What Are Proofreading Marks?

What Are Proofreading Marks? Writers should thoroughly understand the most common proofreading marks and copyediting abbreviations. We explain them here.

Proofreading is an essential part of copyediting, whereby you identify grammatical errors, spelling errors, and other mistakes made during the writing process. There are special proofreading marks that editors use to indicate errors that need to be corrected throughout a piece of content. Although seeing your work dripping in red ink is often intimidating, submitting drafts to a copy editor for proofreading is the best way to get a polished work. Here’s a breakdown of commonly used proofreading symbols and why they’re important. 

What Are Proofreading Marks?

What are proofreading marks?

Proofreading marks are a series of shorthand symbols and abbreviations used to correct spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and other issues with typeset pages. The copy editor responsible for revising the text places proofreading marks in the margins of a page by hand, which the writer uses to correct their piece. 

By using a standard set of proofreading symbols used by the entire industry, copy editors are able to quickly make revisions to a text in a way that other professionals can easily understand. Proofreading marks are typically made manually, although programs like Microsoft Word have editing tools that can also be used. You might also find our guide on the best proofreading software options helpful.

The History of Proofreading 

What are proofreading marks?
The copy editor responsible for revising the text places proofreading marks in the margins of a page by hand

Woodblock printing originated in China during the 9th century, while the first movable printer was created in France by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439. America began to use the first modern printing press in 1639 by English colonizers. After several newsletters and articles were written, publishers wrote a contract stating authors are solely responsible for proofreading their work. 

Today, proofreading is much easier thanks to today’s grammar checkers. Proofreading by hand is used less commonly but it’s still a good skill to have.

Proofreading Symbols to Know  

Like shorthand, proofreading symbols are standard across the industry, and the same symbol is usually used in the same way by editing professionals. Get to know these common proofreading marks: 

Operational Marks 

Operational marks indicate significant changes to content and layout, most often to do with spacing. A copy editor may ask a writer to add or take away spaces, delete or move words, switch the order of words, or break a text block into a new paragraph.  

  • Delete – a line through the word or punctuation mark to be deleted with a loop at the end 
  • Delete space – a short curved line above and below the space; vertical parentheses 
  • Delete and close up – vertical parentheses with a delete symbol inside 
  • Insert space – a pound or hashtag symbol 
  • Space evenl– the letters “eq” before a pound or hashtag symbol inside of a circle 
  • Move left – a bracket with the open side facing right 
  • Move right – a bracket with the open side facing left 
  • Begin new paragraph – a backward capital letter P with a line through the center; a paragraph symbol 
  • Let it stand – the letters “stet” inside of a circle 
  • Transpose – the letters “tr” inside of a circle 
  • Spell in full – the letters “sp” inside of a circle 

Punctuation Marks 

Punctuation marks are proofreading marks that indicate changes specifically to the punctuation used in a written text. Copy editors may ask writers to add any punctuation, including commas, periods, quotation marks, exclamation points, question marks, and more. If punctuation is to be deleted, however, the delete abbreviation is typically used along with one of the below punctuation marks. 

  • Insert period – a period inside of a circle 
  • Insert semicolon – a semicolon in front of a vertical bar 
  • Insert colon – vertical angled brackets with a colon inside or a colon in front of a vertical bar 
  • Insert comma – a comma with a vertical angled bracket over the top of it pointing up 
  • Insert apostrophe – an apostrophe with a vertical angled bracket below it pointing down
  • Insert double quotation marks – quotation marks with vertical angled brackets below them pointing down
  • Insert parentheses – a vertical bar inside parentheses 
  • Insert en dash – a capital letter “N” above a horizontal line 
  • Insert em dash – a capital letter “M” above a horizontal line 
  • Insert hyphen – a short hyphen above a longer horizontal line 

Typography Marks 

Typography marks are proofreading symbols used to indicate changes that need to be made with the appearance of the content, such as its font or size. With these symbols, copy editors can ask writers to change words or sentences to boldface type, a different font, superscript or subscript, and more. 

  • Set in capitals – the letters “caps” inside of a circle 
  • Set in lowercase – the letters “lc” inside of a circle 
  • Set in italic type – the letters “ital” inside of a circle 
  • Set in roman type – the letters “rom” inside of a circle 
  • Set in boldface type – the letters “bf” inside of a circle 
  • Superscript or insert here – a vertical angled bracket pointing down 
  • Subscript or insert here – a vertical angled bracket pointing up 

Proofreading Abbreviations 

Other proofreading abbreviations that are used to change the structure of a written text include: 

  • Faulty diction – the capital letters “DICT” 
  • Awkward construction – the capital letters “AWK”
  • Too wordy – the capital letters “WDW”
  • Verb tense issue – the capital letter “T”
  • Incorrect word – the capital letters “WW”
  • Run-on sentence – the capital letters “RO” separated by a dash, e.g. “R-O” 
  • Unnecessary repetition – the capital letters “REP”

Why Proofreading Is Critical During the Editing Process 

Proofreading is one of the final steps between writing and submitting a written work for publication. It’s important not to rush the editing process. In fact, you may want to submit the work for proofreading more than once, particularly if the first set of revisions were extensive. Proofreading is necessary to ensure a high-quality, error-free finished piece. 

