Indent or Tab in a Manuscript?

April 23, 2018

Do you set up an indent or use the tab key? Do you drop a line between each paragraph? Does any of this really matter anyway? The answer is yes, and here’s everything you need to know when it comes to formatting with indent or tab in a manuscript.





Presentation is everything when you’re trying to sell a book. Most of the time, the agent, editor, or publisher you’ll be submitting to will be ‘meeting’ your manuscript before they even meet you—which means, if you want to set the right impression, you need to pay attention to detail.


I’ve come into contact with a lot of manuscripts in my work as a freelance book editor, and not a single one has been formatted in exactly the same way as another. While there’s the standard 12-point, Times New Roman, double-line spaced format that most authors are familiar with, not everyone prefers this style when they’re in the process of writing. (And after several years working in Times New Roman, I can firmly say that I now fall into this category, too.)



What Really Matters?


Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which font you prefer to write in, or the size and spacing of your text—all of these things can be changed easily to suit an agent/editor/publisher’s preference later along the line.


What’s really important when you’re working on your manuscript is that you fall into good formatting habits, because these are a little trickier to change later on. One of the most common bad habits I’ve found in my work as a freelance book editor is the question of whether to use indent or tab in a manuscript.


Indenting the first line of text is the simplest way to show the start of a new paragraph. You’ll notice this is the case in most printed books, and it’s the correct way to format a manuscript ready for submission or publication.


However, a similar effect can be achieved by pressing the Tab key on your keyboard. On most word processors, this will allow you to manually insert an indented first line—but it’s important to note that this is the incorrect way to insert an indent.



Inserting an Indent


To insert a first-line indent at the start of each paragraph correctly, you’ll need to select 'Format' from the toolbar at the top of your screen in Microsoft Word, and then hit the 'Paragraph…' option. This should open a new dialogue box with various formatting options.




Within this dialogue box, under the 'Indentation' heading, you will need to hover over the 'Special' drop-down menu and select 'First line' from the list of options. You can increase or decrease the size of your indent, but the standard 1.27cm will work just fine for most fiction manuscripts.


Make your changes and then press 'OK' to close the dialogue box. When you begin typing, you will now notice that Microsoft Word automatically inserts an indent each time you drop a line.


NB: You will need to select any text you wish to indent before adjusting the paragraph formatting options if you are not starting a fresh document.



Good Habits


If you’re guilty of hitting the Tab key to indent your manuscript, try to make it a new habit to set up the indentation at the start of each new document instead. This is the correct way to insert an indent at the beginning of each paragraph, and your editor will thank you for picking up the good habit later along the line.


Also keep in mind that, for most manuscripts, it isn’t necessary to drop a line between paragraphs. An indent works perfectly fine to establish the beginning of a new paragraph. Again, your editor will thank you for using the correct method.


If you’re struggling to format your manuscript, why not check out my affordable book editing services? I offer a great value manuscript formatting service.



Did you find this information useful? Got another question you’d like me to answer? Please leave a comment to let me know!

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