Going Old-School

printA little gem my daughter turned up in a local charity shop has provided a lot of food for thought for me.  Not only was ‘The Writer’s Desk Book’ a stark reminder of how very much writing tools have changed over the last 80 years, there were some useful pages about editing.  For instance, the page ‘How To Correct Printers’ Proofs’ makes a good checklist for any writer who has reached the point where they’re rewriting/editing their work ready for submission or uploading for self-publication.

For instance:

“Following are some of the points to watch for when correcting a proof :

  • Faulty or missing punctuation
  • Incorrect spelling
  • Transposed letters
  • Letters upside down
  • Words badly spaced
  • Faulty reading of sentence or passage
  • Omissions from the text
  • Wrong type
  • Errors in figures and dates, etc.
  • Duplication of letters or words
  • Faulty use of capitals
  • Omission of quotation marks
  • Missing capitals
  • Failure to italicise words where necessary
  • Wrong use of italics
  • Under-paragraphing
  • Paragraphing at wrong points
  • Unevenness in type, crooked lines, etc
  • Raggedness of margin”

While some of these points are now taken care of automatically by our glorious word processors, it’s worth using such a check list when proofreading our own texts.  The ‘Words upside down’ clearly identifies this list as proofs coming from an old-fashioned type-setters, but there are modern formatting errors we could pay attention to, such as extra spaces at the start of lines, or (in the case of fully justified layout), too few words on one line, leading to a thin spread of letters across a page.

A further useful section in this marvelous old book was a list of proof-reading symbols.  Secretarial college taught me some of them, and I remember having to type countless practice pages, all annotated with symbols, which I had to translate and incorporate into a ‘clean’ copy.  It strikes me that it would do no harm for any writer to know at least some of them, so I’ve provided an image of the relevant page below (apologies for the poor scan):

correction symbolsThe book also provides an example of the use of these symbols within a manuscript, and a corrected version of the same text.  As you can see, some of the symbols are used in the text and repeated in the margin, alongside where the correction is needed.  specimen_correctionsCorrectedEditing and proofreading is possibly the least-favourite activity for most writers, but it is also an essential one.  If your book is going to sell, you have to put forward a capable and professional image to the agent or publisher you hope to interest.Getting that manuscript in tip-top condition means paying attention to all those annoying details.


2 thoughts on “Going Old-School

  1. I am going through this with Shell Shocked Britain at the moment. Those deletion marks are difficult to get right! Proper proofreading is, as you say, an art we could all do with learning.


    • So true, Suzie. With more writers opting to go self-published these days, all the proofreading is done on the screen, so no need to mark up the manuscript. I guess there’s still ‘track changes’ and ‘comments’ on Word. 😛


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