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What is a Manuscript?

A manuscript is the original, author-written document of a work before it's published. It's the raw, unpolished draft that captures the creator's vision, often filled with notes and edits. This blueprint of a book, article, or study is the foundation from which polished, printed materials are born. Ever wondered what secrets lie within these pages? Join us to uncover the story behind the text.
Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

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 Basically, manuscripts are always unpublished works.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.

Manuscripts used to be written on vellum or parchment.
Manuscripts used to be written on vellum or parchment.

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.

Manuscripts undergo strict editing before being published.
Manuscripts undergo strict editing before being published.

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.

It's important for authors to follow each publisher’s exact manuscript formatting requirements.
It's important for authors to follow each publisher’s exact manuscript formatting requirements.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a manuscript?

Ancient vellum was made from calves or goats.
Ancient vellum was made from calves or goats.

A manuscript is an original document containing the text of a book, article, or other written work before it is published. It can be handwritten, typed, or digitally composed. Manuscripts are the foundational material from which published works are derived, often undergoing revisions and edits before reaching their final form. They hold significant value for researchers and historians as they provide insights into the author's creative process and the development of the text.

How does a manuscript differ from a printed book?

Manu scriptus is Latin, meaning 'written by hand'.
Manu scriptus is Latin, meaning 'written by hand'.

A manuscript differs from a printed book in that it is the preliminary version of the work, not yet subjected to the formal publishing process. It may contain errors, notes, and corrections, reflecting the author's thought process. In contrast, a printed book is the polished product, formatted, typeset, and mass-produced for public consumption. Manuscripts often have unique features that do not appear in the final print, such as marginalia or doodles, making them valuable to collectors and scholars.

What is the historical significance of manuscripts?

Some writers still utilize typewriters when creating a manuscript.
Some writers still utilize typewriters when creating a manuscript.

Historically, manuscripts are of immense significance as they represent the primary method of recording and disseminating knowledge before the invention of the printing press. They provide a direct link to the past, offering insights into the culture, language, and thought of the time they were created. Manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the original drafts of Shakespeare's plays are priceless cultural treasures that have shaped our understanding of history and literature.

Can a manuscript be something other than a book?

Yes, a manuscript can be more than just a book. It encompasses a wide range of written materials, including musical scores, personal letters, diaries, legal documents, and academic theses. Essentially, any document that is written by hand or typed before being formally published can be considered a manuscript. These documents are crucial for various fields of study, including musicology, history, and literary criticism.

How are manuscripts preserved and studied today?

Manuscripts are preserved and studied through meticulous conservation efforts by libraries, archives, and museums. They are often digitized to prevent further deterioration and to make them accessible to a broader audience. Scholars analyze manuscripts using various methodologies, including paleography, codicology, and textual criticism, to understand their provenance, authenticity, and historical context. These studies can reveal much about the social, cultural, and intellectual climates in which the manuscripts were produced.

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Discussion Comments

Heavanet

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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    • Manuscripts used to be written on vellum or parchment.
      By: Andrea Izzotti
      Manuscripts used to be written on vellum or parchment.
    • Manuscripts undergo strict editing before being published.
      By: Pixsooz
      Manuscripts undergo strict editing before being published.
    • It's important for authors to follow each publisher’s exact manuscript formatting requirements.
      By: michaeljung
      It's important for authors to follow each publisher’s exact manuscript formatting requirements.
    • Ancient vellum was made from calves or goats.
      By: LittleSteven65
      Ancient vellum was made from calves or goats.
    • Manu scriptus is Latin, meaning 'written by hand'.
      By: gosphotodesign
      Manu scriptus is Latin, meaning 'written by hand'.
    • Some writers still utilize typewriters when creating a manuscript.
      By: evasilchenko
      Some writers still utilize typewriters when creating a manuscript.