Understanding Your Copyedited Manuscript

An author friend of mine noted to me that a lot of writers might not understand the copyediting marks on their manuscripts, and I thought a post detailing some of the most common marks might be helpful.

Even the cleanest manuscript will come back marked up. Individually designed elements such as chapter numbers and titles need to be tagged (keymarked) for the compositor, and almost all publishers require copyeditors to mark for proper setting all em dashes and ellipses. Those elements alone can make a clean manuscript look as though it’s covered with red pencil.

There are a number of changes a copyeditor can make, though, that an author might not understand. I’ll mention the most common ways of indicating those.

Let’s start with keymarking–a circled code beside each design element. The primary thing you need to know about keymarking is that every element marked with the same code will be given the same design; you need to make sure that’s as you intended and discuss with your editor anything that concerns you. You’ll note on your manuscript a circled CN beside each chapter number, a CT beside the chapter title, an A or DL beside a date line used as a subhead. Epigraphs that begin a chapter will usually be marked EPI. Extracts–anything to be set as a block quote–will be marked EXT. If you have a particularly long quote embedded within a paragraph, you might see EXT if the copyeditor has decided to have the quote set as a block quote; conversely, a very short quote you’ve set as a block quote might have lines connecting its first and/or last words to the text above or below to tell the comp to run it into that paragraph. (That change is far more common in nonfiction than in fiction.)

Something that might confuse you when you see your chapter titles is that the copyeditor will have marked them for capitalization and lowercase, even if you had them all capitalized. That does not mean that the copyeditor has decided to change your preference on having them all cap–that’s the text designer’s call. Just in case the text designer has decided they should be cap/lowercase, though, it’s the copyeditor’s job to notify the comp as to which words should be cap and which lowercase. Capitalization is marked by three lines underneath a letter or word. Lowercasing is marked by a slash through a letter; if the lowercasing encompasses a whole word or line, the copyeditor will start a line at the top of the slash and continue it above all the selected words.

If you see two lines underneath a word or phrase, that means that the copyeditor wants them in small capitals. Abbreviations such as BC and AD are sometimes set that way (though The Chicago Manual of Style now recommends full capitals), and some publishers prefer the text on signs to be set in small caps as well.

Inserted or deleted words or letters are the most common changes, and the easiest to understand: a caret shows where new words or letters belong, and a line with a loop on the end marks out words or letters to be deleted. If a letter is to be replaced with another because of misspelling, the caret might be drawn through the letter to be deleted. If two words or letters are to be switched (for instance, if you wrote teh instead of the), a mark that looks like a sideways S will be drawn around them to show the comp that they need to be transposed. If a letter space needs to be inserted in a word, it will be shown with a caret mark and #.

Inserted punctuation is marked very overtly, just so the comp doesn’t miss it or misunderstand it. Inserted commas are placed beneath a caret, and inserted periods are circled; semicolons might be marked by either of those methods. Colons are marked with a circle or shown between a caret and an inverted caret, which is my preference as it differentiates them more clearly from periods. Quote marks and apostrophes are shown atop an inverted caret. I always mark inserted question marks with a circled Set to make clear to the comp that they aren’t a query, and exclamation points are marked with a circled excl. Inserted hyphens are shown by two lines that look like an equal sign.

You will note that all your end-of-line hyphens have been marked, as well. Hyphens that are to remain in the word when the text is reset will either have a caret underneath them or an extra line to make them look (in the manuscript) like an equal sign; some copyeditors use both. Hyphens that are to be deleted will have a delete mark, and possibly an arc showing to form the two elements into one word.

I mentioned that copyeditors are usually required to mark all em dashes and ellipses, even if they’re already correct in the manuscript. Em dashes will have a 1 written above the line and an m written below. With American publishers, the dashes will be marked with little arcs that indicate they should be closed up to the surrounding text. (Spaces precede and follow them in British punctuation.) Four-dot ellipses will show an arc showing that the first dot should be closed up (as a period) to the preceding text, while the others will have a line drawn between them to show there should be a space there.

If a paragraph seems far too long, the copyeditor might break it into two paragraphs by inserting a paragraph mark (¶), which looks somewhat like a pi sign, at the point where the new paragraph should begin. A paragraph marked to run into another will have a line connecting the two, and usually run in circled off to the side.

Most publishers are fine with copyeditors noting that all italics should be set italic. Some, however, require the copyeditor to underline every bit of italic in the manuscript; a few go even further and then require the copyeditor to write ital out to the side of every instance (which is a dreadful waste of the copyeditor’s time, IMO, but you do what they ask or you don’t get work). Similarly, boldfacing is marked by a squiggly line drawn underneath. If something is set in italics but should be in Roman, the copyeditor will circle it and write Rom in a circle beside it. (If you used underlining, the copyeditor will just delete the underscore.)

Empty line spaces for section breaks will be marked with a circled l#; ornamental breaks will be marked with ORN or another keymark. (Sometimes the designer will decide that all line breaks should be ornamental, though, so the l# doesn’t necessarily indicate that there won’t be an ornamental break instead.)

Many copyeditors circle abbreviations or numerals that they want spelled out, and then write a circled sp off to the side. I very rarely mark anything that way because I’ve found that the comps often misspell the words, and I believe in avoiding errors as much as possible, regardless of who ends up paying for them. (The comps are not copyeditors and don’t know the rules the way we do.) I just insert the proper word–it’s far more clear, and the amount of extra time it takes is usually negligible.

The last mark that occurs to me at the moment is the stet mark, which consists of dots drawn underneath a word or phrase, and a circled stet out to the side. Copyeditors use this mark if they’ve made a mistake in their marking and want the original to stay in place instead, and they also use it to tell the comp and the proofreader that a particular (usually unusual) spelling is to be left as the author has it.

If you haven’t realized by now, the copyeditor will have circled every query or notation that is not supposed to be set–otherwise the compositor might think it is an insertion instead. I’ve actually seen a manuscript where the comp had inserted the word acute because the copyeditor had marked an acute accent as such (all diacritics are supposed to be noted by name) but failed to circle it. That kind of thing does happen if we’re not careful, so we do our best.

I hope this is helpful to any of you in understanding your copyedited manuscript. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

ETA: I’ve worked up an illustrated example of a copyedited manuscript here.

11 thoughts on “Understanding Your Copyedited Manuscript”

  1. Jpatrick: A quick googling returns some good examples (admittedly, in black & white… your imagination can Colorize/Turnerize them, I’m sure ;-) ) – http://www.neu.edu/styleguide/appendix_b.html

    Illustrious Hostess: It’s heartening to see that, despite the hideous black mark my tenure at Edit Ink represents, at least I was taught the correct way to mark up a manuscript, even though it’s improbable that I’ll find my way back into the field. How did you find your way to your current position, if you don’t mind narrating your CV? :-)

  2. A legend is a nice start, but what I really mean is a few pages of copy-edited manuscript, maybe with examples of a couple keymarks.

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