Use Manuscript Markers for Your First Draft

By Mark Nichol

In response to my recent post about parentheses, a commenter mentioned that he uses parentheses as markers for passages to return to later for reworking copy or for inserting missing text. Then he does a pass using Microsoft Word’s Find function to locate the parentheses and fill in the blanks.

That’s a good writing strategy: Many writing coaches and professional writers recommend, as much as possible, writing first drafts nonstop, especially when you’re in the groove — get your thoughts down, even if they’re incomplete, and jump over the gaps and keep on going.

Marking the blanks for attention later is a good strategy, but unless you’re unlikely to use parentheses in your prose, I recommend you employ another marker.

For example, it’s common in journalism to use TK, a phonetic abbreviation for “to come” that’s easily searched because those letters don’t naturally occur sequentially in words, which allows you to avoid false hits as you search for your markers for incomplete content. (Keep in mind, though, that both TK and TC are valid abbreviations.)

Book publishers, by contrast, often employ multiple asterisks or zeroes in some cases, including page numbers for a table of contents that has not yet been finalized; a proofreader fills in the correct page numbers later.

Graphic designers also use what’s called Greek text, though it’s actually adulterated Latin (also known as lorem ipsum because of that commonly appearing phrase). However, this placeholder text is used for design mockups, not as part of the writing process. (The same is true of the letter sequence ETAOIN SHRDLU, consisting of the twelve most frequently used letters in English.)

When I’m editing an academic text with references, I need to check in-text citations against the reference list to make sure every reference is cited and every citation is referenced. Instead of printing out a copy of the references as a checklist, or making a duplicate file, I simply mark each reference item as I find its in-text citation, using the “at” sign or another character that doesn’t otherwise appear in the manuscript. When I’m done, I do a Find and Replace search to delete the signs in one fell swoop.

That reminds me: Do you know the shortcuts for reducing or omitting letter and line spaces? Some educators still teach otherwise, but sentences should be separated by only one letter space. To reduce double spaces to single ones throughout a manuscript with just a few keystrokes and clicks, just type two spaces in the Find field and one space in the Replace field, then click on Replace All. Repeat as necessary until no instances are indicated. (Be careful not to click on Replace All before you type a letter in the Replace field, or you’ll end up with paragraph-long strings of type.)

To delete letter spaces at the end of multiple paragraphs, type a letter space followed by the symbol ^ (shift+6) and the letter p with no letter space between them into the Find field and ^p into the Replace field, then hit Replace All. Repeat as necessary.

To reduce two line spaces to one, enter ^p^p into the Find Field and ^p into the Replace Field and select Replace All. Repeat as necessary.

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22 Responses to “Use Manuscript Markers for Your First Draft”

  • June Freaking Cleaver

    In my technical writing career, when I was waiting for info from developers or QA, I’d type “this is where the magic happens” to remind me that details were missing from my topics.

  • Anabelle

    My strategy when I write and know I need to add stuff is to use a little descriptive (“add quote”, “explain here”, etc..) and underline it in yellow. It might slow down the composition process a bit but at least I know exactly where to go back to when I revise my draft.

  • Carolyn Arnold

    Thank you for this post! I usually use asterisks for these spots. But I especially appreciated the tip about getting rid of those pesky spaces at the end of paragraphs. For some reason in my first draft, I’ll space ready for the next sentence, and sometimes realize it’s a new paragraph. I don’t usually bother to backspace over the spaces.

    I’ve had a beta reader tell me I need to get rid of them, but that’s a huge job when it’s a full-length novel.

    Again, thank you.

  • Peter

    That reminds me: Do you know the shortcuts for reducing or omitting letter and line spaces? Some educators still teach otherwise, but sentences should be separated by only one letter space. To reduce double spaces to single ones throughout a manuscript with just a few keystrokes and clicks, just type two spaces in the Find field and one space in the Replace field, then click on Replace All. Repeat as necessary until no instances are indicated. (Be careful not to click on Replace All before you type a letter in the Replace field, or you’ll end up with paragraph-long strings of type.)

