Proofreading Marks: What Are They and How to Use Them

In today's digital world, much of the editing we do on manuscripts happens in Microsoft Word documents or our favorite writing software (Atticus, anyone?).

But, many writers and editors recommend that you use a hard copy for proofreading. In fact, most proofreaders prefer working this way, but that also means that you'll get a manuscript back that's marred with proofreading marks.

And if you're not sure what these marks mean, then the proofreading was pointless.

Each proofreading symbol or mark has a specific meaning. They're designed to help you get your text as close as possible to perfect. So, let's look at the most common editing marks you'll see when you work with a proofreader.

Want to know more about editing and editors? We've got a master guide on the subject that you will not want to miss.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What proofreading marks are
  2. What you should know about them
  3. What are the specific symbols used in proofreading

What Are Proofreading Marks?

Put simply, proofreading marks are the shorthand symbols used by proofreaders to identify errors in a text. They are also used to give suggestions or point out formatting issues.

Proofreading marks are usually left in the margins or within the text itself. This is why a proofreader will often ask for your manuscript to be double spaced, so as to provide room for these marks.

With the popularization of digital editing, especially with the powerful tools of a word processor like Microsoft Word, these punctuation marks have fallen out of use for a large portion of the population.

That said, they are still crucial to understand if you want to be a writer. Editors are still trained in the use of proofreading marks, and they are still widely used in some circles.

Want to know more? Check out this podcast all about proofreading your work!

What to Know About Proofreader's Marks

When you hand your text document over to a proofreading service, you can be fairly confident that the copyediting team there is well versed in proofreading marks. You’ll probably receive a style sheet (sometimes called a worksheet) from the proofreader. Or, if your book has already been through another type of edit, you may have already received one of these sheets. If so, it’s important to give it to the proofreader.

Style sheets are incredibly useful for maintaining consistency through the different editing processes.

Your proofreader/editor is most likely to use common proofreading marks as set out in the Chicago Manual of Style. There may be some slight differences in how they comment on your document, but most proofreaders' marks are similar and standardized.

Pro tip: It’s always a good idea to use proofreading software before you hand your manuscript over to a human proofreader!

Punctuation Marks

The following marks focus on punctuation. They include inserting:

  • Commas
  • Dialogue tags
  • Apostrophes
  • Periods, question marks, exclamation points, etc.
  • Dashes

Most of these marks are easy to spot as they are a simple up or down arrow, like this:

⌃ or ⌄

The proofreader will insert whatever punctuation symbol you’re missing.

The up arrow is used for inserting marks at the bottom of the word, such as a semicolon or comma.

The down arrow is used for an apostrophe or single quotation mark.

The main exception to this is the symbol for inserting a period, which is a dot in a circle, as you’ll see on the image below.

punctuation marks for period, apostrophe, semicolon, colon, comma, and hyphen

Operational Marks

A proofreader will use operational marks to indicate that something needs to be changed regarding:

  • Spacing
  • A new paragraph
  • A missing word
  • Deletion

Perhaps the most common and recognizable of these marks are the delete mark and the paragraph mark. But there are some that you may not be familiar with.

operational marks for delete, close up, delete and close up, insert, space, and transpose, let stand, new paragraph, remove paragraph break, move to a new position, move left, flush left, flush right, move right, center, raise, and lower

Typography Marks & Proofreading Abbreviations

Typography marks deal with the words of each sentence. They look to see for proper use of lowercase letters, capitalization, and italics. These proofreading marks will also indicate a misspelled word, and any other sentence-level mistake.

When looking through your document, you'll also see some proofreader marks that are simple abbreviations. These are ways for your editor to tell you that you need some form of proof correction there. Here are some of the most common ones.

typography marks for spell out and abbreviate, lower case, capitalize, capitalize first letter and lower case remainder, and let stand, set in italics, set in bold, wrong font, and set in small caps

Proofreading Marks: Conclusion

One proofreader's mark may differ slightly from another's, but they’re generally close enough for you to tell what they mean.

If you're not sure, you can always ask your copyeditor or proofreader about it. In fact, you should never be hesitant to ask them about any of the marks in the text that are confusing. This is part of the editing process, and editors make mistakes sometimes, too.

Still, whether you're working from a word document, a pdf, or a hard copy, you can benefit from a proofreader's expertise. And although proof correction symbols aren't used as often today, they aren't likely to go anywhere, so familiarizing yourself with them can help you in the long run!

Want to know more about proofreading? Listen to this short podcast episode all about it!

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