A great deal of editing and proofreading is done onscreen, but that doesn’t mean that professional editors and proofreaders have stopped using proof-correction marks. The UK has one set of industry-recognised symbols: British Standards Institution (BSI) marks for copy preparation and proof correction. Other regions have their own industry standard symbols or may also use the BSI marks. In case you haven’t seen BSI marks, here are a few in use:
They are basically a type of code used to save time, save space and improve clarity. There is often very little space to mark corrections on proofs, and the corrections have to be understandable to everyone in the publishing process (particularly the typesetter). I find they save a lot of time compared to writing instructions out in full, and this led me to think that they are a resource that some authors might find useful.
BSI marks aren’t any use if you are editing your work in Word or a similar program, but if you like to edit and proofread on hard copy, I think they might be worth dabbling with. Instead of wordy scribbles, you could have concise marks. Proof-correction marks are designed to convey exactly what needs to be done in a simple and clear manner. They don’t take up much space and can comfortably accommodate several changes in close proximity to each other. Pages look much cleaner and less cluttered.
The principal symbols are simple to understand and even easier to put on paper. Marking an insertion or deletion is quick and effortless. It doesn’t take long for it to become second nature. And if you are working on the final layout, there are efficient symbols for moving and adjusting matter. You should no longer forget what it was you were trying to tell yourself to change because the symbols will make it obvious.
For professional editors and proofreaders, it is important to learn how to use the marks to the correct industry standards. For writers marking up their own work, it just matters that you are consistent. If you would like to give BSI marks a go, you can buy a summary sheet from the British Standards Institution or from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (it’s cheaper from the SfEP). You may also find it handy to be familiar with proof-correction marks when working with editors, proofreaders and other publishing professionals.
Do you use proof-correction symbols? Or have you developed your own mark-up system?
I have previously recommended creating your own style sheet to aid you when you are proofreading. If you aren’t sure where to start, I have produced a sample to help.
The layout is the same as the one I use when compiling a style sheet for the projects I proofread. All my non-publisher clients get a copy of the style sheet for their own reference once I have completed proofreading.
The sample is for a made-up project, but it should give you an idea of the things to consider. I have also included some formatting and layout elements you would need to think about as you get ready to publish (e.g. chapter headings and page numbering).
I would advise recording the decisions you make as early as possible (particularly the basic ones such as is/iz suffixes and single or double quote marks). If you do create a style sheet and later employ an editorial professional, send them a copy. It’s really very helpful!
I have uploaded a blank copy of the style sheet for anyone’s use (although if you share it I would appreciate a link back to my original). The sample is for a novel, but you can make adjustments to the blank copy for any writing project.
You can find the sample and the blank style sheet on my Resources page or download the sample by clicking this link: Sample style sheet.
Use a pen with red ink to mark corrections and amendments. As a professional, I typically use red and blue ink on proofs. When I don’t have to differentiate between the causes of problems, I always use red. It’s bold and stands out – it is almost impossible to skim over without noticing.
If the idea of using red ink gives you horrible flashbacks to your time at school, choose another strong colour. Make sure it won’t be easily missed or hard to read (no silver glitter pens).
You may find it useful to use a ruler to guide you as you read line by line. It will help you to focus on the text and you won’t lose your place. Read slowly. Mark your corrections clearly to avoid any confusion later.
Previous articles in this series:
If you are a student, you should have a style guide supplied by your department or institution. That doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful to supplement it with your own (more limited) list.
All writers, particularly authors, should think about putting together their own style sheet. (Publishers and large organisations are likely to already have a house style guide but you might want to keep a list of any things it doesn’t cover.)
Keep a record of the style decisions you make and then tidy it up into a neat list.
The style decisions you make should include the following:
- Word endings: ‘ize’ or ‘ise’?
- Numbers: numerals or words?
- Commas: serial or not serial?
- Dashes: spaced en rules or closed-up em rules?
- Quote marks: single or double?
There will be lots more, and many are not as simple as choosing one option for all circumstances – just make sure your decisions make sense.
You should also keep track of words you have hyphenated and any alternative spellings you have chosen.
If you are formatting your own work, extend your style sheet by creating a design specification. This should include decisions such as how headings of equal importance should look and what size the margins should be.
It may seem like a lot of effort, but a style sheet should help you spot where you have been inconsistent. Spotting inconsistencies is a key part of the proofreading process. If you aren’t sure where to start, there is a sample style sheet available on my Resources page.
Articles in this series: