Formatting Your Manuscript

by Virginia Parker Staat

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
– Gustave Flaubert

Often a writer’s greatest challenge is to find the perfect enticement that will draw an editor to pick their manuscript from the slush pile and read it. Surprisingly, how a writer formats their manuscript can play a major role. A poorly formatted manuscript too often quickly ends up in the accompanying self-addressed and stamped return envelope.

Many author submission guidelines simply state that writers should “use standard formatting guidelines.” These guidelines can be found in The Chicago Manual of Style, the quintessential reference for formatting everything from title to back matter.

A short list of the most basic formatting tips includes the following:


  • Type your manuscript.
  • Use double spacing.
  • Indent paragraphs.
  • Use wide margins (at least 1” on all sides).
  • Left justify, leaving a ragged right edge.
  • Use a simple, easy-to-read font such as Arial or Times New Roman, 12 point.
  • Use black ink only.
  • Print on one side of the page.
  • Use a good quality white paper.
  • Use a good printer.
  • Number the pages.
  • Place your name, date, and manuscript title on each page.
  • Include a cover page with the manuscript title, your name, address, phone number, and email address.
  • Bind everything together with a paper clip or butterfly clip or leave loose in the envelope.
  • Check the author submission guidelines online for specific formatting requests.
  • Include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope if you wish the document returned.


  • Do not use staples.
  • Do not use fancy fonts.
  • Do not use ink colors other than black.
  • Do not send a handwritten manuscript.
  • Do not submit electronically unless submission guidelines request it.