    Of course, don’t do this if you use spaces for alignment (but you shouldn’t do that anyway!)

    Also, if you’re writing in a monospaced (‘typewriter’) font, you probably want two spaces there (e.g., scripts for Hollywood studios are usually required to be double-spaced).

    And for a professionally typeset book, you want a different space (same width, but different behaviour when the line is justified), but that’s not something you should worry about in a word processor.

    To delete letter spaces at the end of multiple paragraphs, type a letter space followed by the symbol ^ (shift+6) and the letter p with no letter space between them into the Find field and ^p into the Replace field, then hit Replace All. Repeat as necessary.

    I don’t know what that’s supposed to do, but it sounds like something specific to a particular piece of software on a particular platform (MS Word on Windows, presumably. I’d expect “^p”, if it has a meaning other than a literal caret followed by a ‘p’, to represent the control character named “DLE”, but it clearly doesn’t mean that here! Oh, never mind…from the next paragraph I intuit that it represents “newline” (standard “^J”…trust MS to use some weird nonstandard symbology :))

    Don’t you have regular expression support? Turn it on, then type “[“, space “]+” and replace with a single space to collapse double (and triple, quadruple, etc.) spaces; replace “[” space tab “]+$” with nothing to clear whitespace at the ends of lines.

  • Courtney Cole

    This is a great article- and it is something that I already do. The Search and REplace function in Word is an awesome tool for writers. Now we just have to remember what need to search for…
    🙂

  • Maeve

    When I want to mark a place that needs to be returned to for additional information or verification, I type XXX.

  • Deborah H

    I also use XXX as a stand in for future text. Sometimes I write blah blah blah or yada yada yada. However, I had not considered the idea of being consistent, and using the search and replace feature to find all my blah blah blahs.

    Great tip, Mark.

  • Riley

    Note, too, that in programs that support comments (Word, OpenOffice, et alia) you can use the commenting feature to tag “go backs” and if desired describe what’s needed there…

  • Lauren @ Pure Text

    I am in love with this article for two reasons:

    1. It offers a much easier way for me to return to text that needs to be looked at again (while editing) and text I need to expand (while writing) other than writing page numbers, or phrases to Find, on a separate sheet.

    2. I can’t believe I never thought about typing two spaces into Find and replacing with one space–it’s genius, and it will surely help me in my editing.

  • Cameron Mathews

    If using “TK” – make sure you avoid pocketknives :). Strangely got a false positive hit twice in a manuscript with that one.

  • Ed Buckner

    I am a federal employee who writes letters and reports as part of my duties. Just recently, the federal style manual changed its rule from requiring a double space after each sentence to using a single space. It is a hard change for me to make, but I must remember that our language and using it in writing is dynamic. As an example, I just noticed that I used double spaces when I wrote this comment.

  • Rafael

    Perhaps it’s all the essays and term papers assigned in school, but I just can’t write double-spaced manuscripts. I write whole paragraphs separated by blank lines. When finished I then have to manually delete the blank lines, before converting the entire document to double-space.

    Anyone have a tip for automating the removal of blank lines separating paragraphs ???

  • naomi hamm

    I totally agree. Because it makes it simpler as you turn back to it again and again you can see where the mistakes are, no matter what kind of mistakes otherwise you wouldn’t find them and grow frustrated.less time dealing with frustration factor is the best! more time for the muse to work her magic all over you.

  • Precise Edit

    We regularly have to remove double spaces after periods, and the find-replace method works fine. We find double spaces and replace them with one space. Generally, we have to repeat this process several times until no more replacements occur.

    For example, if you have 3 spaces, this process finds the first two spaces and replaces it with one space. Then the find function “moves on” and finds the third space by itself, which it will skip. That still leaves two spaces, so we have to repeat.

    Hint: On MS Word, use crtl-H to bring up the find-replace function.

    Regarding two spaces after a period: The APA v.6 style guide now indicates that 2 spaces should be typed after a period for DRAFT manuscripts to be submitted for publication. (I think this is bad idea, but there you go.) When we assist graduate students with papers, we still revert the double spaces to a single space because the submitted paper is the FINAL manuscript. To my knowledge, no professor has yet complained about this.

