Glossary of proofreading terms

Linefeeds, widows and en dashes – ever wondered what your proofreader is trying to tell you? Proofreading terms can be puzzling if you don’t know what they mean. Here are the basic terms explained.

Thicker style of > type. The individual headings in this glossary are written in bold letters.

The word “September” starts with a capital letter. Writing something “in capitals” means spelling it out in big, capital letters: LIKE THAT.

To write or print in > capital letters or to begin a word with a capital letter.

Closed up
Punctuation with no space on either side: 3–4 p.m. There is no space between the numbers and the dash.

Em dash
The really long dash. Longer than the > en dash. Always used > closed up, either as punctuation instead of commas or > parentheses (It was—all in all—a successful launch.) or to indicate interrupted speech (“What the—”, he gasped.).

En dash
The medium-length dash – used > closed up to form ranges (page 12–23) or relations (Paris–Dakar rally); used > spaced as punctuation instead of a colon, brackets or commas (It was – all in all – a successful launch).

Fixed space
Used to keep two words together that are separated by a space. Often used between numbers and units (50 mg) so that they don’t get separated by a line break.

Name of a > type with a specific design; also called > typeface. “Times New Roman” or “Arial” are examples of different fonts.

Hard return
Key on the computer keyboard that starts a new line (the “Enter”or “Return” key); also called a > linefeed.

House style
Company-specific guidelines for spelling, terminology, hyphenation etc. Often collated in a > style sheet for copywriters and proofreaders to maintain a consistent style in all written texts.

The shortest dash. Can be used to form compound words, e.g. short-term, wide-ranging, pick-me-up (hard hyphen). Also indicates the division of a word at the end of a line (soft hyphen). Contrary to popular belief, the hyphen is not to be used as punctuation (use the > en dash or > em dash instead).

When a line or a block of text is set further away from the margin than the main text, it is indented.

> Type that slopes to the right. If you really want to stress something, you could write the word in italic script for emphasis. The links in this glossary are written in italic.

A text is justified if the margins on both sides are even. All full lines have the same length. Often found in newspaper columns and printed text because it looks neat.

Two or more letters joined together to form a single character, e.g. æ, ff, fi, ffl. Perhaps a bit old-fashioned these days, but some > types still use them to look pretty.

Starting a new line by hitting the “Return” (or “Enter”) key; distance between two lines of text, also called line spacing.

Lower case
Lower-case letters are letters that are not > capitalized. All of the words in the previous sentence are lower case, except for the word “Lower”, which starts with an upper-case letter “L”.

The first line of a new paragraph at the foot of a page. Should ideally be moved to the next page to join the rest of the paragraph it belongs to.

Pair of round brackets (such as these).

Parenthesis (plural: parentheses)
Word or phrase inserted into a sentence as an addition, usually marked by brackets, dashes or commas on either side: Nobody, not even the owner, expected this horse to win.

The regular upright > type or font style (such as this one) that texts are usually written in, as opposed to the > bold or > italic type.

Run on
Continuation; connecting two lines or paragraphs that had been separated before, for example if a sentence had been split unintentionally by a > hard return.

With a space on either side. Some punctuation is used with a space on either side – such as this en dash.

Latin for “let it stand”. Usually marked in form of a few dots underneath a correction made in error. Means to leave the text as it is. Not so much used anymore in digital proofreading, where you can simply delete a correction if it is wrong.

Style sheet
List of instructions about grammar or spelling preferences and other style-related matters, for example with regard to hyphenation, capitalization or word endings such as -ise or -ize.

Take back and take over
To correct a bad word break such as “leg- end”, you can either take back the second part to keep the entire word in the first line or take over the first part and move it to the next line.

If you swap around words or letters that are in the wrong order, you transpose them. In this exmaple, you need to transpose the letters m and a to form the word “example”.

Another word for character or letter. Originally a printing term for a piece of metal with a raised letter or character (which you can also find on an old typewriter).

Name of a > type with a specific design; also called > font. “Times New Roman” or “Arial” are examples of different typefaces.

The margin on the left side of the text is even (aligned) and the margin on the right is uneven (ragged). The lines have different lengths, but the spaces between the words are all the same size. Usually used for online texts (such as this one) and emails, as it is easier to read on screen.

Upper case
See > lower case.

A short last line of a paragraph (just a few words) spilling over to the top of the next page. Should be tucked under the paragraph it belongs to, if possible.

Are there any other proofreading terms you are not sure about? Let me know! I will try and answer them.