eBook Conversion

eBook conversion for Kindle and ePub readers

Fixing common errors in your copy

As an editor, here are the most common formatting and typographical errors I have to fix.

Make a copy of your original book before doing any of this, just in case something goes wrong.

I’m assuming here that you’re using MS Word, because most people are. However, the same principles apply in other word processors such as Open Office and iWork – you’ll just have to look up the appropriate Find & Replace symbols and substitute them accordingly. (Note that Google Docs lacks advanced find and replace functions; you may want to download Open Office for these tasks.)

Where I write things like [space], hit the space bar; I’m assuming you’re not going to type in the text verbatim (just checking).

A hyphen is not a dash

There are two type of dashes: an en dash (–) and an em dash (—). They are both wider than a hyphen (-). Their relative sizes, however, depend upon which typeface you’re using.

To demonstrate, look at the two forms in the same Mark Twain quote:

“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity – another man’s, I mean.” (en dash)
“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity—another man’s, I mean.” (em dash)

Traditionally, an en dash has a space on either side of it, while an em dash doesn’t. Whichever you use is a matter of personal preference, but be consistent.

The best solution is the Find & Replace function, as hyphens that are used as dashes will almost certainly have a space either side of them. So replace [space][hyphen][space] with either [space][en dash][space] or [em dash]. Don’t forget to include spaces, as you’ll otherwise overwrite your proper hyphens.

You can copy the dashes from above to paste into the Replace field.

Not using the ellipsis (…) symbol

Many authors use varying numbers of full stops, when they should use the ellipsis character. Using full stops can be problematic, as they can break at the end of a line and run into the next one.

Again you can fix this with Find & Replace. The ellipsis should have a space at either side of it, so replace, for example, three full-stops with [space]…[space]. Don’t worry if this introduces extra spaces.

Tab marks at the start of paragraphs

You may have used tabs to manually indent the first line of a paragraph. This is not necessary, because it can be done automatically. Use Find & Replace to get rid of them. (In MS Word, type ^t into the Find box to find a tab character. Leave the Replace field blank.)

Aligning text using spaces

Again, this is not necessary (and the wrong way to do it). A good way to get rid of these spaces is to enter ^p[space], in the Find field and ^p in the Replace field. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Inch and feet marks

By this, I mean straight inch and feet marks, rather than proper quotes and apostrophes. Sometimes these creep in if you’ve pasted text from somewhere else. To fix this, copy the offending symbol and paste it in the Find field and replace with a double quote or apostrophe from the keyboard (even though they look identical, this usually works – at least in MS Word).

Underline, bold and italics

  • Do not use underline in copy. Under any circumstances. Ever. Firstly, they’re not needed. Secondly, readers might assume they’re hyperlinks.
  • The vast majority of books I’ve worked on have never used bold text in normal copy. Maybe in a more technical publication to highlight the first word of a bulleted list followed by a colon (where it’s acting as a de facto heading), but never in normal prose. Don’t worry about the format of things like chapter headings and subheadings; you’ll fix those later
  • There are many valid reasons to use italics. However, I’m not here to teach you grammar.

Double spacing

There is no need for double spaces after full-stops. This is a relic left over from typewriters. Use Find & Replace to replace double spaces with single ones. I recommend you do this last, as some of the fixes above may introduce them.


Don’t forget to run the spellchecker. You’d think all authors would, but they don’t. Even good journalists often don’t bother, because someone at the newspaper or publisher will fix it for them. However, you probably don’t have this option to fall back on.

Remove multiple paragraph marks

Most people hit the Enter key twice to start a new paragraph. This isn’t necessary in the HTML version, as you can define the amount of space that follows a paragraph (you can also do this in Word, but that’s a story for another day). The easiest way to get rid of them is with Find and Replace – use ^p^p for the Find field and replace it with ^p.


One Response to “Fixing common errors in your copy”

  1. Karen
    on Aug 31st, 2014
    @ 5:29 am

    Do you happen to know what the heck this is “M?chi?velli?nism”? I rented an ebook from coursemart.com; when I copy and paste a page into a word document I get a bunch of rubbish. These boxes in between the letters of the words, if you enlarge them, they have a question mark inside of them, making it impossible for my Dragon software to be able to read the chapter to me. I have been copy and pasting ebooks for a few semesters now(I don’t have time to read the chapters so i let the dragon software read them to me, once I get them into a ms word document.

    Thanks for reading


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