    Regarding citation reviewing: I print a copy of the reference list and then search the paper for a parenthesis. This will, or should, find every citation in the paper. Then I check off the corresponding reference list entry. If a citation isn’t in the reference list, I write it down. If a reference entry doesn’t have an in-text citation, I mark it. Then I send the list of un-referenced citations and un-cited references to the client.

    @Rafael: On occasion, we have had to fix manuscripts in which the author-client double-spaced lines (or paragraphs) manually by hitting twice when he or she thought a line should end. We recently edited a book manuscript in which the author hit after every line for 190 single-spaced pages. If we were to fix this manually, deleting individual line breaks so the lines would wrap, we would have taken hours of precious editing time. Using find-replace feature, however, we searched for ^P^P and replaced it with ^P. The problem was fixed in under a minute.

    I can’t say this often enough: Computers are not typewriters. Basic computer skills will make the writing–and editing–process much simpler. We have a couple of articles that explain how to MS Word’s functions to prepare professional-looking manuscripts:
    Basic computer skills for authors: http://preciseedit.wordpress.com/2009/06/08/basic-computer-skills-for-authors/
    Create a well-formatted document: http://preciseedit.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/create-a-well-formatted-document/

    As you note in this post, though, find-replace feature is very, very useful for solving a variety of writing and editing problems.

  • Precise Edit

    Apparently, WordPress removes “” when publishing comments. The comment should read as follows:

    “…manually by hitting [enter] twice when he or she thought a line should end.”

    and

    “…the author hit [enter] after every line for 190 single-spaced pages.”

  • Precise Edit

    Sigh. “…removes less than symbol ENTER greater than symbol when publishing comments.”

    I give up.

  • Peter

    We regularly have to remove double spaces after periods, and the find-replace method works fine. We find double spaces and replace them with one space. Generally, we have to repeat this process several times until no more replacements occur.

    Don’t you have a regexp option? (I don’t run Windows, and the last time I even saw Word was around 1993, so I don’t know how you turn it on or anything…in OpenOffice.org Writer, bring up the search-and-replace dialog, click “More Options”, and turn on the “regular expressions” checkbox).

    Turn on regexp support, and replace ” +” (a space and a plus-sign) with ” ” (a space). You’ll only have to do it once to replace any number of consecutive spaces with a single space.

    The APA v.6 style guide now indicates that 2 spaces should be typed after a period for DRAFT manuscripts to be submitted for publication. (I think this is bad idea, but there you go.)

    It’s a good idea, if you could guarantee to do it consistently, because it allows the typesetter to determine which punctuation is part of the sentence and which ends the sentence…which is necessary to get the spacing right. But I always have to read through and correct this anyway, so it doesn’t make a lot of difference. It is much easier to read, though, in a text editor (not a word processor; i.e., with an unjustified monospaced font)

    We have a couple of articles that explain how to MS Word’s functions to prepare professional-looking manuscripts:

    I’m sorry; this just had me in fits in laughter…

    Besides, I have to disagree with a couple of your suggestions:

    2. Use page breaks to start a chapter on a new page.

    Don’t…instead, set the chapter-heading style to insert a page break, and use that.

    9. Use standard 12-point Times New Roman font throughout.

    Sigh. If you must use badly-designed ugly fonts, at least use Times (Times New is to Times as Arial is to Helvetica…the former pair are uglier, more-cheaply-designed copies of the latter. The latter are built into most printers, so you’ll get better output even if you don’t have those fonts installed), but using sensible fonts would be better (Times was designed for newspaper use, to save space in extremely narrow columns, and to print on low-quality paper; it’s not really appropriate for text wider than about 2½ inches or on reasonable paper…)

    4. Use a first line indent for paragraphs. To create this indent, move the top triangle shown below.

    Again: don’t. Instead, edit the style used for body text, and set the indent there.

    5. For block quotes use the left indent.

    And again…define (if it’s not predefined) and use a block-quote paragraph style, set the indents there, and use that.

