You’ve sent your manuscript off to your editor, and it comes back covered in red hieroglyphs.
Dumbfounded, you’re not quite sure what to make of it, and so you turn to the internet for help.
And that’s where this article comes in!
Today, we’ll go through what all those hieroglyphs – that is, proofreading marks – mean. The next time you look at your edited manuscript, it will be like discovering a brand new language entirely and realizing you can now read it.
What are proofreading marks?
So, what are proofreading marks in the first place?
Proofreading marks are used to point out any operational, punctuation, typography, and other mistakes in your manuscript that ought to be edited.
You will usually find proofreading marks in the margins of a manuscript, although some proofreaders will insert them in the text itself, which is why it’s often recommended to create double-spaced manuscripts to give your proofreader more room.
Proofreading marks are most commonly applied to hard-copy manuscripts, which is why they’re becoming increasingly rare nowadays – after all, many editors now use tracked changes in Microsoft Word to edit manuscripts digitally.
However, working with a pen and paper is another experience entirely, and some editors prefer it because it allows them to approach your text with a fresh perspective.
Your job as an author is to be able to decode the proofreading marks they leave behind and integrate your editor’s suggestions accordingly.
Of course, this isn’t very easy if you’re just seeing proofreading marks for the first time in your life. It’s a very specific language of its own, and there’s a high chance you will need to read through a guide in order to unpack the meaning of every single mark.
Luckily for you, that’s exactly what we’re about to do.
Let’s start off with something simple – punctuation.
Punctuation marks are pretty straightforward because they’re all about inserting specific punctuation symbols, such as commas, apostrophes, dashes, and more.
Here’s a useful overview:
These marks tend to come with an up or down arrow.
The up arrow (⌃) is used for marks that appear at the bottom of letters, such as commas, while the down arrow (⌄) is often used for quotation or apostrophe marks.
Some marks – like periods or colons – can come in circles as well.
Please note: There is a difference between a hyphen, an Em dash, and an En dash.
- An Em dash is the longest one (—) and it’s often used to connect sentences (“Josh told her he was quite fond of her — something that was very much out of character for him — and left the room”)\
- An En dash has a medium length (–) and it tends to highlight a relationship between two words or numbers (“There were 10–15 people” or “The London–Prague flight takes two hours”)
- A hyphen (-) connects two words to create a meaning, for example, compound adjectives or compound nouns (“My mother-in-law is very kind” or “Write a one-page essay”)
Alright, moving on to operational marks! These focus on spacing, paragraphs, deletion, and more.
Have a look at this image:
As you can see, operational marks are a tiny bit more complicated than punctuation marks.
But worry not! Here’s an overview of what all these marks mean:
- Delete: This refers to a word that should be deleted from the sentence
- Delete & close up: This refers to a letter within a word that should be deleted
- Close up: Delete space
- Mark new paragraph: Begin a new paragraph where the mark stands
- Spell out: Spell the word in full (e.g, “ok” -> “okay”)
- Move left: Move your writing left
- Move right: Move your writing right
- Let it stand: If the proofreader went through the text more than once and decided to alter their previous correction, they’ll put down “stet” to let you know you should leave the original version as it is
- Insert space: Insert space where the mark stands
Next comes typography! This is the part where your proofreader tells you what you should capitalize, set in italics or boldface, and which words ought to be in lowercase.
These are the basics:
- caps: Set in capital letters
- Ic: Set in lowercase letters
- bf: Set in boldface
- ital: Set in italics
- rom: Set in roman
- wf: Wrong font
- sm cap: Set in small caps
Sometimes, capitalization is also shown as three horizontal lines.
We’re not quite finished yet – there are a few more abbreviations you should memorize in order to understand the proofreading language in its entirety.
- tr: transpose two words the proofreader selected (change their order in the sentence)
- ww: wrong word
- dict: faulty diction
- rep: too repetitive
- awk: awkward construction
- wdw: too wordy, make more concise
- r-o: run-on sentence
Why is proofreading important?
Now that you know what proofreading marks are and how to decode them, it’s time to ask the question, “Why is proofreading important in the first place? And how is it different from editing?”
While some people use the two terms interchangeably, editing and proofreading are actually two different parts of the editing process.
In general, editing goes into much more depth – for example, structural editing looks at your story overall, including your character arcs and your plot development – while proofreading centers around grammar, punctuation, typography, and layout.
While proofreading tends to be quicker – it’s essentially the final correction before your manuscript goes to print or is submitted to the publisher – it’s just as important as editing.
Small details matter, so don’t underestimate the importance of proofreading.
Use proofreading marks to polish your own manuscript
Professional proofreaders aren’t the only ones who get to use proofreading marks.
If you are self-editing your own manuscript and want to do one final round of revisions on paper, using proofreading marks can help you get through the text faster and make the process much more effective.
Instead of coming up with your own elaborate system for inserting punctuation, changing word order, or deleting paragraphs, you already have a solid set of rules to learn and refer to.
Reach out to a professional proofreader for help
Of course, two sets of eyes are better than one, so it’s always a good idea to send your manuscript to a professional in the field.
Don’t worry, not all proofreaders use proofreading marks – tracked changes in Microsoft Word or Google Documents are much more common nowadays – but if they do, you now know how to decipher them!
A professional proofreader will ensure that your manuscript is free of errors, typos, and spelling mistakes, and what’s more, they’ll also look at technical aspects that many writers don’t pay as much attention to, such as your font, spacing, and typography.
At FirstEditing, for example, we offer proofreading services as well as high-quality editing packages. From copy editing to line editing and content editing, feel free to pick whichever package suits your needs.
And remember – now that you know how to use proofreading marks, why not print out your manuscript and go over it with these new symbols in mind before you submit it to a professional editor or proofreader?
You’ve just learned a whole new language, so have some fun with it!