Word processors are wondrously FUN to play with, and writers who secretly believe they have a talent for graphic design (but who have never actually studied it) seem unable to resist availing themselves of every bell and whistle.
That’s fine, if you’re self-publishing. But if you’re submitting work for publication, formatting to this degree is not only unhelpful, it’s even a little dangerous—and not just because it’s a sure way to tire your copy editor before she reads a word of your text.
Maybe you feel you’re helping by sharing your vision for the design of your work. But a publisher, editor or designer who may be in awe of your literary or intellectual talent has considerably less interest in your vision for design. That’s what they do. And to do it, they will have to undo all your efforts.
Although it might seem easy to clear formatting with a click, a copy editor would be rash to do that. Rather, he will have to consider whether each instance of bold, italics, or small caps serves a purpose and should be preserved.
There are two basic methods for restoring simplicity to a tarted-up text: (1) like generations of wallpaper, your fancy accretions can be scraped away a layer at a time, or (2) like a condemned hovel, they can be bulldozed and rebuilt from scratch. Neither method is foolproof; both risk minor violence to the content.
To safeguard your text (and endear yourself to your publishing team), follow these fundamental rules when you prepare your manuscript (but be sure to check the submission guidelines of your publisher):
- Use a standard 12-point serif type like Times New Roman.
- Eliminate automated list numbering, field codes, and anything that moves or flashes (with the exception of linked notes). If you use them in your draft, hard-type or deaden everything before submitting your manuscript.
- Turn off the hyphenation feature of your word processor.
- Leave the right margin ragged, not justified (in order to avoid spacing likethisandlikethis).
- Indent new paragraphs instead of putting space between paragraphs. Editors need to see indention for various reasons, even if the final design doesn’t feature indents.
Here’s a submission-ready version of the table above. Note the use of only the most essential lines (no vertical rules), the double spacing, and the use of italics only for species names and for the name of the journal in the source note.
Your copy editor will love it—and maybe she’ll love you as well.