Word Formatting: How to Correctly Indent Paragraphs for Ebook Formatting

What is the biggest mistake self-publishing authors make when preparing their book for ebook conversion? Improper word formatting of Paragraph Indents.

Say No to Tabs and the Spacebar

Old school taught us to use the tab key to make paragraph indents. This can be a difficult habit to break—but break it you must.

NEVER use the tab key or spacebar to indent paragraphs

Now I am not saying you can’t use the spacebar, ever. But you should never EVER be using the tab key when preparing your Word (or other program) document for conversion—print or digital.

Auto Correct Improper Indents

When writing a manuscript it is best to start on the right foot. Even if you already have your MS completed and every single paragraph is indented with either a tab or the spacebar, have no fear—it can be corrected.

Removing Tabs ^t

You don’t want ANY tabs in your file.

(NOTE: the following is based on Microsoft Word; please note that some versino of Word can be buggy.)

1. Make a duplicate copy of your manuscript. Never work from your original. If you mess up the copy, then you’ll have the “master MS” to fall back on.

2. With the document open, open the Find and Replace function. (Under Edit or Cmd+F) (location depends on your version of Word or other software program)

3. Type ^t in the Find field; leave the Replace field blank.

4. Now here’s the scary part. Click “Replace All“. CAUTION: once you click Replace All, it cannot be undone. (Another reason for working from a copy of your Master file.)

All the tabs should now be removed.

Removing extra spaces

Never find and replace “one” space.” This will mess up your entire document. To remove the “extra” spaces used for indents input at least 2 blank spaces in the Find field, and keep the Replace field blank.

1. Hit the space bar twice in the Find field.

2. Keep the Replace field blank.

3. Click “Replace All“. CAUTION: once you click Replace All, it cannot be undone.

Setting the First Line Indent or how to change styles

You can set each paragraph individually, or your can modify the template used for the MS, so the change applies to ALL paragraphs.

Setting the first line paragraph indents depends on the “style” you used for your paragraphs.  If you were a good little author, you left the setting at “Normal”— the default style. But if you chose to make your own, then you can still modify the paragraphs so long as you consistently used the style for all your paragraphs.

To change styles

1. Go to Format > Style (the actual location of your style format may be in a different location)

2. Select Normal Style (or your content style) in the left column.

3. Click Modify.

4. Choose Paragraph from the Format drop down menu

5. Choose Indentation > First line.  The default is set to .5″ but you can choose whatever you wish.  I recommend not less than .25″.

6. TIP: Make sure the “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” is unchecked if you are adding space before and after..

7. Click OK to close the Paragraph window.

8. Click OK to close the Modify Style window.

8. Click Apply to close the Style window.


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