Must-Have Proofreading Tools; or, What’s in My Purse

Note: This week I went to OfficeMax and stocked up on my favorite pens, so I thought I’d tell you about them and some other of my essentials. If you’re someone who interprets proofreader’s marks (maybe even mine), perhaps this will give you some insight into my process. If you’re a fellow proofreader and you’ve found something that works better for you, why not share? Leave a reply in the comments box at the end!

I spend a sizeable amount of time proofreading hardcopy. I can proofread just about anywhere—my office, the dining room, the front seat of the car while I’m waiting to pick up my son from school—as long as I have my tool kit, laid out in the photo below.

pens, straightedge, flags, highlighter, correction fluid, pen, sticky notes

Let’s go from left to right.

Pilot Razor Point Liquid Ink Marker Pens. Well, if that isn’t the longest name for a writing instrument. These are my one and only choice for proofreading work. I fell in love with these pens when I was a copy editor at MicroMash. I get the assorted colors pack, but I might as well throw the brown and black away. I want my marks to stand out! That’s why I go for pink first. If Pilot made a pack of all pink, or pink and light blue, that would be great! The dark blue is my least fave besides brown and black, and I wouldn’t use red when working with a new client. It may be a myth, but I heard that red can make authors angry, as if you’re using it to humiliate them. Maybe it comes from that color’s long tradition in correcting and criticizing assignments.

I like these pens because they make nice, unbroken, even lines. The ink starts flowing as soon as the pen touches the page, so you can make tiny marks without needing to press hard or go back and forth. Lines made by ballpoint pens look scratchy in comparison, and we all know that sometimes ballpoints need to “warm up” or don’t write at first. These are better than Sharpies, too, even the ultra fine point variety, because Sharpies smell bad. The Pilot pens have no odor. When you’re working with correction fluid already, why add something else that can make you dizzy? They’re also better than Sharpies because the Sharpies tend to bleed more, making little spidery lines radiate out from your writing.

I can think of two downsides of these pens. One: the clip tends to break, for me at least. That’s because sometimes I play with it while I’m thinking, snapping it against the lid. Two: If you drop one of these pens while you’re working with it, the tip will probably get bent, rendering it at best a pain to continue using.

Colored pencil, which I don’t normally use, has the advantage of being erasable but the disadvantages of needing to be sharpened and being hard to read in photocopies as well as in the first place.

Straightedge. Having a straightedge to keep my eyes on the line helps me read word by word, improving my ability to catch small missing words that aren’t essential for your brain to grasp the meaning of a sentence: for example, the second “as” in “as well as” or “to” in “in order to.” I try to do two reads of proofs, at least one of them using a straightedge. My straightedge of choice is the brightly colored back of a lenticular bookmark. Its smooth plastic surface is also, as you can see, a great place for storing flags for reuse.

Which brings me to flags. It doesn’t matter what brand—gotta have ’em. I don’t know if they’re as important to authors and typesetters as I might imagine, but they’re traditional for marking pages that contain queries (some people use them as an index to chapters), so I still use them. Sometimes I use them to mark a page but then delete the query or remove them for some other reason, and then, as I mentioned, I like to keep them rather than throw them away. Sometimes I write on them things like “xref,” a note to myself to check a cross-reference, and then their reuse is limited to such purposes. Tip: if you run out of flags, you can cut sticky notes into strips!

Highlighter. I like the classic yellow. It stands out, but not too much. Fat chiseled tip. I highlight the text or part of the page that a query or comment relates to, and I also highlight text that is confusing or questionable even if I can’t formulate a query, so I can easily come back to it. Sometimes I end up not querying about it, though.

Correction fluid. What you see in the photo is a “correction pen,” but I have no special attachment to this delivery method. The plus side of the pen variety is you don’t have to repeatedly open and close a bottle, which makes the fluid harder to work with over time because it thickens the more contact it has with air. The minus side is the fluid comes out watery at first, even if you shake it.

A ballpoint pen. I use a regular, cheap ballpoint pen for a couple of reasons. If I’m just making notes to myself, for example on sticky notes, why use the expensive Pilot pens? I also use them when I need to draw lines to distinguish marks pertaining to one line of text from marks pertaining to another line. The ballpoint line looks different, which helps the reader (I hope) discern that this is only a dividing line, not meant to signify anything else.

Sticky notes. I use these most often to scrawl cryptic notes to myself, like “as well 145.” These mostly note things that I want to keep an eye out for to make sure they’re consistent, like tables. The large sticky notes are more expensive, so I use the tiny ones and write, as mentioned, with brevity. If I go long, sometimes I use two.

I might also add binder clips to this list. They’re good for keeping the stack of pages I’ve already read together and separate from what I haven’t read yet.

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2 Comments on “Must-Have Proofreading Tools; or, What’s in My Purse”

  1. Karen schilling says:

    I would probably never use white out …


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