Formatting Cheat Sheet

Successful writers need to be knowledgeable and proficient in three main areas: content, grammar, and formatting. In this blog, I’m going to review the basics of correct formatting. This applies to any form of writing in which you want to present yourself as a professional. These rules come from The Chicago Manual of Style. Keep this list handy and use it! 🙂

1. Replace two spaces with one space everywhere.
In prior years, it was customary to put two spaces after each sentence. Why? There was only one font available, and it was not easy to read. But with the variety of readable fonts we have today, we don’t need two spaces for any reason. In all of your writing, search and replace two spaces (or more) with one space. There should never be two spaces anywhere in writing.

2. Use an em dash correctly.
You might see a dash with spaces around it — like this — in tweets or texts or posts, but it’s never written that way in professional writing. Whenever you use an em dash (or two hyphens if the symbol is not available), there is never a space next to it. An em dash always is attached to whatever is before or after it, including punctuation.
* My pet monkey—a capuchin—is a rascal.
* “Wait, don’t go! We need to t—” The door slammed in my face.

3. Never use colons or semicolons in speech.
Remove all colons or semicolons in speech. We don’t speak in semicolons or colons. 😉 Replace them with a comma (slight pause), period (stop), em dash (quick speaking), or ellipsis (long pause).
Replace semicolon here: “I’m ordering pizza; anyone else want some?”
“I’m ordering pizza. Anyone else want some?”
“I’m ordering pizza—anyone else want some?”
“I’m ordering pizza … anyone else want some?”

4. Make sure all ellipses have exactly three periods with a space before and after it.
An ellipsis is made up of three periods … not four, not two, not five. Exactly three periods with a space before and after it.

5. Always use a tab when indenting paragraphs. Never use spaces.
Make sure your entire document has the exact same indents set so everything lines up evenly.

6. Capitalize the following names (no quotes, no italics):
Company names, store names, restaurants, church names, hotels, vehicles, planes, band names.

7. Italicize the following names (no quotes):
Book titles and subtitles, magazines, journals and periodicals, newspapers, blogs, movies, TV shows, radio programs, podcasts, plays, paintings, photographs, statues, boat or ship names, foreign words.

8. Capitalize and put quotes around the following names (no italics):
Song names, poems, newspaper articles.

9. Format your document for books or short stories correctly (not blogs, letters, emails, etc.):
Use Times New Roman 12-point font, 1” margins on all sides, and double-space the entire text. Left-align the entire document. Start with a title page. Number your pages (excluding the title page). Use a header on each page with your name and the book title. Start each new chapter on a new page (use a page break, not returns). Each chapter header should be in all caps. If you use section breaks, make sure they are consistent.
* The final book will use other fonts and be customized when published, but it should be submitted to an editor and the book formatter in this exact format.

Savvy Writer Tip:

It’s easy to spot a writer who knows the correct way to format their writing. Savvy writers always make sure they follow the formatting rules above so their writing looks professional. 🙂

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