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proofreaders symbolsAfter a writer turns in their article to their editor, the editor takes out their blue pencil and leaves marks all over the piece. If you don’t know what those marks mean then you might think the person is writing in some language that aliens use or using Egyptian hieroglyphs. Blue pencil proofreader marks have their own symbols and abbreviations and every writer needs to know what they mean.

Why Is It Called Blue Pencil?

Before everything was done electronically, the writer would write on a typewriter and hand the type written copy to the editor. The editor would use a blue pencil to make their marks on the paper to show which corrections needed to be made and then would return the copy to the writer to correct.

The reason those marks were made in blue pencil is because the color blue would not show in the photographic process of printing. Editors would put their editing marks on a good many things besides the writer’s copy. They would put marks on the paste board to show how the editor wanted the stories or advertisements aligned or changes made. You see, each page of the newspaper needed to be cut and pasted to a waxed board. The writer would write the story in the teletype machine and print it out. That story was then put onto the board. If they needed to get something else into part of that space then that story would be literally cut from the bottom to make room, then pasted back onto the board. So, if the Editor wanted things to be moved around, he or she would use the blue pencil to indicate changes that needed to be made. Those blue pencil marks would not show on the printed paper after the page was printed.

These days writing and editing are both done electronically, so there aren’t blue pencils involved literally. And usually the editor will want to use the color red today because it is much more noticeable. Editing is now done via Acrobat or Microsoft Word. The symbols that editors use are still used because they are shorthand that is still necessary, but they no longer appear in blue.

Proofreading Abbreviations

There are many abbreviations that are used by editors to let the writer know exactly what needs to be changed. These abbreviations are standard in the industry, but many editors will have their quirks with what they use or the institution will have a special set of additional abbreviations that come up frequently in their school or newspaper.

Ab – This stands for abbreviation and where ever it is written on the paper indicates that the abbreviation that is used in the line is incorrect.

Agr – This is an abbreviation for agreement. What is indicated is that there is an issue with the noun and verb matching or the pronoun and antecedent matching.

Awk – This is an abbreviation for the word awkward. Using Awk will point out when something is amiss in the sentence on that line and it seems awkward when read. Usually there is some sort of improper sentence structure going on or perhaps there is an expression that doesn’t make sense.

Cap – Stands for capitalization. This is written in the margin of the line where something is improperly capitalized.

CS – Means comma splice. This indicates there are two independent clauses connected with a comma and the editor would like that to be handled in another way. Comma splices are acceptable in most cases in creative writing, but usually not in journalism.

DICT – Stands for diction and when it is used it’s indicating faulty diction. The editor would like the slang removed or a word corrected that is being used improperly, such as using feared instead of scared.

Dgl – This is an abbreviation for dangling construction. It means something is not properly written in the sentence and it is leaving a portion of it dangling. A dangling participle, for example, can change the meaning of a sentence.

-ed – When –ed is written it means that a word needs to have ed added to it to make it past tense.

Frag – This is an abbreviation of fragmented. It means that your sentence is a fragment of what it needs to be and should be rewritten to be a complete sentence. Or you sentence contains fragments and is not a complete sentence. Either way, the sentence needs to be rewritten so that is contains all the elements.

|| – This is a symbol that represents parallel form. What the editor is looking for is some consistency of words in the sentence. Apples, oranges and pears is correct. The apples, the oranges and pears is incorrect. It can also indicate a metaphor taking a left turn into a different metaphor which leaves the sentence not making any sense.

P/A – Means that the pronoun and antecedent are not in agreement. Every girl should make up their own mind should be Every girl should make up her own mind.

Pron – This indicates a problem with a pronoun.

Rep – This is an abbreviation for repetition. The editor wants the unnecessary repetition removed.

R-O – Stands for run on sentence. You need to turn the sentence into two or more sentences.

Sp – This is the abbreviation for spelling error.

-s – This indicates that something is missing the letter s on the end of a word.

STET – This indicates the editor would like to take back the edit mark and let it stand the way it was originally.

S/V – This is a mark indicating that the subject and the verb are not in agreement and a correction needs to be made.

T – This abbreviation means there is a problem with the tense used in the sentence or with the verb.

Wdy – This is an abbreviation for wordy. It means that there are a lot of unnecessary words in the sentence and it has become cluttered.

WW – This abbreviation is used when a wrong word is used in the sentence.

˄ – This symbol is used when something needs to be inserted in that spot. There are usually more instructions in the margin.

– The paragraph symbol will be used when a new paragraph needs to be started.

ˠ or DELETE – The symbol for delete is usually a handwritten loop, but now that things are done electronically, it is usually just the word delete or the strike through is used.

# – The pound sign means a space is needed here.

Where Proofreading Symbols and Marks Are Used

Generally, the proofreader’s symbols are used in education. This is how the educator will teach his or her students how to write properly. The marks are made on the student’s paper and then sent back to the student to correct or to understand how it should have been done.

The newspaper business is done electronically today and usually it is up to the writer to be his or her own editor now. You will notice when you read an online newspaper that there are more and more typos and mistakes being made, because there are no longer professional editors checking every written piece. Usually the writer writes the article and then uploads it himself. There is no longer a person with the job to check the writing. In the old days an editor or assistant editor would read every story and send it back to the writer if it needed corrections. With newspapers cutting back on payroll in order to survive, the editors have gone the way of the dinosaur.

There are websites that care enough about their content and will hire someone to act as editor and proofread articles for their websites. It is usually more of an entry level job for a recent college graduate from any field and not the old prestigious job of editor. The editor was the expert in writing and knew just about everything there was to know about how to construct a sentence and write a story. This job was held by a person who paid their dues as a writer for many years and was very well educated in English. Writers hated the editor because of the extra work involved, but also had a great deal of respect for him. The editor was the boss, usually was only one step below the publisher and had numerous assistant editors below him. Today it is more of a spell check and grammar position, requiring little education and training.

Proofreading symbols and marks have evolved over time due to everything going electronic now. There is no longer an editor sitting in the big office scribbling blue marks all over the writer’s masterpiece.  Now the articles are written in Microsoft Word and then the proofreader will make edit marks using the review feature within Microsoft Word. The person proofreading it makes notes on the page and sends it back to the writer. The writer accepts the changes by pushing a button inside Microsoft Word or  writes notes back to the proofreader. In the end, with any luck, the resulting article is perfect and ready for publication with all parties agreeing on the content.

A Career in Writing

There are a lot of careers in writing today. With newspapers going out of business there are a lot more writers and editors on the market, but there is a lot more writing being done now, also. Never before have so many with writing talent been able to become published. Now people with a talent for language rules and grammar can become independent freelance editors and offer their services to those who write their own eBooks, websites and other written material. However, the editor’s duties today are more to correct the copy than they are to use proofreader’s symbols on the work.

If you are looking for a career in writing or if you would like to write your own book, you can take classes online for writing that will get you started. Once your novel or life story is written, you will need to hire an editor to clean up your writing and fix the grammatical errors for you. If you are writing your thesis, it does pay to have an editor or proofreader to go over your thesis before submitting it for your doctorate, but they will probably make all the changes not leave proofreader’s symbols on it.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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