Copy editor marks are an absolute must for any prospective copywriter, journalist or freelance copy editor to learn. These are shorthand symbols that indicate what type of changes need to be made, such as punctuation, spelling, and items that should be left out or added. They may also indicate formatting problems with spacing, margins or indentions. Copy editor marks are universal, so once the system of marks is learned, it can be used for countless different types of copy. The marks may be called proofreading marks in some circles, but the marks are the same, no matter the writing style or whether they are called copy editing or proofreading marks.
- Develop your sense of grammar. If you do not have a good feel for word usage, punctuation, basic grammar and formatting, the marks will be of very little use. Studying basic grammar books is a good start, and there are many websites available as well that can help you to get an idea about the basic rules that will be necessary for editing copy.
- Get a copy of the marks. There are many books that contain the marks as well as comprehensive information about when and where to use them. But there are plenty of pictures of copy editor marks online. Taking a couple of pages of copy editor marks online and printing them out is a good first step to learning them.
- Make sense of the system. Copy editor marks consist of squiggles, lines, circles and other marks that look incomprehensible at first, but after studying them awhile, you will see some patterns emerge. The lines mostly concern capitalization; the circles mostly concern punctuation that has been left out, etc. The placement of the marks will also give you an idea about what they mean. If they are within a sentence, chances are that something has been left out. If they are outside of the line of text, it is probably a formatting problem.
- Practice using the marks. Look online to find a block of poorly written text (easily done on any discussion board), or write some yourself. Practice using the marks. Every grammatical error should have a mark, so reference the marks if you have forgotten any. After editing a few pages of text, you will begin to get the feel for using the marks, though there are some that come up less often, such as formatting fractions, that may not be as easy to remember.
- Practice reading the marks. It would be just as helpful to find a block of text that has already been edited with copy editor marks and try to decipher them. Try to rewrite the copy using the marks as a guide.