Do You Know What These Writing Symbols Mean?

Monica Lee

Image: Original via

About This Quiz

There are these weird squiggly marks all over your paper or presentation. What are they? Proofreading marks from your teacher, supervisor or editor. If you ever wondered what they mean or know what they mean, this quiz is for you as it will be a cinch! That's because these writing symbols are very logical and concise. Most people can figure it out without a reference guide -- the context is usually enough.  With just a few slashes, circles and dashes, it's quite simple to understand any copy feedback when the editing symbols are handwritten.

However, copy editing by hand is becoming a thing of the past. Today's editors can use "track changes" in Word, where they can clearly explain the edit they want.  But for those who still use and read editing marks, keep in mind that there is a logic behind each writing symbol. For instance, to make punctuation changes more visible, the punctuation mark is circled or placed inside a caret. Otherwise who would notice a comma if it didn’t have a little roof above its head? 

Now it's time to put your editing smarts to work. We know you can decipher these symbols like a pro. Do it now and PROOF us correct. Otherwise, we might have to rewrite this summary.

What is this editing mark?

If a different letter, word or phrase is needed, use a caret shows where the additional, corrected or substituted information is to be inserted.. That new information is placed at the point of insertion in or above the line.

What does this writing symbol mean?

Draw a horizontal line through a phrase, sentence or paragraph to indicate it should be deleted. The horizontal line has a small loop at the end of the line.

Some teachers use this mark when correcting papers. What is it?

A more accurate way to delete a single letter or punctuation mark is to use a vertical line delete mark with a loop at the end.

You may have not seen this mark before, but it's a writing symbol. What is it?

A single line under a word, phrase or sentence indicates that selection should be italicized.

In academia, papers are always being edited. What writing symbol is this?

It seems like most editors like to delete, that must be why there are three different ways to show deletion! One would use this writing symbol to delete a letter or punctuation by circling it and connecting the circle to the vertical or horizontal delete mark.

In business, you need to be familiar with this symbol if you present decks or papers. What is it?

If you want a letter to be capitalized, simply put three small lines under the selected letter, word or phrase.

What does this writing symbol mean?

To tell the writer to lowercase a letter or word, simply strike-through the offending capital letter with a diagonal stroke.

Writing symbols can be a universal language. Can you identify this one?

A squiggly line under a word, phrase or sentence indicates the selection should be set in bold type.

This symbol reminds one of half a railroad track. What is it?

A series of strike-throughs on the underline itself means to remove the underlining.

When you need some room, use this editing mark. What is it?

There is more than one way to add a space, and in this case using a hash mark is ideal because you write more than one to indicate more than one space is needed.

This was just discussed in the last answer. What symbol is this?

Although it would seem one would have a single parallel line, instead, two short parallel lines means to insert a hyphen.

This editing mark will make the writer feel better. What is it?

"Keep as is", or "keep as it stands", is what a writer likes to see after the hard work of writing the first draft. You can use the "stet" word or three dots to indicate not to change the copy.

Word count is important to any editor. What is this symbol?

Editors need to make room for both photos and copy in a story. They use this mark to close up space.

Sometimes this mark helps the sentence make better sense. What is it?

Even though editors have to save on space, if an acronym or an abbreviation won't be understood by the reader, it is better to have it spelled out.

Sometimes this mark helps the sentence make better sense. What is it?

Sometimes the parenthetical phase works better at the beginning of the sentence, than the end. That's when editors use this mark which means to change the order of—or transpose— the letters, words, or phrases.

The pacing of a sentence is another important aspect. What writing symbol is this?

An em-dash is longer than a hyphen. It is used to create a strong break in the structure of a sentence, yet connect the thoughts.

A small, but powerful editing symbol. What is it?

Add a period and it's hard for the writer to see the change, so the period needs to be circled.

These edit marks are important when reporting. What is it?

News reporters quote people often, and editors make sure the quotation marks are used properly and in the right placement.

When it's time for a new thought, use this writing symbol. What is it?

This symbol helps in the formatting of the paper, report or presentation. It shows where to begin a paragraph.

What is the name of this writing symbol that can be used to indicate information that appears in legal copy?

Superscript is usually used with an asterisk or number to indicate there is more information about the topic in the legal copy.

Ah, but what would we do without this editing symbol? What is it?

Adding a comma to a sentence is hard for the writer to detect, hence a caret is used to indicate where it should be inserted within the sentence.

Chemical equations are one place where this writing symbol is used. What is it?

Chemical equations, trademarks and mathematical equations will have subscript information as part of the idea being conveyed. An upside-down caret is used to indicate subscript.

Here is another editing mark that is used for the ease of the writer. What is it?

It would be hard to receive a manuscript where you need to look at every word to figure out if there is a change like adding a period, comma or apostrophe. The caret is used to make adding an apostrophe bigger, to catch the eye.

This is a weird-looking scrawl. What's the name of this writing symbol?

So as not to be confused with a capital "C", the parens has the double slash marks to identify it as a parenthesis.

This symbol is pretty simple. But what is its meaning?

A long vertical line shows the placement of where all items (of a list, for example) should begin.

It's just one bracket. When it points in this direction, what does it mean?

This writing symbol helps in the layout of the page. For instance if you don't want a line or sentence to extend beyond a certain point, use the flush right symbol.

Now the bracket is pointed in the other direction, what does it mean?

Flush left is like a tab to keep all copy aligned left, however it is indented from the major text.

OK, now you have two brackets. What does it mean?

When two brackets are used, it is meant to center the copy that is between the two brackets. This is a formatting symbol used by editors.

Although it looks like a long division problem, what does this symbol mean?

When a word is in all caps, and the editor wants an initial cap only, this symbol is used to keep first letter capitalized and lower case the remainder.

What does this editing symbol mean?

When you want the text to follow the preceding word, this loopy line is what most editors use to instruct the writer or author.

An editor might use this mark to increase the clarity of the sentence. What is the name of this symbol?

Some words are more understandable in their shortened forms. For instance, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration may be circled so the writer knows to use "NASA" instead.

Directions are pretty straightforward in this one. What is the name of the symbol?

Just follow the arrow. The editor circles what needs to be moved and shows where it should be placed by using an arrow.

What does this symbol mean when used by an editor?

Sometimes when writers want something to jump off the page they may change the type font, but when the editor wants to change it back, a "wf" in a circle is the symbol that's used.

Another formatting issue that can be solved by this symbol. What does it mean?

Take a bracket and make it horizontal and you have the symbol to raise the text that the bracket is touching.

When the bracket is shown this way, what should you do?

The bracket is placed above the text that should be lowered. This symbol helps format the page so the text can surround quotes, pictures, charts and other information.

It makes sense when you see the possible answers. What does this symbol mean?

The need to equalize the spacing can happen when trying to left justify, or aligning one word under another word. The computer chooses how to set up the justification and it doesn't always look right.

Same directions but different symbols. What do these letters signify?

You can circle something that is in italics to let the writer know to change it to a non-italic font, or you can write "rom".

Choosing how you state your case is important. What does this editing symbol mean?

Editors don't always have time to find the perfect word, but can quickly spot a word or phrase that is being used incorrectly. If that happens, the writer will see this symbol.

Final question! What does this symbol mean when it stands next to a word?

To express the importance of a sentiment, there are times only one word or two words are on a single line. That's when an editor might choose to implement this mark.

No, it's not Déjà vu. What is this symbol?

There is more than one way to indicate a single space is needed. Simply put a a slash between letters. Many times this symbol is also used with a hyphen since the correct spelling is a hyphenated word, not a combined word.

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