How To Clean Up Your Manuscript Formatting In MS Word

For the full article see

Here are my notes (abbreviated and edited)

How To Clean Up Your Manuscript Formatting In MS Word

Just follow these simple steps to clean up your manuscript.

  1. The following things have no place in a manuscript, and must be removed
  2. Tabs
    Many people use Tabs to indent paragraphs, completely unaware that Word has an automatic setting for paragraph indentation to do that for you. They also don’t know that an inserted Tab is like an extra character. All ebook & print book formatters will reject your manuscript if you have Tabs inside.
  3. Double spaces
    A remnant of old-school formatting akin to typewriters. Some writers still insert a double space after each sentence. Stop that.
  4. Empty lines between paragraphs

    If you want your paragraphs to be spaced out , use Word’s paragraph spacing function, don’t just hit [return]

Find & Replace

Copy paste the thing you want to remove* (like a Tab, a double space and paste it into the Find field, using Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V

Enter nothing in the Replace field if you want it removed.

Hit Replace All.

* You can also use special characters as stand-ins for Tabs & empty paragraphs in the Find & Replace function.
– for Tab, type ^t in the Find field, and leave the Replace field empty;
– for an empty paragraph, type ^p^p in the Find field, and ^p in the Replace field.

  1. Strip all wonky formatting from your text without losing your italics

I’ve read dozens of articles online telling writers to copy-paste their entire novel into a plain text editor (like Notepad) to remove unwanted formatting, then to paste it back. DON’T DO THIS! It will also remove your italics, and going through a 100K manuscript to italicize names again, or swearwords or whatever, is insanely hard. You don’t need that migraine.

The easiest way to clean all wonky formatting from your text, is to use Word’s “Clear Formatting” function, in the Home tab, under Font settings. It looks something like this:

Here’s how you avoid losing your italics along with everything else.

Word’s Clear Formatting function erases all formatting from a text, ALL of it, except highlights. So all you have to do is replace all your italics with highlights. How?

Find & Replace

  1. Open the Find & Replace dialog, and click on>>More. You’ll see something like this:
  2. Click into the Find field, and now tell Word what to find for you, i.e. all italicised words. For that, click on Format / Font at the bottom, in the “Replace” section. Now you’ll see this:
  3. In the Font style section, select Italic. The AaBbCcYyZz thingy at the bottom will now be italicised. Click OK. You’ll be returned to the Find & Replace dialog.
  4. Now click into the   Replace field, and tell Word what to replace your italics with, i.e.highlights. Click on Format / Highlight at the bottom. Click OK.  You’ll be returned to the Find & Replace dialog, but now, under the Find field you’ll see “Format: Font: Italic,” and under the Replace field you’ll see “Format: Highlight.”
  5. Hit Replace All.

All your previously italicized words are now also highlighted*.

* If you want to remove the italics in the same move, you must select Format / Font / Font style = regular in the Replace field. It’s unnecessary though, because the next stept will un-italicize your manuscript anyway.

NEXT, select your entire manuscript text by hitting Ctrl+A and click that magic button I told you about: Clear Formatting.

Your manuscript will now look like this (remember we removed all the dead wood like Tabs and multiple punctuation in the previous step):

  1. Now you open Find & Replace again, and, following the steps above, replace all your highlights with italics again.
  1. lean up Word’s annoying in-house paragraph formatting

The Clear Formatting fucntion does indeed remove all our formatting, but then it slaps Word’s in-house formatting preference on top of our text. To eliminate it, we must reset the paragraph formatting by hand.

Select your entire text using Ctrl+A. Then go to your Home tab, and open the Paragraph Formatting dialog. It should look something like this:

Now make sure paragraph spacing before & after are both zero; line spacing is Single, there’s no special indentation, no checkbox selected . Hit OK.Your manuscript is now all clean and shiny, and ready to be formatted for submission & publication.


Thanks for sharing your expertise, Veronica

Also see



We share what we know, so that we all may grow.”


Happy writing




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