Top 5 Formatting Tips

If there’s one thing that this blog has said ad nauseam, it’s that being a proofreader isn’t just about having good spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Take formatting, for example. It’s not proofreading, but a lot of jobs aimed at proofreaders require it and a lot of employers will expect you to format documents professionally.

For this reason, we have put together our top five tips for effective formatting.

1. Don’t Cut Corners

Some proofreaders don’t enjoy formatting: it’s not in their comfort zone and they find it challenging. But this is no excuse for not treating it with as much care as proofreading.

The client will notice if you do a slapdash job of formatting, even if the document initially looks acceptable. For instance, if you start a new page by pressing return several times instead of inserting a page break, any changes the client then makes could throw out the spacing, revealing the ‘shortcut’ you took and making the document look terrible.

2. Don’t Get Distracted

Do one thing at a time. If you’ve been asked to proofread and format a document, it can help to treat these as separate tasks. As such, you may want to save the formatting for when you have finished proofreading. Or, minimally, you should make sure to review the formatting once you’ve finished proofreading, even if you’ve done them at the same time.

Furthermore, if you’ve been asked for formatting only, do not make unsolicited changes (no matter how poor the writing is). At most, you should leave a comment in the document suggesting that the client has their work proofread.

3. Don’t Get Carried Away

A request for formatting isn’t an invitation to showcase your design skills. If the client does not provide specific instructions, ask them to clarify their requirements. If they are looking for help with the design, you may have to explain that this is not the same as formatting in the conventional sense, though you may be able to reach a compromise.

Even if you know how to apply extra design elements to a document, there’s usually no need to create a glamorous, colourful front page or use lots of fancy fonts unless you have been asked to. In fact, fancy fonts can even make a document look amateurish if used poorly.
And don’t get us started on the scourge of Word Art…


4. Know What Different Kinds of Documents Look Like

Context is important in formatting. A dissertation will have certain attributes (a front page, a table of contents, etc.) that are not expected in a shorter essay. Similarly, a CV should ideally fit onto one or two pages, but it should still be clearly presented and easy to read.

In summary: the correct formatting may depend on the document type. Hopefully, your client will have given you instructions for their preferred approach. But it never hurts to know the standard formatting style for different types of documents, too.

5. Strive for Clarity and Consistency

Finally, just as with proofreading, when in doubt aim for two things:

1. Readability
2. Consistency

This means that the main text should be a uniform style throughout. Headings should be larger than paragraph text; subheadings should be somewhere in the middle. There should be no accidental blank pages or large areas of blank space. Images should not overlap text.

In this regard, a little bit of common sense goes a long way.