Why Standard Manuscript Format?

When submitting writing for publication, authors are often asked to use Standard Manuscript Format (SMF). Many first time submitters scoff at the thought of changing their carefully chosen font or switching from single-spacing to double-spacing. However, it is imperative that authors do so.


What is Standard Manuscript Format?

Standard Manuscript Format is the way a text is presented to readers. William Shunn’s website has been the go to example for years. Below is a list of SMF features:

All pages:

 table of the characteristics of standard manuscript format in blue

* Acceptable fonts include Courier, Courier New, and Times New Roman among others.

Novels and other long stories should have a title page. The upper left corner of this page contains the author’s name, address, phone number, and email. The title and any pen name go in the middle of the title page. At the bottom, include an approximate word count. The story begins halfway or two thirds down the second page (all new chapters begin this way), and this page should be numbered 1 and have the header.

 standard manuscript format for novel cover page example
 standard manuscript format for novel first story page example

Short stories don’t need a cover page. Instead, the story starts halfway down the page after the title and author’s actual or pen name. The upper left corner still contains the author’s name, address, phone number, and email, and the upper right corner has the approximate word count. The header appears on the second page.

 standard manuscript format for short story example

There are three primary reasons all authors should use Standard Manuscript Format whenever possible.

1.  Professional

The first and arguably most important reason authors should use Standard Manuscript Format is to appear professional. By arranging a document in this way, authors are telling the person reviewing their writing submission that they did their homework and demonstrate knowledge of and respect for the industry standards. Not using SMF is the equivalent of showing up to an interview for a high-level corporate management position in old jeans and flip-flops. It says “I don’t take this opportunity seriously, nor do I respect the company (magazine, publishing house, etc.) enough to wear my nice shoes and slacks.” Authors should use Standard Manuscript Format to show they are professional.

2.  Readability

The reason 12 point monospaced fonts, double-spacing, and other spacing aspects are key to Standard Manuscript Format is readability. Monospaced fonts are among the easiest to read, regardless of age and vision challenges, with Courier New being the easiest of all. In fact, Courier New is the font used when therapists help stroke victims relearn how to read. Double-spacing further spreads the letters and words out to help readers focus on and follow the lines of text.

 word page with white space written in blue in the corners and a blue flame in the center of the page

White space is key to readability. As an undergraduate college student, I groaned every time a reading was assigned in my physiology textbook because the authors seemed to have challenged one another to fit as much words onto every page as possible. A sheet of solid text makes a reader feel exhausted before they even start reading. However, when an image or white space is added, this oppressive feeling vanishes. One inch margins, double-spacing, and starting each story and chapter halfway down the page create white space in Standard Manuscript Format. White space gives a text readability.

For authors submitting work to publishers, readability could be the difference between someone skimming a text and actually reading each word. Use Standard Manuscript Format to create the white space that inspires editors, agents, and publishers to delve into a piece of writing.

3. Organization of Information

If a piece of writing uses Standard Manuscript Format, the people choosing whether to accept or reject the text can easily find important information like the author’s name, the title, and the word count. Making it easy for an editor, agent, or publisher to contact the author or check that the story’s parameters meet their needs will paint the author in a positive light. The flipside is also true. If these industry professionals can’t find the information they need, they might not consider the submission. As an author, you want to make it as easy as possible for people say yes to your writing. Standard Manuscript Format will help.


Why Editors Prefer Standard Manuscript Format

As an editor at Ignited Ink Writing, LLC, I prefer Standard Manuscript Format because it makes editing easier. This goes for professional edits, writing class workshop suggestions, and critique group recommendations. The white space provided by Standard Manuscript Format gives editors space to write comments, corrections, and ask questions. It is much easier to suggest alternative word choices, mark areas that need improvement, and provide in-text notes. Writing using this layout will often receive more in depth edits because there is space to do so. If a piece is submitted to me not in Standard Manuscript Format, the first thing I do is change the document to SMF, and the first note I make explains why I altered the layout.

I’d like to note that Standard Manuscript Format is not permanent. A story is almost never published this way. SMF is used to submit writing for publication or comments and designed to help authors communicate smoothly and effectively with industry professionals considering their piece for publication, not to stifle creativity of form. I recommend saving a final copy of a story in Standard Manuscript Format, so it is ready for submission whenever the chance arises.

So, why should authors use Standard Manuscript Format? Because it shows authors are professional, makes the piece more readable, and includes all the necessary information in one, consistent place. You've already Ignited Your Ink; now let it shine.

Do you have any questions about standard manuscript format? Leave them in the comments section, and I'll do my best to answer them. For more writing advice like this and to get a list of 13 Writing Craft Books Every Writer Should Explore subscribe to Ignite Your Ink blog below.


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 Caitlin Berve sitting on a park bench in a green dress


Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.