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Proofreading Marks: What Do They Mean?

Proofreading Marks: What Do They Mean?

As a new author, there’s nothing more important than a properly edited piece of writing. It can make or break your submissions, and editors on any level, for any project, will no doubt have notes to give you!

While many writers use the Track Changes function on Word, or apps that can add changes or allow for suggestions from editors, there are still some writers opting for old-school hand-written edits.

But why do proofreaders use all sorts of symbols and silly markings to edit your work? More than that, what do all of these marks mean?

These unusual red scribbles are a necessary evil when it comes to your work being edited, and they can mean a variety of things. Let’s go over what proofreading marks are, and how you can best decipher them before your next big round of edits.

What are Proofreading Marks?

These special signs and symbols relate to sections of your work that need editing or adjusting. This can range from spelling errors to grammatical errors to formatting preferences.

These forms of corrections may be less frequently found these days, due to the progression of “track changes” and “suggestions” in many word processing applications. However, some of the symbols are widely used so every writer should familiarise themselves appropriately. It’s also worth noting that some editors that have their own special characters too – so it’s important to reach out to your proofreader should you not understand their corrections.

How might these marks be used, and what are some marks that have been universally accepted by editors and proofreaders? Let’s go over these now…

How Proofreading Marks are Used

Proofreading marks are used by editors to point out changes that need making in your document. They are typically located in the right and left margins of a printed document with pointers to where in the text changes are recommended.

Both copy editing symbols and abbreviations will be found along your margins or in your text and various sentences, and they can mean anything from improper sentence spacing to transposing your sentence in an entirely different way for clarity. 

You will have slashes through words (which means please remove) and abbreviations for formatting changes (such as italics and bold). You will encounter odd squiggles (often meaning “delete” or “transpose”), and your proofreader may even rewrite whole sentences in your margins.

Yes, proofreading marks can be overwhelming, especially if you weren’t expecting so many specific edits! These shorthand symbols took me a while to learn and were more complicated than I expected them to be, so be patient with yourself. Once you’ve gone through multiple rounds of edits with the same proofreader you’ll soon get the hang of it.

What are the Common Proofreading Symbols?

Here’s a comprehensive list of proofreading marks. Note that there are two types – abstract symbols and abbreviations.

  • ^   – Insert something, most likely an edit found in your margins
  • ㄉ – Delete this word or section; usually this symbol will appear in the margins of your work while there will be a diagonal or straight line through the specific word, letter, or sentence that needs deleting
  • [  – Move your writing left
  • ]  – Move your writing right
  • ] [  – Center your text
  • #  – Add space
  • eq#  – Make the spacing equal
  • bf  – Bold a section of text
  • Ital  – Italicise a section of text
  • (/) – Insert some parentheses
  • [/] – Insert some brackets
  • =  – Insert a hyphen
  • ;/ – Insert a semicolon
  • ! – Insert an exclamation point
  • ? – Insert a question mark
  • ~  – Transpose (meaning rewrite the sentence, usually)
  • ❡  – Begin a new paragraph
  • fl  – Flush left, or align the text with the left margin
  • fr  – Flush right, or align the text with the right margin
  • AWK  – Something about a particular phrase or sentence is worded awkwardly or strangely
  • WW  – This refers to “wrong word”, such as using the wrong form of “there”
  • WDY  – A particular sentence is most likely too wordy, complicated, or overstated

This is only the beginning of the many possible symbols and proofreaders’ abbreviations. Communicate with your proofreader so you don’t misunderstand any specific symbols. You may also wish to refer to a professional proofreading mark guide, such as this helpful list.

How to use proofreading marks

While they may seem daunting and sometimes discouraging, these corrections are necessary for writers at any stage. No matter how many copy-editing marks you receive, know that you are on track to make your work the best it can be, with the help of a skilled proofreader!


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If you think you need copyediting for your manuscript, take a look at our copyediting services. Jericho Writers’ experienced editors specialise in editing both novels and non-fiction and would love to help you with your work. Click here for more.