1 Put your name on everything
Editorial offices are busy, and text can easily get separated from a covering letter or detached from an email. Make sure every document you supply, either on paper or electronically, includes your name and basic contact details such as a phone number and email address.
2 Use wide margins and double spacing
Double spacing and wide margins make it easy to mark notes and corrections on a printed version of your text.
Wide margins also help you to avoid over-long paragraphs: the short line length makes each paragraph take up more lines, just as it will in print.
3 Put the date on your article
Every story needs to be dated, so it's easy to see how fresh it is and whether time-sensitive references need changing. If your article refers to events that happened 'last week' it's important to know which week it's talking about.
4 Make the end obvious
In the days of type-written text, every page had 'more follows' or 'ends' at the bottom to ensure nothing was lost. With electronic documents that's less important, but it makes sense to clearly mark the end of the text as a double-check.
I also number every page of my copy documents with the total number of pages – 'page 1 of 6' and so on.
5 Don't embed pictures into text files
If you're submitting pictures, send them as separate files in a recognised format such as JPEG, PNG or TIFF.
Never paste a picture into a Word document – it compromises the picture quality, and makes the picture much harder to use.
6 Don't use formatting in electronic documents
Submit the simplest possible text, because that's the easiest for subs and designers to work with.
If you change font sizes or use bold, italics, centering, justification, automatic numbering or bullet points, tables or any other clever formatting, that formatting will probably be lost when the copy is imported into QuarkXPress or InDesign.
Adding formatting into your copy document just makes life harder for the subs and designers who have to work with your text. And it instantly marks you out as an amateur.
The only formatting I use is a 'space after' to separate paragraphs, making it easier to read them – better than leaving a blank line in the copy, which a sub has to edit out later. Otherwise, leave design for the designers.
7 Keep tables simple
If you need to supply a table, don't use the table functions in Word and don't try to format the data so the text lines up in columns by adding spaces.
Often a good strategy is to press the 'tab' key once between each pair of columns – the columns of data might not line up in your text document but don't worry, the subs will fix it later.
Different publications have different preferences, though: if you're not sure, ask.
8 Don't double-space between sentences
Whatever you might have been told in the past, don't use double spaces at the ends of sentences. Subs have to take 'em out again.
9 Be consistent
Every publication has (or should have) a style book detailing its preferences of style and spelling. If you don't know the preferences for the publication you're sending copy to, at least aim to be consistent – choose a style a stick to it. Better still, find out what the publication's preferences are and use them.
10 Use spellcheckers, but don't rely on them.
An automated spelling checker will find most basic typing errors. What it won't do is spot more subtle errors:
- where you've used the wrong homonym – words that sound the same but have different meanings, eg:
- where there's a typing error which turns the word you were aiming for into another valid word:
So even if you use a spellcheck, it's important to read your copy carefully.