Here are some tips on little things you can do to polish your manuscript and make yourself look more professional.

Style Guides. Most American book publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style. If you don’t have one, I strongly encourage you to purchase it. (The current edition is the 16th, which came out in fall of 2010.) The Associated Press Stylebook is used for newspapers and journalistic magazines. (A new issue comes out every year.) If you’re writing for the Christian market, get The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style by Robert Hudson (2004 edition).

Dictionaries. American book publishers use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition). For articles, use Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Sentence Spacing. Put one space between each sentence, not two. If you’re used to two, it can be a tough habit to break. There’s an easy fix, though. Just use “find and replace” to find two spaces and replace with one space. Click “replace all” until the count gets down to zero.

Paragraph Indent. Always indent each paragraph with the Tab key (or automatic paragraph indents) to 1/2 inch. Do not use the spacebar. Don’t add blank lines between paragraphs. And take out any automatic paragraph spacing your word-processing program may add.

Italics or Underscore. Underlining of text that is to be italicized when the book goes to print used to be the standard. But typesetting has become computerized to the point where publishers now want italicized text to be italicized in the author’s manuscript.

Scene Breaks for Fiction. Insert a blank line to signal a change in time, location, or point of view. Skip an extra line between scenes and place a pound sign (#) centered on the skipped line.

Dashes. An em dash is formed using two consecutive hyphens without spaces before or after. Most word-processing programs can automatically change this to an “em dash”—which is preferred by many publishers. For book manuscripts, an en dash (–) should be used between consecutive numbers, such as in Scripture references or dates. (Articles don’t use en dashes; use a hyphen in these instances.) At least be sure your entire manuscript is consistent one way or the other. Either use hyphens throughout or use em and en dashes throughout.

Ellipsis. An ellipsis (. . .) consists of three dots with spaces before, after, and between each period. The latest Chicago manual allows for the converted ellipsis character (…) with spaces before and after if the author prefers. If an ellipsis occurs at the beginning or end of a quotation or parentheses, there’s no space between the first or final dot and the quotation mark or parenthesis.