Evaluating predefined manuscript templates in Word

There’s a standard novel manuscript format and it goes something like this:

  • A4 or letter paper
  • Times New Roman 12 pt
  • 2.5 cm or 1 inch margins
  • Double spacing
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph 1 cm or half an inch
  • No extra space between paragraphs
  • Author, title and page number in the top right-hand corner of each page
  • Begin new chapters on a new page.

Letter/1 inch/half inch are for countries that use imperial units, A4/2.5cm/1cm for those that use metric.

Most writers set this up every time they start a new story in Word. But you don’t have to. If you use a template you will turn out consistently formatted novels every time without having to do any manual setup.

Where to get templates

Microsoft has some standard manuscript formatting templates already set up. Or you can create your own. Today, I’ll show you how to find Microsoft’s preformatted templates. Next time I’ll show you how to create your own from scratch.

Preformatted templates using Office 2013

I’m using Office 2013. If you’re using an earlier version of Word, you can do a similar thing, the actual steps may not be quite the same.

  • Open Word
  • This opens on the template page
  • Type manuscript into the search field and start searching (press <Enter> or click on the magnifying glass)

This brings up five potential templates you can use. The three that look most promising are:

  • Book manuscript
  • Story manuscript format
  • Story manuscript
Results from a template search using 'manuscript' as the search term
Results from a template search using ‘manuscript’ as the search term

Let’s look at each of them in turn.

Book manuscript

Book manuscript template. This is the only template that includes a front page
Book manuscript template. This is the only template that includes a front page

Book manuscript looks good. Inspecting it I can see that:

  • It’s letter size. Good for the US market, and I can easily change this to A4 if I’m in a metric country
  • It has all the author information you need on the front page
  • The header contains the story name, author name and page numbers
  • Text is 12 point Times New Roman
  • Margins, strangely enough, pick up my metric 2.5cm. Again, that’s easy to change
  • Text is double spaced
  • Chapter name is styled and defined as a heading type

So far, I’m liking it. Now I’ll put on my Word guru hat and look more closely.

What don’t I like about it?

  • There’s no line indent for the start of each paragraph. That means you have to tab in at the start of each paragraph. You shouldn’t have to do that.
  • Chapter name is not in the Style Gallery, so how does the poor inexperienced writer know how to use it

Things I’m ‘meh’ about but that only impact me (in other words, personal preference)

  • It overrode my default dictionary
  • It uses content controls for the first page, in the header and in the chapter title but they don’t seem to do anything. (Think of content controls as fields you can fill in, like a form.)

Outside of that, it’s definitely something you could use if you wanted to be up and running fast.

Story manuscript

Let’s look at the story manuscript template next. This one doesn’t have a front page. I’d consider this more of a short story manuscript.

Story manuscript. Behind-the-scenes, this setup is similar to the Book Manuscript template.
Story manuscript. Behind-the-scenes, this setup is similar to the Book Manuscript template.

It looks similar to book manuscript template except that it doesn’t have a chapter title style. I’d guess that it was created by the same person, or that one was based off the other.

It has the same issues as book manuscript template. The biggest of these is needing to tab at the start of every paragraph.

Story manuscript format

At first glance story manuscript format looks almost the same as the story manuscript template. It’s not.

Again, it’s more suited to a short story than to a novel because I think that for a novel a title page is good. The styles are very basic.

Story manuscript format template. Looks similar, but it's not.
Story manuscript format template. Looks similar, but it’s not.

I like:

  • Finally, yes, indented first paragraph, so you don’t have to tab to start each paragraph. You cannot imagine how much time this will save you
  • The styling is basic, but it works. (Note however, that if you’re writing a novel, when you add your title page you’ll have a couple of problems with basic styling. I’ll get to that in another blog)

Meh about:

  • The name and address at the top of the first page are in a table
  • Plus it overwrote my default dictionary again.

The verdict

If I had to recommend a template, I’d use the story manuscript format. For one reason, and one reason alone. Indented first line.

There are things you can do to customise the templates, but that’s for another blog.

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