Before Track Changes or other electronic methods for indicating problems in an article or story came to be, there were proofreader's marks.
First, a Bit of History: What Exactly Is a Proof?
You may recall that the printing press was one of the most significant inventions in the history of humankind. At first, the printing press was an advanced version of the venerable art of woodblock printing: letters were carved on a block of wood by cutting away the background so that each letter stood out in relief. The wooden "plate" was fastened into the lid of the printing press, which opened rather like the lid of a wooden storage chest (hence the name "press," which was also used for such chests). Then ink was applied to the raised surfaces of the plate, and sheets of paper were placed underneath. The press handle was pulled to lower and apply pressure to the plate, so that the plate was pressed against the paper and the ink transferred to it. The press was opened, the paper removed, and then the whole process began again with re-inking the plate. This way, many copies of each page could be made much more quickly than if a scribe wrote out each one.
The next significant improvement was movable type, in which bits of metal were cast for each letter instead of carving the letter out from a block of wood. The frames into which the metal pieces of "type" were placed, and the various pieces of "furniture" and clips that held the type there, were collectively known as a galley. Making up a galley by hand was a labor-intensive process, printing still had to be done one sheet at a time (although each sheet often included multiple pages, which were later cut apart), and paper was not cheap, so before the printer started the real print run, he or she would pull a single print of each sheet and pass it to the author to check. This sample sheet, which offered proof as to whether the blocks of type were ready for the big time, was known as a galley proof.
Often an author would have someone else (a "fresh pair of eyes," as we often described it when I worked in publishing) read over the galley proof, comparing it carefully with the original manuscript. This person, unsurprisingly, became known as a proofreader.
Proofreading vs. Copy Editing
Because most of us don't have someone else typesetting (or typing, or inputting) our stories, we aren't likely to use the services of an actual proofreader. However, the same markings can be used on a print copy of a manuscript for copy editing. A copy editor's job is similar to that of a Beta reader in the world of fandom: she or he looks for problems of spelling, punctuation, grammar, word usage, and more in a manuscript and marks the places where any such problems are found. In the world of professional publishing, however, the copy editor would also enforce standards of style: for example, when a time of day is given, is ante meridiem noted as a.m. or AM or am?
In the recent past, the proofreader's job was considered to involve fewer choices and hence to take less judgement than that of a copy editor, and salaries reflected this. In one scientific publishing house in 1980 (the American Geophysical Union, which still produces monthly and bimonthy technical journals, as well as books), a brief summary of the duties of the two positions would have been:
- Copy editor: Mark up original manuscript for formatting, house style, and any actual errors (spelling, grammar, usage); suggest rewrites for awkward sentences; mark tables and mathematical material for typesetting; enforce reference list style using standardized abbreviations for journal titles and other serialized works; mark diagrams and other graphical material for reduction size and position on the page (one column, two column, or "broadside," in which the graphic is rotated 90° to allow it to fill an entire page); and review work of proofreader before galleys go back to printer.
- Proofreader: Read typeset galley proofs against original manuscript, marking up galleys with any errors detected and indicating whether the errors were made by the typesetter or were present in the original manuscript (which means that the copy editor missed those errors). The difference in the source of the errors might be indicated by different colors of marking pencil: for example, errors that were present in the original are often marked in blue, while errors made bys the typesetter might be marked in red or the rosy violet known in the publishing industry as "heliotrope." The typesetter is only allowed to charge the publishing house for correcting the "blue errors."
Because so much material nowadays is submitted electronically, which removes the need for a professional typesetter, the differences between the roles of the copy editor and the proofreader are becoming fewer, and a proofreader may perform some of the tasks that were formerly part of the duties of a copy editor. Publishers still usually like to have a set of trained eyes go over material after it's been edited for content and before it's finally published, but the need for both a copy editor and a proofreader during this stage no longer seems as pressing to most such businesses.
Many still believe, however, that there's something to be said for editing material in paper format, especially for large jobs. Even with a good quality computer monitor, eye fatigue is more of a problem in electronic formats than it is with paper copy. Paper proofreading is still a salable skill, whether as a permanent position "in house" or as a freelancer hired for a single large publishing job.
The Technique of Double Marking
It's not always easy to see a small, handwritten mark in the middle of a block of printed text, even when the proofreader uses a colorful pencil. So professional proofreaders and copy editors use a technique known as double marking. A notation made in a line of text has a matching annotation in the margin. Generally, markings on the left half of the page are marked in the left margin, and markings in the right halves of the lines are marked on the right. If multiple errors need to be noted, they are placed in order in the margin, left to right, each separated with a slash.
Take a look at the sample "manuscript page" below. Long-time readers of Fandom Grammar may recognize a feature that I posted a couple of years ago about research online:
You can see that for almost every notation in a line of text, there's a matching notation in the margin.
What about those circled numbers at the top of some of the separating slash marks? These indicate multiple instances of the same correction: for example, in the first line of text, two letters need to be lowercased, so the (lc) notation has (2x) written atop its slash, rather than having the whole notation written twice.
This table provides examples of some of the most common notations that I used when I was a proofreader and copy editor some years ago:
|margin||Align text vertically or horizontally, depending on the guidelines drawn in the text.|
|margin||Use boldface type for the marked text.|
|inline||Use boldface type on the text underlined with the zigzags.|
|inline||Capitalize the marked text.|
|inline||Capitalize the circled text (alternate version).|
|margin||Capitalize the indicated text.|
|margin and inline||Insert a comma.|
|margin and inline||Delete the marked text. When used inline, the longer "tail" of the symbol crosses through the text to be deleted.|
|margin and inline||Delete the marked text and close up the characters on either side to fill the space left.|
|margin||Insert an em dash (the insertion of an en dash is handled similarly)|
|inline||Change the hyphen to an em dash (the change of a hyphen to an en dash is handled similarly).|
|inline||Insert an em dash. Note the caret marking the insertion point, a notation that can be used for other insertions as well, such as a single character or a word.|
|margin||Use italic type for the marked text.|
|inline||Italicize the text that's underlined.|
|margin||Lowercase the marked text.|
|inline||Lowercase the slashed letters.|
|margin and inline||Start a new paragraph, breaking the text at the paragraph symbol.|
|margin and inline||Add a period where the marking occurs.|
|margin and inline||Insert a space. Notice that when this is used within a line, one vertical stroke is longer, showing the spot in which the space is to be inserted.|
|margin||Transpose the two characters indicated within the line.|
|inline||Transpose these two characters.|
|margin||Look for two of whatever change is indicated by the annotation before the slash.|
|inline||Don't make the marked change (in this case, the underline that means "italicize"); leave the text in the original form.|
|margin||Don't make the marked change; leave the text in the original form (means "let [it] stand" in Latin).|
|This looks like an error, but it's not; leave the text as is (Latin for "thus")|
|Insert the indicated word (s) or character(s), which are noted at the top of the "carat" mark (see the sample document for examples).|
It's easy to find more comprehensive lists online, and I have cited one in my references below.
If you often serve as a Beta reader and find yourself more comfortable with checking over documents in paper copy than onscreen, it's worth your while to learn the standardized proofreading symbols. That way, you'll be using a consistent set of annotations that your author can learn as she or he goes along, and the process of revising the document will be easier for both of you.
- Proofreading: Proofreader's Marks, Chicago Manual of Style Online.
- Craig, James. Production for the Graphic Designer, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1974.
- King, Kristen. Paperless Proofreading: A Publishing Revolution, Council of Science Editors (website).
Tip of the hat to chiroho for the last reference!