Proof reading is an essential part of any publishing process. Consistency and accuracy go a long way towards enforcing that the publication is one of quality.
Always make sure that your markings are clear and legible. Knowing how to mark up copy using proof reading symbols is convenient and saves time but it is not as important as clearly specifying what needs correcting and how.
Traditionally, a first proof was marked up with red pen and the revised proof was marked up, ready for press, with green pen. Today editorial staff tend to use red pen for all stages of their mark-up. In the days of hot metal composition producing proofs was time consuming but with the advent of desktop publishing it became possible to produce more stages of proofs in house and ensure greater accuracy.
The British Standards Institution has standardised the symbols and colours used in proof mark-up. Under the BSI standard BS 5261 customers of the printers use red, printers use green and both printers and their customers use encircled black or blue writing for alterations and instructions.
If you are new to a company it is a good idea to check whether someone who will be using your markings has a form of colour blindness or any visual impairment that requires a particular colour of mark-up.
If you wish to make instructions or comments on the proof page that are not part of the copy amendments then write them and draw a ring around them, and do so noticeably and away from side margins.
Always start your proof reading by writing the following items at the top of the page and ringing them:
Next, check headers, footers, numbering and dates (and issue numbers if appropriate) for currency, consistency and correct placement. Although many of these things are generated automatically by templates they can be overridden manually and sometimes are.
Skim through the copy checking for missing full stops at the end of each paragraph.
Check to see that headings and sub heads follow the correct convention. Should they be in all caps (all capital letters), should each major word start with a capital or should only the first word start with a capital?
Check to see that the correct sizes, weights and typefaces have been used for each level of the piece (heading, standfirst, intro para, body text and subheads, pull quotes and box outs).
Once you have done this you are ready to start checking the body text. Not only should you be reading for sense and checking for misspellings and omissions, you should be checking that paragraph indents and spacings are correct. You must also check that information formats (dates, titles etc) and spellings used (eg -ise or -ize) are in house style. Publication and programme titles are usually listed in italics (but are listed in roman if the rest of the paragraph is in italics).
Basic Mark Up
The symbols and their use have been standardised but be warned not everyone uses the standard symbols. A PDF copy of the booklet Instructions for Authors by Routledge is included under 'Related links' in the right-hand sidebar of this page. Page 49 lists a set of commonly used proof reading symbols. A listing of BS 5261 proof reading symbols can be found in The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, in An Author's Guide to Publishing by Michael Legat or by writing to the British Standards Institution at: 389 Chiswick High Road, London W4 4AL.
Printable notes for this topic in PDF format (Acrobat Reader required):