Copy editors are trained to look for surface errors in the text, like spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, and problems with the writing itself. Suppose the ideas are complex and difficult to understand, or the writing is clunky and convoluted. In that case, a copy editor will indicate where sentence structure, words, and other issues should be changed. 

Cost & Benefit Analysis of Working With a Professional Proofreader 

Proofreading services from a professional proofreader can give any written work a competitive edge. However, it’s important to take a look at the cost versus the benefits of working with a professional proofreader before making a decision. 

How much you pay for professional proofreading services depends on how long your text is, how experienced the copy editor is, and how soon you need the edited hard copy document back. A rush job with a tight turnaround is going to cost more than a job with a due date of a week or more. A less experienced copy editor will cost less than one with several years in the industry, but it may even out if the editor takes longer because they’re less experienced. 

Proofreading Tips 

Proofreading your work or the work of another writer can be challenging, especially if you’re relatively new at it. These proofreading tips can help: 

  • Print a hard copy of your content and read it aloud. Seeing your content off-screen and reading it out loud can help you catch mistakes that you might have overlooked while scrolling. 
  • Read one line at a time with a ruler. Consider placing a ruler underneath each line of text that you’re proofreading, moving it down one line of text at a time. 
  • Look for one error or mistake at a time. If the text is fairly short, you may be able to read it over and over, revising for one mistake at a time. For example, you could review the text for spelling errors and then punctuation errors. 
  • Read your text backwards. Reading your printed content backward forces your brain to read over each word instead of skipping over any because you’re already familiar with the copy.

You can also use Microsoft Word’s track changes capabilities to proofread and edit content on a computer. Track changes allow you to make edits directly to the text in Microsoft Word without deleting any of the original content. Instead, the edits show up alongside the text. An edit can be accepted or rejected; if accepted, then the original content is deleted and the changes are made. 

You can turn on track changes in Microsoft Word by clicking Review at the top and again on Track Changes. Toggle track changes on and off as needed. Track changes don’t use traditional proofreading symbols.

Proofreading Resources 

There are numerous proofreading resources available online, either for free or at a low cost. 

The Chicago Manual of Style is the most commonly used set of guidelines for the style and formatting of a written work. Writers, editors, publishing companies, designers, and more use The Chicago Manual of Style as a reference point for how to structure numbers, abbreviations, names, titles, tables, and more. The manual was originally written in 1906 and has had several new editions published by the University of Chicago Press. 

Grammarly is a program that comes with a browser extension that automatically checks your text for spelling errors, punctuation mistakes, and spelling issues. Grammarly also provides suggestions to help improve the flow and readability of content. Claim a Grammarly coupon

ProWritingAid is another powerful tool for checking your work and self-editing. It contains many powerful reports for editors. Read our ProWritingAid review to find out more.

The Google Docs Consistency Checker is an app that allows you to check for inconsistencies in your content like differences in spelling the same word or abbreviation. It also checks for common typos that basic spell-check tools can miss.

The Hemingway App is a free, copy/paste tool that checks for the passive voice and instances of clumsy writing. It won’t catch grammar errors, though. Read our Hemingway App review to find out more.

Finally, check out our detailed list of proofreading tips.

Using Proofreading Marks: The Final Word

A comprehensive understanding of common proofreading marks and symbols is crucial for content writers, editors, publishers, and other related industry professionals. Well-edited content can make the difference between getting views and clicks or not. Practice reading and using proofreading symbols often to keep your skills sharp. 

Always make sure your written work has been carefully and comprehensively proofread before you publish or submit it, no matter what kind of content it is. Neglecting to proofread your content before sending it in can cause issues like losing credibility and authority, failing a class, missing out on a job opportunity, or having your content rejected by a publisher.  

FAQ About Proofreading 

What type of content should be proofread before publishing?

All content should be carefully proofread for mistakes and errors before being published or turned in. This includes academic papers, job applications with cover letters, blogs published online, newspaper or magazine articles, and any other kind of written content.

How long does proofreading normally take?

The length of time it takes to proofread a written text is determined mainly by the text length, the number of errors, subject matter, and the editor’s experience. A short work with only a few errors may only take minutes to proofread, while a novel-length work with serious structural issues may take weeks to revise.

How much time does revising take after proofreading?

How long revisions take after proofreading depends on factors, including how many edits were made, if there are significant structural changes to the content, and how long the text itself is. If you have a text proofread more than once, the second or third passes should take less time than the initial proofreading revision.

Join over 15,000 writers today

Get a FREE book of writing prompts and learn how to make more money from your writing.

Powered by ConvertKit


  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.