Those of us who enter RWA Chapter contests know they can be extremely competitive. I’ve been on almost every side of the contest: entrant, category coordinator and judge.

As an entrant, formatting ranking lowest on my checklist, but as a category coordinator and judge I learned that unusual formatting can be distracting. Will a perfectly formatted entry shoot you to the finish line? No. However, proper formatting will help your judge focus on your work by removing the distractions of haphazard spacing, interchanging indents, spaces between paragraphs, etc. especially in these days of electronic entries.

I have some tips:

***Remember to FIRST save a backup copy in case of a formatting-gone-awry misstep***

1. Font, Page Size and Margins

Check the contest guidelines, because they will include a requested font and size. Many request entrants use either Times New Roman or Courier New as fonts—almost all require 12 point font. Click Edit, Select all and then choose one of the two fonts above and then the font size.
Make sure your margins are all 1 inch. In word, this is done under Page Layout or Page Set-up.

2. Using the paragraph mark

The paragraph mark in the standard toolbar shows all formatting in a document. This is extremely helpful in catching extra spaces as you write. As you prepare your manuscript for submission, it’s essential.

3. Extra Spaces

If you learned how to type on a typewriter, you were taught to place an extra two spaces at the end of each sentence. Manuscripts do not require the two spaces. Remove them by using the Find/Replace option. In the “Find” box, put two spaces, in the “Replace” box, put one. Click on Replace All & repeat this several times until the number of replacements made number is 0.

4. Tabs or Formatted Indentation?

Since Word frequently seeks to adjust your formatting on its own, I recommend using the first line indent in the “Paragraph formatting” section. I believe it makes for cleaner reading. Use your judgment, however.

Remove any tabs by doing a Find/Replace. In the Find box use ^t and leave the replace box blank (make sure there are no spaces left over from your last Find/Replace!). Click on Replace All & repeat this several times until the number of replacements made number is 0.

Next, click on format, paragraphs, Indents and Spacing (or in home tab and in the paragraph section choose the 5th box on the bottom line—the one that has four lines and two arrows on the left) Use “First Line” for indentation and select double spacing. Make sure boxes are unchecked and there are 0 spaces before and after paragraphs.

5. Paragraphs and those pesky remnant spaces before and after.

When editing, sometimes spaces are left at the beginning and end of paragraphs. You can remove them with Find/Replace by Placing ^p with a space before it in the Find box and ^p without any spaces before or after in the Replace box. Then, repeat the above using a space after the ^p.

Find any unwanted Paragraph returns by placing ^p^p and editing manually as necessary.

6. Page Breaks

Not using a page break at the end of a chapter will cause the Chapter to Split in an odd way as a judge makes comments on your Manuscript. Consider entering a Page Break at the end of your chapter. Consult Google to see how to do that in your version of Word.

These suggestions are NOT gospel. Be sure to read the contest guidelines before submitting. While I don’t have access to all versions of Word, these tips will apply to most. A quick google search should give you specific directions in your version.

Good luck!

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