  • Peter

    Don’t you have a regexp option? (I don’t run Windows, and the last time I even saw Word was around 1993, so I don’t know how you turn it on or anything…in OpenOffice.org Writer, bring up the search-and-replace dialog, click “More Options”, and turn on the “regular expressions” checkbox).

    Oh, I just googled information on regexp support in Word. It is there, but (typical Microsoft *eyeroll*) doesn’t quite use the standard “language”.

    To turn it on, open the find-and-replace dialog, click “More”, and turn on “Use wildcards”. Then use ” @” where I said to use ” +”.

  • Peter

    Sigh. “…removes less than symbol ENTER greater than symbol when publishing comments.”

    It no-doubt removes < anything >, since that looks like HTML markup. Use &lt; and &gt; to type < and > symbols.

  • Precise Edit

    Actually, I set up or modify styles for every type of text in a document. For example, I’ll modify the style for the body text to include the first line indent and modify the heading styles for the fonts and spacing I want.

    For our on-going clients, I have created documents that contain their particular styles. This way I don’t have to re-create them with each new document and don’t have to save them to the normal template.

    I do the same when writing/editing our guides. For example, Zen Comma uses maybe 8 different styles. Nothing is in “normal” style. Using the style settings is much, much easier than manually adjusting the text, and much, much easier when implementing changes to the style.

    The style sheet is probably the best feature of MS Word.

    The tip for adding a page break to the chapter heading style is a good one. It won’t save much time, but it will save some, and that’s useful.

    I agree that adjusting the body text style is preferable to selecting paragraphs and using the ruler tabs. Those two articles were written for folks who know next to nothing about Word’s formatting tools. Discussing style settings seemed a bit too much for the target audience.

    If we receive a manuscript that manually implements the first line indent using the ruler tabs, we can modify the styles for the entire manuscript in about 10 seconds. I’d much rather people use the ruler tabs than hitting the tab key or using the space bar to create first line indents. Then again, we can use the find-replace feature to replace tabs with nothing and then modify the style.

  • Peter

    Sure…but the first thing I’m going to do when you send your Word document to me is open it in OpenOffice.org Writer, export to text, and then load the text into Emacs and set about marking it up with typesetter commands (actually, the “text” export writes out some of the style markup; “marking it up” largely consists removing extraneous junk, in practice). I can search for style changes in Writer, jumping one to the next to the next, to make sure I have them all accounted for, but having “junk” characters like formfeed (from a manual pagebreak) is a minor annoyance, and use of manual indentation (adjusting the slide on the ruler, etc.) doesn’t show up in the text export, and isn’t (AFAIK) searchable, so it forces me to skim the document looking for blockquotes, etc., by eye—in which case I could miss one (it’ll probably be caught eventually, but it’s still a pain). I don’t care about leading tabs and multiple spaces, etc., because the compiler collapses runs of whitespace into a single space anyway—the only question is what kind of space (which needs to be determined manually…hence it helps if the author double-spaces between sentences: the double spaces will be collapsed out anyway, but it gives something to search for to distinguish periods mid-sentence (in abbreviations) from those at the ends of sentences, which need a different kind (not size) of space.)

    Also if you want to export to HTML, either for use on the web or to turn into an epub (XHTML inside), you want the export to use logical markup (<h1>, <h2>, …, for headers, not some rubbish like <center><b>…</b></center> — center isn’t even valid XHTML), and use CSS to format it.

    Discussing style settings seemed a bit too much for the target audience.

    I don’t know…it’s easier to just type what you mean (using styles; don’t worry up front about how it looks) than fuss about with formatting it as you’re typing (using manual style commands). Except for italic/bold, which have keyboard shortcuts and buttons on the toolbar — which is a misdesign, IMNSHO: those keys/buttons ought to be “emphasis” and “strong emphasis” (to use HTML terms; i.e., editable styles) rather than “italic” and “bold” (physical characteristics)…

  • Jack Enright

    I use color to mark mine once I put the words from paper to a Word doc. That way I can find the incomplete parts very quickly. Thanks for your sharing your extensive knowledge of writing.

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