Nearly all the information I can find about Standard Manuscript Format for poetry is described in terms of the visual appearance of the page. For stanzas, a space equal to the size of one line of text should occur after each and before the next.

What's the standard for how to create that space, with a word processor? Is it still just two line returns, or is this now preferably done with paragraph styles?

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    I'm finding your question disturbing. It's poetry for goodness sake! – SF. Oct 2 '13 at 7:17
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    Current industry standard is to use a Stanza Stretcher and winch them apart by 120% of the type size. (Brits use 134%, I forget why -- something to do with the metric conversion.) You can pick one up at any decent stationery shop. I like the Forsooth by Shakespeare brand; I've had one for about 20 years now and it's still accurate. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Oct 2 '13 at 11:43
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    SF, Lauren, however poetic OP's poetry is, if he's submitting it professionally he quite correctly wants it to look perfect. You don't submit an MS in crayon, and if submitting a poetry MS could benefit from word-processing styles, that's useful information. – Standback Oct 2 '13 at 14:22
  • (That said, I think describing paragraph styles as a "standard" might be a slight exaggeration. You probably mean more on the lines of "what looks good, is correct, and is easy to work with?") – Standback Oct 2 '13 at 14:23
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    @Standback This is an "ask your publisher how they want the ms" question. In Graphic Design it's an "ask your printer" question. There's no "right" answer. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Oct 2 '13 at 16:15

As a general rule-of-thumb, "hitting the Enter key twice" is never the correct answer to any question about formatting text in a word processor.

That action does not add a line space after the current paragraph, it creates an additional (empty) paragraph. If your workflow (or that of your publisher) carries out any automated task on each paragraph, those extra paragraphs will create problems later. To avoid those problems, do not create empty paragraphs.

If you wish to change the visual appearance of a stanza, then the appropriate way is to modify its paragraph style.


For those of us who write and publish poetry this is a serious question. I came looking for 'what do people usually do' because I'm trying to set up a poetry book manuscript in Scrivener. 'Ask your publisher' is a good answer if you have one lined up!

I agree with Fortiter that it makes more sense to make each stanza a paragraph and use paragraph spacing to separate them. I used to do it that way -- but I found that sometimes my stanza breaks got lost in translation, especially on web magazines, so I have gone back to making each line a paragraph and indicating stanza breaks by blank lines, because that, clumsy as it is, makes it absolutely clear what's going on. It's worth remembering that much poetry publishing is done by amateurs with limited typesetting skills.

Another difficulty is that if there are really long lines that create a turnover (ie, wrap onto the following line -- think Walt Whitman!) you will probably want hanging indents for just those lines. The easiest way to to do that is to make the line a paragraph so you can manipulate the left indent and first-line indent.


I have searched the internet high and low for how to do this. I assume the goal is to keep stanzas intact, i.e., keep them from running together at the publishing end of things. An explanation at Formatting a Poetry Manuscript (thanetwriters.com) suggests holding down Shift and pressing Return. This does indeed create a break between two stanzas, and the break is retained even if the text shifts across pages. (Forget their explanation, though; it seems to say the opposite.) So, for a stanza break, hold down Shift and press Return. I'm new to formatting poetry submissions for publication, so hope I have understood the issue and am helping, not hindering.

  • Close! When you do shift+return in many word processors, you insert a "soft line break." Regular return inserts a "line break." The difference? Default return ends the paragraph, in our case the stanza, and starts a new one. Soft break ends the line and starts a new one. Visually, results vary, so word processors have paragraph styles. Style rules can say "put 3 line spaces after every stanza" (for example) and you only have to hit return once between paragraphs. This eliminates hardcoded breaks that can frustrate the process later on in editing and layout for books and web. – Dylan Kinnett Apr 2 at 13:20

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