Could BSI marks help you?

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?

Further information:



Proofreading guide for students

Late last year I wrote and published a series of posts on proofreading advice. This is the first of those posts: Proofreading advice: take a break.

GuideI have put a lot of that advice into a PDF guide that is now available on my Resources and Information for Students pages. You can also download it by clicking on the image opposite.

My 4-page guide has been written primarily for students. I enjoy working on dissertations and theses, but not all students can use the services of a proofreader. If you aren’t allowed to use professional help, or if money is tight, I hope this guide will be of some assistance.

It contains four steps to help you prepare for proofreading your own work, as well as a list of common errors to look out for. The common errors include mixed -ize/-ise endings, incorrect use of apostrophes, and references that aren’t according to style.

Authors may not find all of the advice relevant to them, but they will probably find some of the information of use.

Irregular verbs

A verb is irregular if its past tense and past participle do not follow the regular pattern of adding -ed (or -d) to the base form.

Regular verbs:

arrive – past tense arrived, past participle arrived
cook – past tense cooked, past participle cooked

Irregular verbs:

eat – past tense ate, past participle eaten
lose – past tense lost, past participle lost

PencilMost native English speakers have a good grasp of which verbs they can’t stick -ed on the end of. To native ears, forms such as I catched or I have readed sound childish or unnatural. It isn’t always as obvious for non-native speakers.

Native speakers do sometimes find it difficult to pick the correct form for past tense and past participle. For example, is rang or rung the past participle of ring?

Simple present: I ring
Simple past tense: I rang
Past participle: I have/had rung

There isn’t really a rule or tip I can give to help here, except maybe to list all the forms. And so that’s what I have done. You can download a comprehensive (I think) list of irregular verb forms by visiting my Resources page or clicking this link: Irregular verbs.

Oxford Dictionaries

Library2Have you got a library card? Here’s something you might not know: most UK libraries subscribe to resources from Oxford University Press (OUP). If you live outside the UK, it is worth checking if your local library has a subscription too.

It is a huge range of resources, but perhaps the key ones for writers are the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Reference and Oxford Dictionaries online. There’s information about how to access them on the OUP’s website.

I recommend taking advantage of the premium resources on The login page is here, and the library card login box is on the right-hand side. Once you have logged in you will see the Premium tab.

The premium resources are:

  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide
  • Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
  • New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors
  • Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage

If you want your work to conform to UK publishing standards, you should use New Hart’s as your guide. It is really very good.

The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors is a handy guide for any spellings or names you aren’t sure of, or if you want help with hyphenation and capitalisation.

Pocket Fowler’s does not contain all the nuances of the full-size version, but it is still very helpful.

And they are all available for free and from the comfort of your own home.


Sample style sheet

Crumpled paperI 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.