Six Easy Grammer and Format Tips



The following blog is from BubbleCow which I received this morning.  Because of my editing on Princess Adele’s Dragon, I seem to be paying a lot more attention when I see these helpful tips. I wanted to share it.  Have a blessed day.  Shirley


I’m talking about that dirty word: grammar.

But more than that, I’m also talking about formatting, which is kind of like grammar for the computer-age. Bold statements aside, if you want to be taken seriously by publishers, editors, and readers, then you’ve got to get your head around formatting conventions on word processors. I often joke that you wouldn’t start playing a sport without first reading the rules. It is the same for writing. You need to be getting the basics correct; there’s no excuse. As a writer, you simply need to know this stuff.

I’m a big fan of writing software in general and favour a whole host of different word processors. However, Microsoft Word is still the industry standard, so I’ll be using that as a reference point. These rules will still apply whether you’re using Scrivener, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or whatever your software of choice is.

OK, so with all that said, here’s the six grammar/formatting issues that drive us mad:

Ellipses – yep. They showed up last week and they’re back again. A few of you seemed unclear as to the nature of an ellipsis. Well, an ellipsis is the three dots writers use to denote an omission or to show a pause in speech. Here at BubbleCow, we often receive manuscripts where the writer has thrown in a few ellipses but with variable numbers of dots. In fact, some writers seem to think that the more dots they add, the more mysterious and tantalising their cliff-hanger becomes. “I was never there…………………… OR WAS I?” Oh dear. Ellipses only ever have three dots. No more, no fewer.

Two other things to say about ellipses. The correct way to write an ellipsis is . . . – that’s dot space dot space dot. The problem is that this plays havoc with some eBook conversion tools. Therefore, our house style is to alter them to … (three dots with no spaces). This will be picked up in the conversion process and handled correctly.

What about when an ellipsis is used at the end of the sentence? What happens to that extra full stop? Should it be three dots (…) or three and a full stop (… .). The answer is a little confusing. There’s no set rule on this, with different style guides opting for different options. At BubbleCow, our house style ignores that last full stop. Just the three dots for us, please.

Here’s a great LINK to an article on ellipses.

Writing numbers – this, confusingly, is not another case of consistency. Now, we get hundreds of manuscripts where the writers rather sensibly choose to either use either purely numeric or purely written numbers for the entirety of their manuscripts. Then we get those who arbitrarily use a mixture of the two. Strangely, both parties are wrong in this case. Our house style (based on the Chicago Manual of Style) is as follows: numbers up to 100 must be written in words – so: one, seventeen, ninety-four. After that this becomes a little time consuming, so we allow these larger numbers to be written in digits: 1003, 784, 100,000. All you have to remember is that 100 is the magic number.

Spaces – now I know what you’re thinking. How can anyone mess up a space? Do we receive manuscripts that are just spaceless walls of interlinked words? The answer is no.

I’m talking about making sure that you’re only using one space between words. Now I know how it is – you’re writing passages, deleting them later on, shuffling around paragraphs – things get messy. But I recently ran a find-and-replace on a manuscript and it found 384 instances where two spaces had snuck in instead of one.

We’ve talked about single and double spacing before and it kicked up a bit of a storm. You see back in the olden days of typewriters and typesetting, double-spacing was standard. Those days are over! Double spaces are a nightmare for those unlucky publishers who’re in charge of creating eBooks. They mess up the formatting, resulting in unattractive, oddly-spaced electronic books that inevitably have to scrapped and redone. Our advice? Stick to one space.

Page breaks – this one is easy. The reason I’ve listed it here is because eBook conversions rely on page breaks between chapters. They will see the page break and understand that they need to do something special. If you’ve just pressed Enter a load of time to move the text to the next page you are in trouble. Not only will the conversion process potentially miss the chapter break but you’ll also lose the positioning if you then add or remove text in the chapter.

The bottom line is that you should always use a page break to go to the next page before starting a new chapter. This makes for a clean and presentable eBook, and will also help the printers if you’re going to print copies.

Paragraph breaks versus line breaks – these two phenomena might need explaining as they’re both pretty similar. Indeed, Microsoft Word didn’t start distinguishing between them until about 2003 (don’t quote me on this), but in modern word processing, the difference is very important.

OK, if you open up Word, type “BubbleCow is great,” and then press Enter, you’ll notice that the cursor jumps down to the line below, leaving some space between the previous line and the new one. This is a paragraph break. This is the one you want.

If, however, you were to hold Shift and then press Enter, the resulting new line would be right up beneath “BubbleCow is great,” with no space between them.

A great way of checking this is to use the Show/Hide Nonprinting Characters button, found on the Home tab in Word (it’s the odd black backwards P symbol). A paragraph break will show up as one of these backward-Ps, whereas a line break will be a cornering arrow. You want the P.

Line breaks are a nightmare for those in charge of formatting your masterwork – it groups all the text together, which means that text becomes harder to arrange on the page and stubborn in its disobedience. Using line breaks to create space (at the end of a chapter, for example, so you can get that page break in) can create nightmares for eBook conversions. Paragraph breaks all the way. One of the first things I do with a new manuscript is to find and replace all line breaks with paragraph breaks.

Indentation – those pesky line breaks also have a habit of messing up any system of indentation you might (should) have going. Indents only trigger on paragraph breaks, so there’s an extra reason always to paragraph break! But indents are important in their right.

Here at BubbleCow, we want the first paragraph of each chapter to be a straight flush, with the first sentence in line with the following sentences. After that, though, every paragraph needs its first line to be indented using the Tab key (not spaces! These tend to be messier and can disappear during the eBook conversion process). Again, this is one of the first things we add when we receive a new manuscript, as it helps your manuscript appear clean, streamlined, and readable. It also makes eBook versions far more attractive and is necessary for the conversion process.


  • Martin Flux says:

    Hi Shirley. Great article. I agree with everything apart from the last two paragraphs. If I understand it correctly, you are suggesting to use tabs (as in: press the Tab key) at the beginning of every paragraph (apart from the first one).

    This is a very bad practice!

    As someone who did typesetting for a handful of projects, tab indents are almost as bad as line breaks. I would instead suggest to set up a paragraph style to have the text indented automatically – which you can do in the paragraph preferences – and then maybe have a separate paragraph style for the first paragraph if agent/publisher insists to have the first par flush in one’s manuscript (I know that many don’t).

    This way the manuscript only contains characters (letters, numbers and symbols, incl. white spaces/invisibles) that are to be used, and typesetter does not need to go through the manuscript and remove the unnecessary ones. Same applies for eBooks: indents are (should be) achieved by CSS style not by inserting a tab white space in there.

    If I wanted to be an absolute purist, I would also say: don’t use page breaks either. Go to the paragraph style preferences of your chapter heading and tick ‘start on a new page’ (or similar check box, that any worthy word processor has).

    The rule of thumb is: All the formatting should be done with styles, keeping the content and the formatting separate (although admittedly, it might be easier not to apply this rule for the title page of one’s manuscript). It makes everyone’s life much easier down the line.

    PS: I love the title of your article!

    • Thank you so much for this valuable information since every bit helps. Have a blessed evening. Shirley

    • vanderso says:

      This is what I learned also. I used styles to format my ebooks for Smashwords,where they were instantly accepted, and also accepted without correction at Kindle Direct Publishing. Mark Coker of Smashwords says never use tabs. I can see that different houses have different processes. Styles seems to do the same thing as indents but with fewer messy commands. One tip: before formatting, paste your text into Noepad or TextEdit to eliminate some of the hidden formatting Word slips in. It takes some extra steps but saves time in the long run.
      I’m completely on board, though, with the extra-space advice! These are like microscopic little bugs that creep into text. Find-and-replace is the only hope. I get a bit aggravated with friends who say, “I just can’t get used to a single space after periods” when find-and-replace can fix it all. Thanks!

  • Great post. Thanks for sharing this.

  • jjspina says:

    Important tips for all authors! Thanks for sharing, Shirley! 😀

  • tric says:

    A hugely helpful post. Thank you.

  • Clean formatting is a must. I still have trouble sometimes. Informative post. 😀

  • Thanks, Shirley for making these grammar and format tips clear. There seems to be so much confusion. By describing the reasons for formatting, you’ve made it memorable.:) — Suzanne

  • Thanks, Shirley for giving the reasons for formatting in a certain way. It made it more memorable. 🙂 — Suzanne

  • Great advice! I used Smashwords’ “nuclear” option and removed all hidden codes from my manuscript, then went step-by-step to format my book for publication. It was tedious and time-consuming, but it worked beautifully.