Plain Text for Writers, Part II: A Proposal for a Plain Text Manuscript Format

Writers and editors rely on manuscript format as a common ground for reading and preparing texts for publication. Unfortunately in today’s world of electronic submissions, each individual market sometimes demands a different format for their manuscripts, complicating the submissions and editing process for writers and editors alike.

There is a Standard Manuscript Format, and most editors at least conform to this standard. However, Standard Manuscript Format is in some ways a relic of the typewriter. Although there is good rationale behind all its features, the necessity for complex formatting and file compatibility can be an issue.

A Plain Text Manuscript Format would have advantages for both writers and editors. In addition to simplicity, universal compatibility, and superior archiving, a plain text manuscript presents several other advantages. The file can be easily viewed in any preferred font, transfered to an e-book reader, pasted into the body of an email, and formatted for electronic or print publication.

A Plain Text Manuscript Format can be considered universal because it can be created or read on any computer with virtually any software. It can even be accessed from a command prompt, created on a typewriter or handwritten in a notebook. The features of the proposed format are outlined in the example below. Please note: this is a proposal only, and a suggestion for writers who wish to use plain text for their personal composition, editing, and file storage. If you are submitting a manuscript for publication, you should always follow the editor’s guidelines for manuscript formatting.

Joe Writer
4 Contact Info
City, NY 10010
(212) 555-5555

200 words


by Joe Writer

At the top of the file should be the writer’s name and contact information. Two lines below that, the estimated word count. Four lines below that, the title in all caps. Two lines below that, the byline.The body of the manuscript should start four lines below the byline.

All text should be left justified with no indentation. Add an empty line between paragraphs for readability. Each paragraph should represent a single line of text. Word wrapping will make the text readable and printable. To add an extra line for a section break insert the number symbol like so:


To indicate italics, text should be surrounded by underscore marks. For example you might mention a magazine, such as _Asimov’s_ or _The New Yorker_. This will make it easy to search for italicised text and replace with italics for actual publication.

Use only a single space after punctuation. This will keep the text clean and consistent. A double space is not needed, and not preferred if using the electronic text for publication.

To indicate an em dash — puctuation that sets off a phrase — use two hyphens. To indicate … an elipses, use three periods.

Define the end of your manuscript with three number symbols on the last line of the file, like so:


That’s all there is to it. Since text files do not contain formatting information, it is not necessary to specify a font, margins, headers or page numbering. Two notable drawbacks to this Plain Text Manuscript Format are the lack of line spacing to allow for editing marks and the lack of page numbers for referencing areas of text. This is a legitimate concern. Solutions include saving and editing as a .pdf or adding desired additional formatting for a print copy. If printing the document, a text editor can print with page numbers and additional header information. A word processor can add formatting as necessary.

Plain Text for Writers, Part I: A Proposal for a Plain Text Manuscript Format

Plain Text for Writers, Part III: A Quick Guide to Working with Plain Text

Additional Information: