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Help for writers

Proofreader's marks

There are 3 main ways to mark up a proof to indicate errors or changes:

1. Marginal marks

These are the classic way to mark up a manuscript. The advantage is that they are well understood by those involved in the book business. The drawback is the need for a paper copy and for the changes to be entered manually. In the era when typesetting was a specialist trade, this system made sense. Marginal marks

If your typescript is corrected in the traditional way on 'hard copy' (i.e. paper), it will come back to you with the copy editor’s changes marked up and you can decide whether to implement them or not. If you are self-publishing, you will then have to input the changes to produce a clean copy.  If your work is being published by a publisher, then the publisher usually gets the typesetter to input the changes. (See Preparing for Publication)

If you are correcting the proofs of your book for a publisher, then the editor will put your corrections and those of the proof-reader onto one set of proofs. Use the attached proofreader's marks or electronic proof marks to understand the corrections which have been marked up.

2. Electronic mark-up

The advantage is that editors and proofreaders can work on screen on a digital version of the manuscript. The drawback is that it is not very good for layout as the person working on the script can make the changes without leaving a trace. If this is the method being used, we would advise you to read through the manuscript or proofs very carefully to make sure that you are happy with all the changes.

It could be argued that there is less chance to control the changes and check that they are appropriate. There is no standard for electronic mark-up, so a hybrid is offered.  Electronic mark-up 

3. Track Changes and Compare

Most word-processor software offers the facility to compare two documents. The advantage is that the writer can see the changes and accept or reject each one. The drawback is that there must be a high degree of software compatibility for this to work for the proofreader and for the person checking the changes.

If this is the chosen approach, you will get a disk of the edited manuscript or proofs with the changes marked up.  You can use the track changes facility to check through the changes on screen and decide which ones to implement.

Preparing for publication provides some general background on copy editing and proofreading.

Advice for writers lists many other pages which will help you prepare your work for publication.


© Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage. 2005