Document Formatting


Definitions of document formatting:

  • Formatted text: is any text that contains special formatting such as font size, font colour, bold, italic, styles, etc. When copying text, formatted text is any text that keeps its settings from where it is copied from.

University students need their assignments, dissertations, thesis, Honors, Ph.D.’s, Masters, MBA, etc. formatted. These assignments and documents need specific formatting and styles depending on the University (often APA Style is used, though you will occasionally get Harvard style formatting etc.) Assignments for first and second-year students need to be formatted according to their professor’s guidelines (they will give you a copy of the guidelines, if they don’t, ask for them).

Clients will send in documents that they have tried to fix/format themselves. The trouble with these documents is, when we receive them, is that we never know how many times they have been formatted beforehand. Often, we have to clear the formatting because the document is so messed up and will not allow you to format it correctly. The formatting does not always clear, and it becomes far quicker to retype the document and make a fresh Master copy of it.

Formatting can be quick, or it can take hours, when the document has automatic numbering, TOC, graphics, charts, etc. A good skill to know for a VA or typist is the different University styles for formatting (APA, Harvard, etc.). Guidelines for these different formatting styles are available online and can get from the student.

When you are working with a client and they are using a different MS Office version to you, changes made by either you or the client can disturb the formatting. The settings between the different MS Office (Word and PowerPoint especially) versions are very different and therefore when a document is opened the formatting is different from what it was sent in. Ways to solve this is if your client uses a version less than you – you can save the document in a lower version than the MS Office you are using; if the client has an MS Office version higher than yours – you can upgrade to that higher MS Office version; you can also suggest to your client to upgrade to the version you are using if their version is lower than yours.

Anything published needs to be set out in particular formats. Books and articles need to be formatted into specific manuscript styles. Publishers are very fussy with how they want documents to be formatted; a good skill to learn is the different manuscript styles. Guidelines for these different manuscript styles are available online.

You can make up packages with formatting, basic formatting, medium to more involved which would include tables, graphics, and charts, etc. Premium where you are formatting using University styles (APA, Harvard, etc.) for Ph.D., Masters, etc. Three package styles for three different types of clients.

I charge clients an hourly rate for formatting and I keep them informed throughout, as the rate can grow. I tend to give an estimated quotation rate, so clients will know the rate can change, depending on the amount of work involved to format the document.

All rates are in accordance with SAFREA (Southern African Freelancer’s Association) 2018-2019 guidelines.

Great articles that go into more detail about formatting are: Beyond the Basics: Six Tips for Better Formatting in Microsoft Word   and


Tips from Gaynor:

If you have a PDF you’re retyping and you have the whole document in front of you set it all up first, set all your tab stops and line spacing before you start,

Type it in stages i.e., all first- level headings, then all second-level headings, then all paragraph bodies

Before you start make a note of all your levels and what their tab stops are so you can double check along the way.

Gaynor Paynter, Follow me on Twitter @TypewriteSA, Email:


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