Making Your Own Ebook Part Eight – How to clean the formatting in your Word file

Now that you know how set up a clean template for your Ebook how do you apply it?

If you have NOT written your story

This is the easiest situation to handle and it just takes a little preparation to make things work really well. The sequence is straightforward.

  1. Create a new document for the book. This makes sure that there are no Manual Styles already in place. If you are using existing document the best approach before adding Styles is to clear all previous Manual Styles before you begin but it is generally easier to start with
  2. Create the framework for the book as described in the previous posts…
  3. … Or use the template you created in the earlier exercises
  4. Start writing…

If you have already written your story…

If you have already written your story then the word-processor file will probably be full of formatting, some of it invisible to you, which can mess up your output. You have two options:

  1. Go through a clean-up process for your existing file.
  2. Take a drastic step and strip out all the existing formatting and create styles for each paragraph and character style used in the book. Step 2 may not be too “drastic” if you don’t have a lot of formatting as it can be quick to reformat Chapter headings etc. once the Style is in place.
    You can strip out all formatting by copying and pasting all the text from Word to “Notepad”, or another plain text processor (You can get these free on the Web and I will post the links for the best FREE versions at the end of this series). This will strip out ALL the formatting – including Bold & Italics. Then copy & paste the text from the “notepad” file back into a new Word document using your Ebook template styles. This is actually the best way to do the clean-up as no styles will remain in the plain text file.

We will deal with each of these solutions separately but with both solutions you will need to make visible all the usually invisible formatting marks in your document. We went through this in an earlier Post where we showed how to use “File / Options / Display / Show all formatting features” to reveal all formatting marks. Do this before you start the clean-up so that you can see the marks and take appropriate action. You can turn them off later if they are in your way.

When we receive Word files from clients, to create either Ebooks or Print Books, we go through the processes below in order to get a clean file to work with. If we don’t do the clean-up we generally get problems at a later stage when converting to EPUB or MOBI so a clean-up is always the first step for us.

Tools: Find and Replace

If you have not had to use the Find & Replace function before it is easily started in Word using the keyboard shortcut “Ctrl h” or by clicking on the “Replace” icon in the top right corner of the Ribbon.

Word 24 - Replace function

Once open, the Replace dialogue looks like this:

Word 25 - Replace Dialogue Screen

There are many possible searches and I will go through some of them in detail as we go through the clean-up process.

How to clean an existing file:

  • Make a backup copy of you file before you start just in case anything goes wrong.
  • Remove Justification
  • Turn off Hyphenation
  • Remove headers and page numbering: There are no page numbers in Ebooks and if you have them they may appear in inappropriate places. You need to remove them completely.
  • Remove columns – they don’t work in Ebooks
  • Remove text boxes ‑ they don’t work in Ebooks
  • Check for and deal with any special characters. Don’t use an oddball font to get special characters. If you can’t find them in Times New Roman and Arial/Helvetica then your Ebook reader will probably have problems in finding them too and will display something incorrect.
  • Make sure that any bullet lists or numbered lists are based on the Built-in styles within Word and do not use “inserted” symbols for Bullets or manually inserted numbers. These can give unpredictable results

For the next few parts of the process the “Find & Replace tool is the quickest way to make changes. You will find the “Paragraph Mark”, “Tabs” and “Manual Line returns” in the “Special” menu at the bottom of the Dialog box:

  • Remove extra paragraph returns using Find & Replace:Word 27 - Double Para Mark ReplaceTo insert the paragraph symbols in the Find or Replace boxes, use “Special / Paragraph Mark“. Do this twice for the Find box and once for the “Replace with” box. Make sure there are no spaces before or after the symbols then click on “Replace All”.
    You may have to click Replace All several times to remove all repeated paragraph marks.
  • When you have deleted all the double “Paragraph” markers you can create and apply Styles to make spaces between paragraphs.
  • You also need to search for unneeded spaces before and after paragraph marks as these can cause display problems on some readers. To remove spaces after the Paragraph Mark – keep the previous Find open; delete the second Paragraph Mark in the Find box and replace with a space. Just hit the spacebar for this. Then hit Replace All. Repeat as needed.
  • Remove Leading spaces, remove the space after the single Paragraph Mark in the Find box and put a space in front of the mark. Then hit Replace All. Repeat as needed.
  • Remove manual line breaks. Use the Find & Replace function as described above but click on “Line Break” in the drop-down menu to insert the symbol in the Find Box. Place a Paragraph Mark in the Replace box. Hit Replace All. Repeat as needed.
  • Remove page breaks and create your chapter breaks by setting up a style with “Page break before” ticked in the Paragraph style
  • Remove all tabs: TABS do not work properly in Ebook files. They can cause skipped lines, compressed text, font size changes and other strange problems. You have to create styles to give the needed indents.
    Use the same Find & Replace function as before but click on the tab symbol to place it in the Find box. This time leave the Replace box blank but make sure there are no spaces there before hitting the Replace All key. Again, repeat the Replace All as needed until no Tabs are found.
  • Remove extra spaces between words, sentences, and before and after paragraph returns. Lots of people use a double space before each new sentence (it used to look good on typed letters) but E-readers justify text by spreading out the spaces between words so extra spaces between sentences can look very strange. Extra spaces at the beginning of paragraphs will give uneven results and extra spaces at the ends of paragraphs can cause blank pages.
    Use the same find & Replace function but this time with two spaces in the Find box and a single space in the Replace box. Hit Replace All until no more double spaces are found.
  • Get all the commas and inverted commas, around dialogue etc., turned in the right direction. You can do this by replacing all occurrences of “ with “. That means search for “Double Inverted Commas” and replace with “Double Inverted Commas”. This process should change all “Double Inverted Commas” to “Smart quotes” and get them the right way round. You will still have to check them when you do your proofreading in case spaces between characters have messed things up.
    Using the Find & Replace function you just type the commas into the Find box and Replace Box before hitting the Replace All button.
  • Do the same process for single quotes!
  • Only use hyphens to hyphenate words. If you want a text separator you need to use the “n-dash” but you need to have a space before and after ( ‑ ) (space n-dash space). If you have no spaces around the dash you can have line break problems.
    You may not have used the n-dash ( – ) before. Its name is an old printing term and refers to the width of the space taken up by the lower-case letter n in a standard set of type. In Word you can insert an n-dash using the key combination “Ctrl+Shift+-” (this is the minus sign on the top line of numbers not the Numeric keypad. (You can also insert it using the ASCII combination Alt+0150 on the numeric keypad.)
    When changing hyphens to n-dashes in the “Replace” dialogue you can find the n-dash in the “Special” menu at the bottom of the box: Just make sure that you place the cursor in the replace box before clicking on Special / En Dash. That will insert the dash in the find box.

