Standard Manuscript Preparation
and Font Selection
August 2009

Mark Twain is generally credited as the first writer to submit standard typewritten manuscripts (double spacing and so on). Two centuries later, many "experts" avow that the "professional" way to submit a manuscript is to have the manuscript look as if it sprang from a typewriter. In brief, an author is supposed to use a monospaced font. Ha!

Having all the keys the same size (or having a monospaced font) is a mechanical convenience for the mass manufacture of typewriters.

Computers and word processing have changed all that. Anyone with a computer has the potential for preparing a beautiful manuscript or going horribly wrong. (And after 30 years in book production, I can still be amazed by different approaches.)

Even so, one little fact would make life easier for production editors: Use a proportional serif font. A monospaced font is boring to look at and difficult to read, and most sans serif fonts are disasters.

Imagine a police lineup in which all the suspects looked alike: same height, same weight, and so forth. It makes identification difficult.

The more individuality letters have, the easier they are to read. That should be axiomatic.

Look at the following image, which has the letters m and n in a proportional font (Palatino) and a monospaced font (New Courier).
Letters m and n, proportional and monspaced

The monospaced m is struggling to be noticed. Who would prefer an enfeebled m to the proportional version?

So beware the editor requesting a monospaced font. How closely do you think your manuscript will be read?

A further step down the readability ladder is any sans serif font. San serifs are fine for light reading which doesn't require much attention. But consider the inconvenience if actually trying to figure out what someone has written; for example, ill, iIl, and iII all appear the same in a sans serif font.

Finally, for general amusement, following is my demonstration of the same text in a serif font, a monospaced font, and a sans serif font. Whatever you type in the first box (the serif) will be visible in both Courier and Arial.



Next time I'll play with those souls who prefer underscores to italic. The reason I've seen given most often is that a copy editor won't notice the italics.

The concept is quite funny. If a copy editor isn't reading closely enough to notice a different font (and italics are in fact a different font), then how are any misspellings or omissions going to be marked?

If a copy editor cannot "see" italics, the publisher desperately needs a new copy editor.

Alas the en dash   |  Danger! Passive Voice

Look Out!   |   Chet Gottfried