I can hear many of you authors out there collectively groaning, or perhaps you are putting off actually formatting your manuscript as you look for advice to make it all seem easier. It’s true, formatting your manuscript for submission can be tedious and time-consuming. However, it’s also extremely important for publishers. They spend enormous resources (time and money) preparing books for publication. When a manuscript doesn’t adhere to their formatting guidelines, it can slow down the production timeline and take up staff time that would be better spent on editing manuscripts or doing marketing and promotion.

Your publisher has solid reasons for all the many formatting guidelines they provide. They’ve had authors do everything wrong, and it has made them want to tear their hair out. So, be awesome! If you follow this advice, it really won’t be so bad.

*I’ve provided links to how-to instructions in Microsoft Word throughout, as that’s what many authors will be using. But you can do most of the same things in Google Docs and other word processing programs!

Start early

It will be the least work if you read through the publisher’s formatting guidance as early as possible in the process. Going back through a completed manuscript and fixing all the formatting is tedious. If you start off composing within the guidelines, then you’ll have much less to do at the end! Future self will thank you.

Tabs, Spaces, and Paragraph Returns

It’s important that there’s not any extra style formatting in the manuscript, like extra spaces, paragraph returns, and tabs. Your publisher will be putting your text into a layout software (usually InDesign), and all this extra formatting will get in the way once they apply the styles within InDesign. Turn on “show paragraph marks” in your word processing software, so you can see that your formatting marks are correct.

Your goal should be to make the manuscript as easy to read as possible, with as little formatting as possible.


The first line of each paragraph should be indented, but it should not start with a tab character. Use the autoformatting option to indent, or use a paragraph style to do it (how to indent the first line in Word).

A screenshot of a document open in Microsoft Word. A call-out says "Use autoformatting to indent the first line of each paragraph" with an arrow pointing to the correctly formatted first line of a paragraph. The next paragraph starts with a tab character, with the call-out "This is a tab! Don't use it to indent."

Reference lists should be styled with a hanging indent, but again please don’t use tabs to accomplish this (how to create a hanging indent in Word). You can also easily create a paragraph style for your references (more on paragraph styles below).

A screenshot of a document open in Microsoft Word. A call out says "Use a hanging indent for reference lists" with an arrow pointing to the hanging indent of a citation in the document. Another call-out says "Don't use paragraph returns and tabs!" with arrows pointing to a paragraph mark and tab character.


Unless you are living in 1950, do not use two spaces after a period. Most people know this, but we have seen it! If you have “show paragraph marks” turned on, you can see where you have any unnecessary spaces in your document. (And if you just can’t break the habit of typing two spaces, see the Find/Replace tip below.)

Paragraph returns

There should be exactly one paragraph return between each paragraph. If you’ve indented the first line of each paragraph, that is enough visual separation between paragraphs.

A screenshot of a document open in Microsoft Word. One paragraph is followed by two paragraph returns, with the call-out "Two is too many paragraph returns!" Another paragraph is followed by one paragraph return, with a call-out that says "Just one paragraph return between each paragraph!"

Use Find/Replace

If you’ve got a document with a bunch of incorrect formatting (for example, extra paragraph returns, extra spaces, or tabs), it’s easy to fix them with Find/Replace (how to use Find/Replace in Word). The example below shows how to find all double paragraph returns and replace them with one paragraph return.

A screenshot of a document open in Microsoft Word. The Find/Replace dialog box is open showing how to replace double paragraph marks with a single paragraph mark.


Make sure your headings are formatted according to the publisher’s guidelines, and that they are consistent and properly nested. The easiest way to be consistent is to use Word’s paragraph styles. If the default styles don’t match your publisher’s specifications, it’s very easy to modify them (how to customize or create new styles in Word). Do not type in all caps for your headings (or anywhere else), as often this will mean the typesetter must re-key this text, creating more work and possibly introducing errors!

Screenshot of a document in Microsoft Word. A call out reads "Apply paragraph styles to your headings" with arrows pointing to a heading, as well as the Heading 1 paragraph style tool in the ribbon.

Figures and Tables

Pay close attention to how your publisher would like you to incorporate your figures and tables. For CEL’s Open Access Book Series, we prefer for all images and tables to be included in the manuscript for the initial submission (it makes it easier for us to review them if we’re not opening a ton of different files). But for final submission, all figures and tables should be submitted in separate documents. See the author guide for specific instructions and examples!


How you deal with URLs within your text will vary greatly depending on your book’s format. If your book will be print-only, you’ll likely want to keep links to a minimum and make sure that you are including the full URL in the text (rather than embedding the link). If your book will be primarily read online (like our Open Access Book Series), you can include many embedded links. However, our guidelines still state that URLs should not be embedded in text in the manuscript, but included within brackets. This allows us to more easily embed the links in the layout software.

A screenshot from the author guide that reads: "Do not embed hyperlinks in text. Instead, paste the full URL into the text and surround it with brackets."
From the CEL Open Access Book Series author guide

Collaboration with Co-Authors

It can be tricky for editors of collections or authors working with several co-authors to deal with all the different formatting done by different people. To streamline this process, we offer these tips:

  • Share the publisher’s formatting guidelines with everyone who will be composing text, and emphasize the importance of following these guidelines.
  • Decide together at the beginning of the project what word processing program to use. We’ve found that when documents are uploaded and downloaded from Google Docs to Microsoft Word often, they can get some really weird formatting issues. It’s best if everyone is using the same program.
  • Appoint one person to do the final collation and formatting. Then buy this person a nice gift to thank them.

If you have questions as you format your manuscript, first consult the author guide your publisher sent you (they did, I promise, look for it). If you still have questions, please contact them! If you’re writing for one of our series, I’m always happy to answer questions (jgoforth@elon.edu).

This post is one in our series on academic publishing; check out all of them!

Jennie Goforth is the Center for Engaged Learning’s Managing Editor. She works with authors to shepherd their work from proposal through production in the Center’s Open Access Book Series. She also manages production of book websites and supplemental materials for the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching.

How to Cite this Post

Goforth, Jennie. 2023. “Academic Book Publishing: Formatting Your Manuscript.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. January 10, 2023. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/academic-book-publishing-formatting-your-manuscript.