Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

Learning Copyediting Symbols

By E. B. Harris
2003, E.B. Harris


opyeditors work to fix the mistakes that writers sometimes miss.  They not only watch for continuity problems -- those changes in eye color that creep in, or the fact that the brabic plant of Parkinin has leaves on the right side, not the left -- but also to fix grammar and punctuation.  In the chart below are twenty-two symbols that copyeditors and editors sometimes use to mark manuscripts.  These are not the only symbols used, and because they are handwritten, they can vary considerably.  Different 'schools' also use slightly different symbols.

Selling to a print house usually means that the author will see a copyedited version of his novel and will have to go through and check each such notation.  Learning the symbols and what they mean can help this process move more quickly.

Copyediting is a difficult job, and sometimes the person can overstep the differences between correcting and changing the meaning.  Professional writers often have horror stories about bad copyeditors who have changed things for no apparent reason.  This often leads to a frantic call to the editor, checking through some of the changes, and deciding what needs to be done.  Since books are on a schedule to be produced, it's rare that there's time for another copyediting process, even if it is decided that the original was badly handled.

Copyeditors are professionals, and though there may be occasional problems, they are paid to do the work the publishing houses want.  Some work freelance and are hired for specific projects.

Learning to work with copyeditors, and to allow that they probably know their jobs is another key to a successful career in writing.

These symbols are usually written in the margins, sometimes with a short explanation of how the material should be changed.


Insert An Apostrophe

Insert Space

Insert Brackets



No Paragraph

Close Up




Insert Comma

Question Mark



Delete And Close Up


Exclamation Point





STET (Let It Stand)


The last symbol -- STET -- is the writer's friend.  It means to leave the original material as the writer intended it, and to ignore the copyeditor's version.  However, it should be used with discretion.  The copyeditor works for the publishing company, so be aware that some changes may be set to 'house rules.'