Proofreader’s marks

Should technical editors use the full set of proofreader’s marks in marking up content? How many of the standard proofreader’s marks do we even know any more? Back in the day of hardcopy editing, I think many of these marks carried over into the copyeditor and technical editor tools. However, as we started doing more and more of our editing online, in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat, we learned to make do with what those tools provided. We adapted our marks to what was provided. Or, so I thought.

Adrienne Montgomerie recently posted an article to the Copyediting newsletter titled “The Secret Code of Proofreaders” (with the title cleverly including many of the proofreader’s marks). I learned that there are a set of stamps that you can import into Adobe Reader to use to make many more of these marks. I actually thought about downloading and playing around with some of these stamps. But then, Montgomerie also asked the question about whether designers will understand these marks and know what changes are required.

Update October 16, 2014:
My Twitter feed shared this post about proofreader’s marks this morning by Louise Harnby, which introduces and defends the value of the marks and their continued use.

As a technical editor working with very overworked technical writers, I must say that I rely on two of the marks that Adobe Acrobat provide in their reviewing tools: insertion and deletion (although that has become just strikethrough, without the tail on the end). Then, I use the comment bubbles associated with those marks or I insert text bubbles to put my queries and comments next to the place where I want to suggest a change. I think my writers would rebel if I required them to learn (or relearn) some of the standard proofreader’s marks, such as transpose or word break or line break. It is quicker and simpler for both of us to have me just insert a comment that explains that something is two words or that letters or words need to be transposed. Space was at a premium on paper, but not so in digital pages!

Happy editing everyone!

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2 Responses to Proofreader’s marks

  1. Anna Biunno says:

    I’ve asked my writers to indicate how they would like to receive their feedback: marked-up PDF, Track Changes in Word, or marked-up hard copy. I try to be flexible and present the information that is best suited for the way the writer works. It’s also a mechanism for helping the writers internalize our style guidelines.

    The format in which I deliver my editorial comments also depends on whether the writer is a junior or senior one. For obvious reasons, a junior tech writer will receive more detailed comments (thus, more comment bubbles) than a senior one. I liken this to having a mentor at the writer’s elbow as he or she tries to navigate the challenges and principles of tech writing. However, I must strike a balance between defining a mental model for the writers and avoiding the pitfall of becoming their crutch.

    Editing works under the principle of diminishing returns. Writers should see less developmental changes as they begin to use more precise and clear language. I’ve discovered that working in Acrobat Pro doesn’t work well enough for me during a developmental or heavy copy editing session; too many pieces are being moved around.

    Before this posting, I had already downloaded Louise Harnby’s set of stamps ( and had also read Adrienne’s blog post when it was first published. These resources have a definite place in my tool box for companies who consider proofreading as the last editorial stage before publishing. At this point, the developmental and heavy copy editing tasks should have been completed. I’ve found that most companies require the editor or proofreader to use the PDF for markup because it’s more representative of the final layout.

    Michelle, I agree that tech writers might find parsing the marks burdensome under a time crunch. But I expect that all writers, regardless of the niche they work in, should know proofreaders’ or editors’ marks. It is part of their skills set; just as any writer should become familiar with the house style guide or CMS, AP, AMA, etc. In fact, I’ve uploaded the editors’ marks on our Doc team portal and expect the writers to become familiar with it. These are the tools of the trade. Period.

    Production staff within other industries are well versed in the proofreader’s marks. No excuse there.


    • Michelle Corbin says:

      Because I do 100% of my editing online, I find myself using fewer and fewer of the marks, and just not missing them. While I can try to educate my writers on the marks, I’d rather spend my time on other aspects of the content or delivery and our users.


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