2 Preparing copy

2.4 Marking proofs

The requirement of any proof correction marks is that they be comprehensible to the person who must implement the changes they represent. In publishing houses, the use of standard proofreading symbols has been long established, and they represent an efficient means of communicating what needs to be done to a file (typically by the typesetter, in a traditional workflow). In wider contexts, however, such as websites, corporate literature, and self-publishing, the symbols are frequently unfamiliar to the individual amending the files, so instructions must be used instead. This section discusses both situations and applies equally to hard-copy proofs or PDFs, where markup is achieved with the software’s commenting tools.

Markup with proofreading symbols

The symbols used to correct proofs in British publishing are those set out in BS 5261, Part 2: 2005. An earlier, 1976 standard, vestiges of which persist in many authors’ and proofreaders’ practice, used instructions such as ‘itals’ to change the type style to italic, and some different symbols such as # to indicate a word space. The US and Australian systems are similar to the 1976 UK standard.

The task of the proofreader in marking proofs is to attract the typesetter’s attention to the presence of a correction, to locate the correction accurately in the body of the material, and to mark the correction clearly in the margin of the proof. A minimal mark is made in the body of the text and the substance of the correction in either margin. Traditionally, literal errors made by the typesetter are marked in red, and alterations and instructions made by the editor or proofreader in blue, although nowadays publishers may not impose this system because for text set from authors’ files, typesetters’ errors are confined to rekeyed matter, if any.

Figure 2.2 shows the folio illustrated in Figure 2.1 as a marked proof. Figure 2.3 shows the same page in finalized form.

Adding BSI symbols to PDFs with the commenting tools is slow compared with manual mark-up but it can be expedited using preformed ‘stamps’. Alternatively hand-marked hard copy can be scanned and transmitted electronically to the typesetter. The choice will depend on the extent of amendments and the availability of a sheet-fed scanner.

Markup with instructions

Instead of using BSI symbols, proofs can be marked with instructions, e.g. change ‘nad’ to ‘and’, or insert comma after ‘however’. On PDFs this can be achieved with sticky notes or text boxes, different colour boxes

Figure 2.1 Marked-up typescript copy

Figure 2.2 Proofread proof

Figure 2.3 Final proof

being used to distinguish queries from instructions. Frequently used instructions can be copied and pasted from a ‘master’ file. Heavily corrected text can be copied en bloc and pasted into a text box, then corrected by the proofreader so that the recipient can copy and paste it into the source file without further amendment, although formatting may need to be reinstated.

Note that some PDF editors allow direct editing of the text but for published works it is generally better for the amendments to be made in the source file, i.e. in the software that was used to create the file before conversion to PDF, particularly if the changes involve reflowing text.

For a discussion of proof-editing, see 2.1.2.

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New Hart's Rules


Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms