Proofreaders' Marks

Inserting Em Dashes & En Dashes

by Heather on May 24, 2010

Proofreaders’ Marks

It’s a little-known fact that dashes come in different sizes. Most folks know about the hyphen, but fewer are familiar with the em dash and the en dash. The length of the em dash corresponds to the width of the letter m: . The en dash is the width of the letter n: . The hyphen’s just an itty bitty thing: -. Here they are side by side:

— – -

Now, when you’re typing away in a word processor and fire off a couple of hyphens in a row, they’ll magically change into an em dash…most of the time. Sometimes, however, you’ll end up with a couple of hooligan hyphens where your majestic em dash ought to be. That’s when you need the proofreaders’ symbol for the em dash:

En dashes just aren’t to be found on your keyboard, and they come in quite handy when you want to indicate a range of numbers: 1–10 for instance. Most of the time, though, people end up putting a hyphen here, because they don’t know where to find the en dash. When you spot that hyphen you can mark it up with with the en dash mark:

Here are the em dash and en dash proofreaders’ marks at work:

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I’ve used the close-up mark above my em dashes and my en dash—that’s to indicate that there shouldn’t be any spaces between the dashes and the adjacent characters.

So how the heck do you get those dashes into your document to begin with?

Well, it’s pretty easy. You can either find the dashes in the catalogue of  symbols in your word processor or, if you’re lazy like me, use these keyboard shortcuts:

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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Spell It Out

by Heather on December 23, 2009

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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Marking Capitals and Small Capitals

by Heather on November 15, 2009

Proofreaders’ Marks

Unless you’re e. e. cummings or k.d. lang, you’re probably fond of using capital letters from time to time.* But what if you happen to miss one of them now and again? Well, you can easily turn a lowercase letter to a capital with a triple underline.


Now, on occasion you may also want a small capital. Say you’re making a list of authors and Marshall McLuhan is among them. Oh, and did I mention that your list was in all caps? In that case you can use a double underline to indicate that the c in his name ought to be in small caps like the ac in MacDonald. (Edit: the small caps I’m referring to here are shown in the list below and not the sentence that precedes this edit.)

And, truly, that’s all there is to turning your lowercase letters into majuscules!

Want to know how to make capital letters into lowercase ones? You can find that entry here.

_________

*Caveat: For all I know, cummings and lang may delight in capital letters. I didn’t call them up to ask them—cummings’ number wasn’t listed for some reason anyway—and just made up this bit of libel to be witty. (I hope it worked.)

_________

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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Inserting Question Marks

by Heather on October 6, 2009

Proofreaders’ Marks

Uh-oh, that question ends with a period and you need to change it. Well, this proofreaders’ mark is one of the easiest. All you need to do is draw a question mark wherever it ought to be: In the example below the inserted question mark is clearly visible, but you can imagine how easy it would be to miss the mark if it were buried in a dense page of text. To be sure it isn’t missed, it’s a good idea to write the word set in the margin and circle it. Set is an instruction to the typesetter that there’s a mark in the text that needs setting. (A circled question mark could too easily be mistaken for an editorial comment about a lack of clarity in the content.)

And here’s the question mark at work:

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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Marking Hyphens

by Heather on September 21, 2009

Proofreaders’ Marks

Hyphens are a handy sort of punctuation. You can use them to stick two words together or to break a word down to size at a line break. But, as you can imagine, a little red hyphen between two letters could be easily missed. That’s why we use the proofreaders’ mark for a hyphen, which looks like an equal sign. This larger mark is harder to miss:

But to be sure it isn’t missed and to be sure it’s inserted in just the right place, we often use a handy caret to point to and place our hyphens:

And here’s the hyphen mark at work:

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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Marking Italics

by Heather on August 26, 2009

Proofreaders’ Marks

Italics come in handy: they’re great for emphasis, for foreign words, for titles of books and movies, for words as words, and more. So how do you add italics to roman text? You simply underline the words you’d like italicized.

When you’re pressed for time and underlining like the wind it’s not unusual for an underline to creep up a little and look a bit like a crossed out word. But you don’t need to worry about your underline being mistaken for a deletion because you’re remembering to add that little flourish to your deletion marks like I showed you in the entry on deleting stuff, right?

It’s also a good idea to put a circled* ital in the margin next to the line so no one misses your markup or underlines the text instead of italicizing it:

*Unless it’s an official proofreaders’ mark, you need to enclose any markup you don’t want added to the text within a circle. If your ital appears uncircled, it’s possible that an inputter (who isn’t reading for content but just inserting changes) will add the letters i, t, a and l into your document, which will properly confuse your readers.

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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Changing Capitals to Lowercase

by Heather on August 13, 2009

Proofreaders’ Marks

Maybe caps lock was on. Or maybe the author just got a little carried away, capitalizing anything that seemed remotely important. Either way those capitals need to be lowercased. So how do you mark that on your document? It’s easy: you just use a slash:And you don’t have to worry about your lowercase markup being confused with a deletion mark because you’re remembering to add that little flourish to your deletion marks like I showed you in the last proofreaders’ marks entry, right?

So you can slash through those unnecessary capitals with confidence, knowing they’ll be brought down to size. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to put a circled* lc in the margin next to the line so no one misses your markup:

*Unless it’s an official proofreaders’ mark, you need to enclose any markup you don’t want added to the text within a circle. If your lc appears uncircled, it’s possible that an inputter (who isn’t reading for content but just inserting changes) will add the letters l and c into the document—oops.

Edit: A friend recently asked me what she should do if she wanted to make an entire word or a series of letters lowercase. Should she draw a slash through each letter?

In order to save you time, I realized that I should address that issue here. If you have a series of letters, a whole word, or a sentence that you’d like to lowercase, you can simply draw a slash through the first letter and then draw a line horizontally from the slash above the rest of the letters you’d like to make lowercase:

Wondering how to make lowercase letters into capitals or small capitals? You can find out how here.

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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Deleting Stuff

by Heather on July 24, 2009

Proofreaders’ Marks

Unwanted letters, words, and punctuation can seem to crop up out of nowhere when I’m writing. Sometimes it’s just that I’ve realized I don’t really need that sentence or word, and sometimes it’s my errant fingers typing things without permission. You know, like when you arrive somewhere but can’t remember the drive.

In any case, it’s often necessary to strike a letter, word, or sentence from our writing, and we do that with the deletion mark:


The curly bit on the end is important—it’s what keeps these marks from being mistaken for other proofreading marks. So, all you need to do is cross out your word with a flourish and your done, right?

Well, actually you’re probably not done, and that’s because when we delete letters  we usually want to delete the spaces they were occupying, too. (Remember my Marking Spaces post and how spaces are as real as ink on the printed page?) If you remove the word thing from a document you probably don’t want to leave behind the 5 extra spaces. So here’s how you can combine your curly deletion symbol from above with the close-it-up symbol (which looks like sideways parentheses):


And here’s how the delete and close-it-up symbol looks when it’s in action:

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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Transposing Letters and Words

by Heather on July 15, 2009

Proofreaders’ Marks

Today’s proofreaders’ mark allows you to swap two letters or words. Sometimes those typing fingers just go so fast that our letters jumble, or our cutting and pasting goes a little awry and our words end up in the wrong order. The transpose mark…

…allows you to quickly mark the correction without rewriting whole words or phrases. Here’s an example of how you would transpose two letters:

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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