Aug 03

Format Your Manuscript Properly: How to Get Microsoft Word to Do What You Meant (Part 1)

So you’re submitting your manuscript

Here’s the usual expected formatting: http://marycmoore.com/index.php/2016/01/09/how-to-format-your-fiction-submission/. But how do you get Word to do that?

Level 1: Padawan

I have Office 2016 on Windows 7, so your setup might look a little different. Try searching the term I give you and the version of Word that you have (e.g., “font dialog Office 2011 for Mac”) if you can’t figure it out, or hit me up on Twitter and I’ll do my best to help.


There are two places you might have to set a font. One is the “Normal” style (more on Styles later, but here’s an overview) and one is the “default” font (which is sometimes different). When I was compiling from Scrivener, I noticed that I had to update the default font, but usually updating “Normal” is enough.

Almost always, agents and editors want Times New Roman. In my mind, there are plenty of other highly readable, more interesting fonts (yep, I’m a font nerd), but there are good reasons for wanting everyone’s submissions to look the same, which I won’t elaborate on here.

If your manuscript pretty much looks right, you can probably skip the font step.

Updating the Normal Style

Try this first. Go to the Home tab on the Ribbon or bring up the Styles pane (Format > Styles or ALT+o+s).

Method 1 (if you haven’t formatted at all yet)

  1. Right-click on the style in the Ribbon or click on the dropdown in the style pane and choose “Modify…”.
  2. Set the font and size.
  3. In the lower-left corner, choose “Format > Paragraph”.
  4. Set the indent and spacing.

If this method doesn’t seem to work, try selecting your whole manuscript and clicking on the Normal style to apply it. NOTE! Doing this will get rid of any other styles you’ve applied (e.g., for chapter headings), so only do it if you know you haven’t inentionally applied styles yet.

Method 2

If you already have your words with the proper font, size, indenting and spacing, you can just update the style so that it becomes the default.

Right-click the Normal style in the Ribbon  and choose “Update Normal to Match Selection.”

Setting the Default Font

This step should only be necessary if you’ve done the above but parts of your manuscript still look fishy. Open the Font dialog. It’s under Format > Font, or in Windows you can type ALT+o+f, or you can open it from the Ribbon (outlined in red below).


Choose Times New Roman, 12 pt, and then click the Set As Default button in the lower left.


Exceptions to Normal

For the first page that Mary C. Moore recommends above, you can apply the “No Spacing” style to change it from double- to single-spaced. If it’s acquired the half-inch first-line indent, you can either backspace once at the beginning of each line, or open the Paragraph dialog (Format > Paragraph or ATL+o+p).

Then change “Special” indentation to “(none)”.

Header and Page Numbers

I usually set the page numbers first, because that’s really easy in Office 2016 (TBH, I can’t remember if it was this easy in earlier versions). Instructions for Mac here.

First, double-click in the margin of the page to go to Header/Footer view.


This should automatically open the Header & Footer Tools tab group and the Design tab. Choose Page Number > Top of Page > “Plain Number 3” to get right-aligned page numbers. You can also get there from the Insert tab or Insert menu as described here.

Then click next to the page number and type your name and title.


Note that the number will look grey when you select it because it’s a field that updates, whereas the text you type will be the same on each page.

You will want to check “Different First Page” on the header or in the Format Page Number dialog, before or after you insert the page number. For Mac, format your page number to be right-aligned and uncheck “Show number on first page.”



  1. Brian

    This was giving me flashbacks to writing my PhD dissertation. Every university has their own particular format, and someone who goes through your work and will reject it if anything violates their formatting. Sorry, wrong font size, come back and graduate next semester.

    1. Abigail Welborn

      Totally! And some of them are still based on typewriters, so they’re surprisingly hard to do with a computer. o.0

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