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What is a Manuscript?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Manuscript is a general term that refers to any work not officially printed or reproduced. Basically, manuscripts are always unpublished works. The Latin manu scriptus means written by hand. Today, a manuscript usually refers to an author's originally produced work sent to a publisher.

Authors today usually submit manuscripts printed from a computer. Some writers may still use typewriters or even hand-write their works, but publishers usually have strict guidelines for manuscript formats. Each publisher has its own guidelines, but certain conventions must be followed in today's publishing world. For example, only white paper with black ink is acceptable when submitting a manuscript. Writers who try to stand out with colored papers and inks usually find their work unread and not taken seriously by publishers.

All publishers want manuscripts that are easy to read. Fonts that are easy on the eyes as well as wide margins and double spacing is necessary when submitting manuscripts. Editors and readers that work in publishing houses read many works, and of course they consider both their time and eyesight valuable. It's important for authors to follow each publisher’s exact manuscript formatting requirements. The reason that publishers request double spacing is to have enough space to add notes and suggestions to authors.

Some book and magazine publishers accept manuscripts sent on a computer disc, but many still do not. Web publishers of online information usually do accept online manuscripts and many have their own website management systems for writers to use directly. Such tools are usually convenient for authors and are also more environmentally friendly since the use of paper is eliminated.

Between 500 - 1500 A.D., the time known as the medieval period, manuscripts were usually written on vellum or parchment. Vellum and parchment are paper-like products traditionally made from the skins and guts of animals such as calves, sheep and goats. Today, vellum or parchment is mostly created by processing wood fiber. However, manuscripts today are sent to publishers on more inexpensive, smoother paper. Paper is also made from wood fiber as well as wood pulp, but it lacks the mottled texture of parchment or vellum.

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Discussion Comments
By Heavanet — On Mar 14, 2014

I think this is a very interesting article about manuscript papers, something that you never see a lot of details about. I found it particularly fascinating to learn about manuscripts being written on vellum in ancient times.

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