Manuscript Preparation

Q. As a young magazine editor, I was trained to write “TK” to indicate that information or text is “to come.” The habit has stuck with me, although it makes much more sense to use “TBD” (to be decided) or some other (correct) abbreviation. What does “TK” really stand for, and why do we use it?

A. According to the Abbreviations Dictionary (9th ed., 1995), by Ralph De Sola, Dean Stahl, and Karen Kerchelich, tk (only this lowercase form is listed) means to kum and is “a printer’s expression meaning material is to come.” I remember using the abbreviation in the composing and stripping rooms of a print shop (in the 1980s), and I always liked that it was tk and not tc—as if the initials were some sort of trade secret known only to printers. I’ve since learned, as a manuscript editor who must communicate on various drafts of manuscript or proof to authors, book designers, typesetters, and others, not to use tk. It’s best to be more straightforward and specific. For example, use bullets or boldface zeros (••• or 000) to stand in for page numbers that cannot be determined until a manuscript is paginated as a book (but see paragraph 2.32 in CMOS). For items like missing figures, describe exactly what’s missing. In electronic environments, you have recourse to comment features—like the <!--comment--> syntax of XML and HTML, which allows for descriptive instructions that will not interfere with the final version of a document. Make sure that whatever you do stops the project in its tracks at some point before publication.