How To Avoid Becoming An Editor's Nightmare Part I

Ginger Marks

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If you have ever wanted to write but were not sure how to start then you probably have wondered just what is it that makes for good writing. As a Copy Editor and Business Columnist I have seen a few examples of both from both sides of the fence. In this series of informative articles I will attempt to share a few things that you should and should not do if you sincerely hope to see your work in print. i

Before we look into formal document formatting you should clearly understand one fundamental concept; the concept of ‘em'. This is the measurement used for indent and spacing, that you should employ, and is used to determine proper spacing when laying out your document for print. An ‘em’ is an assessment based on the size of font in use. For example, consider the font size of 12 pt (point). I am sure you have frequently seen that measurement option in your word processing documents. If we consider this situation the 12 pt is considered 1-em. So when I say your indent should be equal to 5-ems you now know that the indent should be five times the width of a 12 pt letter. If the maximum width of a 12 pt letter is 1.5/32-inch then 1.5/32 x 5 actually converts to an indent of almost 1/4-inch. This is the standard measurement and is the reason most word processing program default tab is set at ¼-inch.

Now for the spacing between paragraphs you should typically adhere to the 2-em rule. Remember this is to be accomplished with one carriage return, not two, so you should use your format paragraph options to set it.

Of the many writing errors I have corrected the most frequently occurring is that of excessive spacing and carriage returns. Two “hard returns” are in most instances used in error to differentiate between paragraphs. The better solution is to format your document to accommodate the desired spacing. The most common error of all, though, has to be the overuse of spaces at the close of sentences. That practice is what frequently causes the final sentence in a paragraph to be followed by one unnecessary extra space.

To help you better understand this concept give consideration to the age old typesetter. Their job meant that for each and every letter, symbol, or space they had to select a piece of metal that contained that image or indented space and set in place.

So let's say you are going along and you see two spaces after a sentence. You pick up two metal space holders and fix them in place. Then you arrive at the conclusion of the paragraph where you find a period with a space after it. What do you do? You put a space holder in place. Seems redundant doesn't it. Can you image all the extra work it would take to put all of those unnecessary spaces in place? That can be a terrific waste of time and energy besides being pointless. I am sure you can clearly understand the problems associated with this seemingly minor error. However with the advantage of a personal computer and a decent word processor these extra characters are easy to track.

Most word processors allow you to view hidden characters. Before you start typing your document be certain to turn that feature on. Microsoft Word's tool to accomplish this resembles a backward “P” and can easily be found on the toolbar. Next be sure to set your paragraph format. For articles, a simple “First Line” indent is recommended. However when setting up the format for a book it is much different. One final note on this subject; when formatting for print whether for an article or a book, if you use the “First Line” indent don not use double spaced paragraphs and visa versa. Always use one or the other; not both.

Next time I will continue our discussion with basic page layout. What you should take into consideration, what type sizes and fonts and much more. Until then happy writing.

© Copyright 2006 Ginger Marks

Ginger Marks is the founder of DocUmeant, Your writing & design assistant. For more information, visit her website at Currently she authors a column on business development and personal growth at ( ). Mrs. Marks has also written several articles and two eBooks that are available through her business site In addition she offers a FREE monthly e-Newsletter titled Words of Wisdom. To receive your copy sign-up at


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