of manuscripts. Dozens. Hundreds. Possibly even in the thousands by now. And I’d venture to say they are all in Microsoft Word. However, not everyone has a handle on the ins-and-outs of this marvelous software. It’s been around for a long, long time now, so really, there’s no time like the present!

When I’m critiquing or sending notes, I use track changes. That’s not necessarily the norm. Many editors still prefer to edit with a pencil and actual paper. I’m firmly in the “whatever works for you” camp. But when I’m working with a manuscript, there are certain formatting things that are standard, and really easy to use and learn, and very¬†frustrating when they are not in place. This isn’t going to be a tutorial, because YouTube is littered with them. It’s a heads up on what you can do to make your editor and agent and critique partner’s lives easier.

First up, page numbers. So many people insert these manually. That must take forever, especially when you get past page ten! But moreover, when I’m looking at your page, they may not fall the same way they do on your screen. If I change the font, or the size of the font, all of the page numbers are suddenly on the wrong pages, or in the middle of the page. This way is a thousand times easier, and stays consistent.

Headers and footers work basically the same way as page numbers.

PS (or mid-post script?): Pippin and loads of other agencies’ submissions policies ask that you copy and paste your ms into the body of an email. Don’t worry about page numbers and headers when you do that. They don’t matter until we request an actual document from you.

I once edited a manuscript that was manually double-spaced. That was a formatting nightmare. Don’t do that, please. Try it this way.

If you’re interested in track changes, there are lots of tutorials for how it works. I recommend it, because why not know more things instead of fewer? Try this one.

And just a reminder, 12 point font is standard. I like Times New Roman or whatever is the Microsoft standard now (they’ve recently changed to Calibri and Cambria, both are good). Some people like Courier, for the record, I am not one of them. Please don’t get creative in your font choices. They are hard to read, unprofessional, and when I get a document in them, I change it immediately to something standard. And that often throws off your other formatting. (See above.)

You don’t need to be a pro with Microsoft, but if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you should have a handle on the basics. It does so many things, and is quite easy to use. Now if I could just figure out how to make it do laundry.



  1. Tracey M. Cox · January 18, 2016

    Great tips. Will be clicking through for more examples… and to make sure I’m doing it right.


  2. Homestead2 · January 18, 2016

    At first I used line numbers in addition to page number headers, but told line numbers for a double-spaced document were not needed…


  3. Linda Bozzo · January 18, 2016

    Even for authors who are critiquing other author’s manuscripts these issues can be frustrating. My critique group uses track changes but I know there are many authors who aren’t familiar with it. Thanks for the reminder that these small details are important.


  4. Kim Parfitt · January 18, 2016

    How about addressing how to fix formatting when it has to be inserted into an email…it seems Microsoft formatting gets wonky in google mail apps. Thanks for your insight and your links.


  5. Pingback: Get to Know: Microsoft Word | Through the Prairie Garden Gate
  6. Prairie Garden Girl · January 18, 2016

    Excellent information, Heather. Good to know. Thank you for sharing very useful tips.
    ~Suzy Leopold


  7. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday: 01-21-2016 | The Author Chronicles

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