Word 26 - n-dash in Replace Dialogue

  • Don’t use the “M-dash” in Ebooks. You may find it easier during writing to use a double hyphen and then go back using the Find & Replace function to change to n-dashes.
  • Un-centre “centred” text and create a new style to centre text and get what you need.
  • Create a style for scene dividers or section breaks: I use 3 or 5 asterisks with a 16 pt space above and below.
  • Create styles for special layouts such as lists, block quotes, centred text, etc.
  • Create styles for Bold, Italic, Underlining, Hyperlinks, etc.
    If you are used to blogging, using WordPress for example, you may know that you can get a good result using “Ctrl B” or Ctrl I” to apply those styles. But that doesn’t work well for E-books. For Ebooks you can either create specific character styles for Bold, Italic and Bold-Italic. OR you can built-in styles “Strong”, “Emphasis” or “Intense Emphasis” to get the same effects. When you do this the Ebook conversion software will create a specific style in the CSS file which will help to make sure that the text is displayed with your chosen style on the E-reader.
  • You also need to use the proper ellipse character NOT three full-stops (periods) in a row … This can confuse E-readers and split lines unexpectedly as the reader will interpret as three “Full Stops (Periods)”.
    You can use the Find & Replace function to make the change. Type three Full Stops (Periods) into the Find box and place an ellipsis in the Replace box and click Replace All.
    One of the reasons that many people use three dots instead of the proper ellipsis symbol is that it is not clear where to get the symbol. All you have to do is: Click at the position in the document where you want the ellipsis to appear and press “ALT + CTRL + . ” on the keyboard.
  • Use Fonts that are available in E-readers:
    One problem we often see is where the writer uses a font that is not one of the built-in fonts that are installed on Ebook readers. The reader will do its best to display the closest font match, with unpredictable results. The problem occurs when the font is “defined” by the word processor. Then it cannot be changed in the Ebook reader’s choice of display fonts.
  • Don’t “define” the line spacing in your Word document. If you do this it will probably override the definition in your reader… again with undesirable results.
  • If you decide to have graphics, illustrations or photos in your book you may already have discovered that it is hard to tell how and where these will appear when you convert to a Kindle or EPUB file. There are numerous reasons for the unpredictable results and the best way to get them to appear correctly is to get into the HTML/XML file and modify them manually so that their size is defined as either a percentage (of the unknown device screen width) or in Ems.
    I will do a separate post about Images sometime in the future.
  • When you do a clean-up of a file you will always need to proofread it again afterwards!

There are many other things that you can search for and check, depending on the formatting and fonts in your document, and you can use the Find & Replace tool for these. Explore the function and you can see that you can search for fonts & styles, use Wildcards, etc. to make your clean-up easier.

Next time we are going to cover the “Drastic Option” of stripping out all the formatting and replacing it with Styles. We will use the Find & Replace tool again but this time in a very different way!

©DavidCronin 2015 The Ebook Doctor


David Cronin


After over 30 years as a senior executive across the cable, telecommunications and cable television industries, David Cronin founded the Indie Publishing company Moyhill in 2004. Already involved with computers since the mid 1970s he quickly made the transition to book designer and publisher and the first book that Moyhill published in 2004, The Red Tailed Hawk, in Spanish won best digital print book in the UK that year.

Since then Moyhill has set up authors as their own publishers and has formatted several award winning novels and non-fiction titles.  It is essentially a one-man operation and this enables a one-to-one relationship with authors throughout the entire process.

After this series has been completed next week David will be holding a Q&A session via the blog for those authors who have read the series but still have questions.

If after that you feel you need more assistance to give your book a final polished format then you can contact him direct on