Adding markup and formats

This section describes how to mark up a document using Microsoft Word. Because it’s widely used, it is the most common starting point for most publishing projects. In the conversion process, these Word formats will be mapped to the markup tags and formatting instructions used in ebooks. 


Paragraph IconHere’s the general approach we will be taking. In the next few sections, and in the following module on Production, we’ll cover this process in detail.

  • We begin with the manuscript in MS Word format as it arrives from the author or editor
  • In MS Word, we apply specific styles to mark up each key element of the manuscript, with one style per element type (eg chapter heading, paragraph)
  • The marked-up manuscript is uploaded to a conversion tool or service which will map each MS Word style to the corresponding ebook ‘tag’ which the e-reader uses to correctly display the ebook

Which formats to apply

You don’t have to apply a lot of formatting to a manuscript to get a good result when it’s converted to an ebook. But you do need to apply the right formatting. Although a lot of the formatting we do is aimed at making a document look good in a word processor or on the printed page, this formatting doesn’t work well when it’s an ebook.

Here are some examples of formatting that you should avoid altogether or use sparingly if you want your ebook to be readable by as many e-readers as possible:

Use sparingly and consistently

  • Font faces
  • Type sizes
  • Paragraph styles

Avoid if possible

  • Columns
  • Tabs
  • Tables (convert to images instead)
  • Floating text boxes (i.e. text placed in boxes that can be moved around a page)
  • Floating images (i.e. images that can be moved around a page)
  • Headers and footers

Many of these features will be rejected by the programs that convert a document into an ebook. The new ebook formats, EPUB3 and Kindle KF8, include support for most of these features but even if they get through the conversion process, they will still cause formatting problems on many e-readers.

Applying markup styles

Styles are the key to effective markup of a manuscript. A ‘style’ bundles together several format commands (e.g. font style, font size, indent, line spacing) into a single named style. Word processors come with some common styles, such as Normal, Body Text, Heading, and Quote. They also let you create and customize new ones. Using styles offers several benefits:

  • It saves time and errors by letting you apply the same group of formats consistently with a single command.
  • You can change the format of every instance just by changing the format once in the style definition. The changes automatically ripple through the document.
  • It can help automated processes, such as ebook conversion programs, to understand the structure of the document and correctly convert it.

To find styles, look under the Format menu for Styles and Formatting (in OpenOffice or Word 2003), or in the Home toolbar of later versions of Word. Most word processors also have a dropdown box on the main toolbar with a selection of common styles.

View a video (3:11) showing the basics of using styles in MS Word 2010

There are two main types of styles relevant to ebook preparation.

  • Paragraph styles apply their formats to all text within a paragraph. A paragraph’s start and end is marked-up by the paragraph-return (Enter) key. To apply a paragraph style, click anywhere within the paragraph, then click on the chosen style. Examples are Heading 1-6 styles. 
  • Character styles apply their formats to any selected text, from a single character to many pages. To apply a character style, select the relevant text then click on the style.

Most of the styles required for ebook conversion are paragraph styles. For basic character formats – boldface, italic, and underline – most converters will recognize the one-click shortcuts (B  I  U), but anything more involved should be marked up using a character style.

Important tip: When you are working with styles, it’s a good idea to see exactly where paragraph returns are as they have a big effect on the formatting of the ebook. The way to do this is to make paragraph marks visible. In Word 2010, for instance, you click on the paragraph mark  icon ¶  in the Home screen toolbar and it turns hidden paragraph marks into visible paragraph icons. In OpenOffice, you’ll find the same function under View Non-printing characters.


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.

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