Spell It Out

Proofreaders’ Marks

So you were taking notes in class, and, boy, that professor was professing at just about the speed of light. So it’s no wonder you took some shortcuts as your fingers flew across the keys—# instead of number, 2ndary instead of secondary, % instead of percent. But now you’ve cut and paste some of those notes into a paper, and it’s time to unfurl the words hidden inside those symbols. So here’s the proofreaders’ mark for spelling out words:

Now, for some of you—maybe even all of you—this will look a lot like the mark your elementary school teacher wrote on your work when you misspelled something. But in an editing context, you use this mark by drawing a circle around the symbol in question and then, in the margin, writing sp within a circle. Voilà! Your 2 will now be a two.

A word of caution, though. Depending on where your writing’s going, some of those symbols may need to stick around. Generally speaking, the sciences like numerals and symbols, while the humanities and social sciences prefer to write things out in full.

Here are a few guidelines about when to use numerals or words in case you’re interested:

Social Sciences and Humanities

  • Spell out numbers to ninety-nine and all the big round numbers that come after. Percentages are always expressed in numerals.
  • (Ex. one, eleven, sixty-eight; one hundred; 101; 165; twelve thousand; 13,847; four million; 4.8 billion; twelve metres; nineteen degrees Celsius; 13 percent)

Science and Technical Writing

  • Spell out one through nine and use numerals for the rest.
  • (Ex. one; five; eight; 10; 45; 8,254; 106; 12,000; 4,000 000; 12 m; 19°C; 13%)

That red pencil still burning a hole in your pocket protector? You can find a full listing of all the Word Blog’s Proofreaders’ Marks entries here.

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2 Responses to Spell It Out

  1. Heather says:

    Thanks, Jim!

  2. Jim Powell says:

    Great advice! Wish many more knew this information. Thanks for providing an excellent blog for anyone looking for proofreading help and notations. Keep up the good work!

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