When clients receive a marked-up text from me—either by a true hard copy or, more often, from a scanned-in and emailed file—they always have the option of applying the changes themselves to their electronic document. See a bit more about this at "How Does the Editing Process Work?"
Editor's marks can be confusing if you're not used to reading them. I always recommend that you set aside at least as much time as I took to edit the document for you to make the changes, especially if this is your first time applying electronic changes ("e-changes"). However, doing your own e-changes to a document can save you some money and can also give you a greater measure of control over your text, having the chance to "OK" everything as you go.
Tips for Applying E-changes
Don't skip anything just because you don't understand it. If I marked it, I did it for a reason, and it might be really important.
Don't hesitate to call me with quick questions about editing marks. If you are an established client (meaning I've completed billable work for you), I am always happy to answer questions about anything you don't understand.
Do look closely at where that little deletion line goes. (There's more about this below.) If it strikes through a comma, for instance, that comma should be deleted. If it stops right before it or starts right after it, then the comma is supposed to stay. Again, nothing is marked haphazardly, no matter how chaotic it might look at first.
Do work from a hard copy (print out any emailed scans) rather than reading the marks from a screen. This will save time, headaches, and lots of missed changes. Keep a highlighter handy, and neatly highlight changes on your hard copy as you make them on the screen. This is how the pros do it—for good reason.
Do let me know if there is a change that you think is just plain stupid. It might be my error (it happens), but it might be a necessary change that I just didn't communicate clearly.
Some Marks and Their Application
First, there's the ever-useful caret. It always points precisely to the place in the text where a change should be inserted. It just means to insert whatever is written above it:
Or sometimes below it:
So that brings us to that clever little mark that ends with a loop. That means to delete. In the above example, the "s" is to be deleted and replaced by the "ed."
Sometimes you have to be very careful not to miss something that is supposed to be deleted.
Deleting the "for" and the "that" and the "it provides them" is obvious in this example. But did you notice that the comma after "do" is also supposed to be deleted? Editors are careful (or should be) as to where that little line goes. Everything it cuts through should be deleted. It's a very powerful squiggle.
Curves vs. Angles
Sometimes the editor will write a note in the margin that shouldn't be inserted in the text but is rather a suggestion or question for the writer. These notes will be circled—or at least outlined in something like a circle, with curved edges.
Text that is to be inserted, however, if it is outlined at all, will be outlined with angled corners. Below, the first sample shows an insertion change. The next sample is a suggestion to the writer (I am questioning his use of "embellished").
A Few More Editor's Marks
Underlined text should be italicized. (We don't use actual underlining—called "underscore"—in printed text unless a certain style calls for it.)
Text that is underlined with a strike through the line should have the ital removed.
Text underlined three times should be set in capital letters.
Text with a diagonal line through it (without the "delete" squiggle at the end of the line) should be set in lowercase letters.
Like in the example above, "WC" means word choice. I'll use it when I'm questioning whether you might have used the wrong word but I want to verify that I am retaining your intended meaning.
"Per" in my notes to you means "according to." Such as in "This is a misquote per quotes.com. Verify at your source."
"Nom" means number: "Insert page nom here."
"#" actually doesn't mean "number" in editor's marks. It represents a space. So if you see a caret inserting a "#," that means to put a space there.
When something in your text is circled with no other explanation, it usually means that it should be spelled out. If a "%" in circled, it should be replaced with the word "percent." If "U.S." is circled, replace it with "United States." You get the idea.
However, a circled number means that the number should be made superscript (such as in a footnote number). If a number is to be spelled out as a word (such as "20" to "twenty"), I'll just spell it out for you.
Sometimes if I am making a change over and over again, I'll write "circled hereafter" following the first few changes, and then I'll just circle where the change needs to happen. For instance, if a client keeps spelling "Dr. Seuss" as "Dr. Suess," then, I'll just correct it the first few times, write "circled hereafter" in the margin, and simply circle the misspelling from then on.
Large portions of circled text are probably supposed to be moved to somewhere else in the text. I'll note this clearly in the margin.
Three Horizontal Lines and Why We Love Them
A mark that looks like a little horizontal line means to insert a hyphen. We all know what these are. You insert it with the button usually situated to the right of the zero across the top of your keyboard. Hyphens connect unit modifiers, help us create new funky-monkey word structures, and generally make life more fun. When it comes to feeling good about prefixes, they are definitely pro-self-esteem punctuation.
A little fraction mark that looks like a "1" over an "m" means to insert an M-dash. On a mac, you insert it with a shift+option+hyphen. These dashes are used within sentences to set off a phrase less severely than with parentheses.
A little fraction mark that looks like a "1" over an "n" means to insert . . . an N-dash. You guessed it. These dashes are sometimes used in the place of a hyphen (for various reasons) but are usually used to indicate a range of something, as in "employed adults aged 25–40" or "I referenced pages 33–49."
For other tips, check out Merriam Webster's table of proofreader's marks.