Home » Blog » Separating Writing from Formatting

As I began writing a manuscript that I plan to submit to a specific journal, I thought it would make sense to follow that journal’s style sheet, which is rather different from what I am used to. I noticed, however, that I was constantly looking things up, from the very first sentence. How do I cite that source with this particular system? How do I spell that word in British English? How do I handle quotation marks for this particular situation? It was hard to get any thinking and writing done under such circumstances.

I have decided to put an end to these unnecessary distractions by separating the formatting from the writing, making the formatting a separate step in my workflow. I will write in plain text documents without any formatting and using only basic parenthetic citations. I will focus on the content during all stages of the writing, editing, and rewriting. And then I will worry about the formatting. That will mean extra work in the end, but it will enable me to write without unnecessary distractions, which is what I need.

I handled many sections of the dissertation in a similar way, even when I was working with a style I understood, Chicago. In that case, I wrote five or ten pages at a time, and then I integrated it into the word processing document with formatting—after I was sure about what I was doing. This process also enabled me to devote those times when my mental energy was highest to just plain writing, and then I could turn to formatting when my brain was less sharp but still able to perform basic tasks.

One other advantage to the plain-text format: I will be able to edit or add text on the go with my iPad, whose text files I keep synced via Dropbox. Ideas often come to me on the bus, so this is no small thing.