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Formatting a Paper - Eight Great Shortcuts and Tips

While many writers focus mainly on a particular type of writing – such as the creative variety – many take on all sorts of writing jobs to earn a bit of extra money, keep the bills paid, and so on. A lot of this work involves writing articles, blogs, books, and the like. Most writing tasks also involve a lot of editing.

Anyone who finds themselves doing a considerable amount of editing will tell you they keep finding the same mistakes over and over again and have to keep changing the same things. While grammar errors and typos are quite common a lot of editing work, surprisingly, concerns simple problems with formatting.

Tips on Formatting and Copyediting

How does one format a written piece so that it is sufficiently perfect to please a copyeditor? The following list outlines some of the most common mistakes that editors find, along with some formatting tips that should help you improve your written work.  

  1. Do not Leave Two Spaces after Periods. Just One!

A lot of editors will sympathize with this mistake. Many of them have been guilty of this error themselves. However, the rule about leaving two rather than one space after sentences is an out-of-date one. So you should stop doing it.

In the days of the traditional typesetter, two spaces were fashionable. It was a rule that found favor in the early part of the twentieth century and typists (and typewriter users in general) were taught to adhere to this practice. 

A two-space gap (known technically as the em-space) stopped being used in the publishing industry somewhere during the 1940s and almost all style guides recommend a single space after a period. Additionally, since many web publishing tools - e.g., WordPress and Blogger – are not as smart as many word processing systems, the two-space style can occasionally create awkward or uneven-looking indents around the margins of a text. While it can be difficult to reverse long-standing habits like these, most people can do it if they try hard enough!

  1. Shortcut for Creating Em-Dashes

When two normal hyphens (or dashes) are used one after the other, the combined outcome is known as the em-dash, e.g., —. Or this is the case in MS Word at least.

However, in the majority of blog-writing systems, two combined hyphens do not automatically become an em-dash. So a large number of them need to be edited. It is though that around 50% of the changes that editors make to average-size articles involve correcting em-dashes that were not properly formatted in the first place. 

In fact, it can be quite difficult or tedious to use the character that creates an em-dash (Ω) on every occasion it is needed. Luckily, writers or keyboard users can use the following shortcut “Alt/option + shift + - (dash).” Simply hit these keys simultaneously to get a long and perfectly formed em-dash.

Please refer to our guide on em-dashes if you are still not sure what this character is.

  1. Shortcut for Creating En-Dashes

Just as is the case with em-dashes, there is also a keyboard shortcut for creating en-dashes. This is useful for anyone who has to join two numbers (for example, refer to pages 4-11). The shortcut for an en-dash is “Alt/option + - (dash).”

You may also refer to our guide on en-dash usage if you are not sure what this character is or if you do not understand the difference between the two types of dashes.

  1. Correct Use of Ellipses

People have been known to compare ellipses to a bouncy castle. They are great when the setting is right (e.g. for children’s parties). However, they do not look so good if they are left along a street for too long. An ellipsis comprises of three periods (or full stops) used in consecutive order i.e. to indicate the ending off of speech in a dialog or to shorten a quotation. However, it is worth noting that these are not intended for everyday informal writing such as Facebook postings. If you believe they look alright ... in this manner ... then you are mistaken in your belief.   

A shortcut also exists for creating ellipses and it is quite fun. A lot of Twitter users find it useful where character usage is limited. The following is the shortcut for a one-character ellipsis “Alt/option + ; (semicolon).”

  1. Numbers from One to Nine Should be Spelt Out in Full

Certain style manuals will recommend that all numerals between one and ninety nine should be spelt out (and this is what many professional writing services do), but style guides in general recommend that all numbers between one and nine at least are spelt out.

Sometimes, of course, this results in odd combinations of text and numbers, e.g., “A group of five went on the excursion and the temperature was no more than 20 degrees.” This is fine, just be consistent in the style you use.

  1. Percent Signs Should be Spelt Out

In math, symbols are used. However, where writers are concerned, it is 100 percent rather than 100%.

Specific Rules for Formatting Web Text

In addition to the above, there are certain best practice rules that apply to formatting text for the web.

  1. The Use of Headers

Almost every header (such as the large and/or bold text you will see dividing the sections in most articles and posts) are a friend to everyone who reads online material. Headers break text up into easier-to-follow chunks, they enable readers to get the information they need, and they give structure to a written piece. Make use of them!

A lot of writing and blog-creating platforms already have useful tools for creating headers. In the WordPress program, which a lot of writers use, you will find a dropdown menu that allows the writer to choose paragraphs and heading levels right the way through from one to six.

HTML also provides the facility for creating headings where these are formatted as <h1> or <h2> or <h3>, etc. When using HTML, you need to ensure you respectively close each HTML header with a corresponding tag e.g. </h1> or </h2> or </h3>. If you fail to do this, the remaining text in the page will appear as very large and bold.  

  1. Keep Paragraphs Short

As happens with newspaper writing, large chunks of text can intimidate or put the online reader off. It is for this reason it is better to write text for online purposes in short paragraphs of not more than five lines or six. This is a more friendly format.

Additionally, online readers have a tendency to glance at or skim text (as you are probably doing now). When paragraphs are shorter, readers are forced to read or skim more slowly and this allows them to acquire more information from the material they are reading. 

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