One question I get asked a lot is “Can I become a proofreader without a degree?”
Or even more specifically “Do I need an English degree to become a proofreader?”
The answer to both questions is NOPE!
You do NOT need a degree to be a proofreader — English language or otherwise.
I’ve gotten more than just a few people emailing me saying I’ve inspired them to go back to school for an English degree.
I even had someone write back and tell me they make $800 a month and want to go back to school.
My heart goes out to my friends who are struggling financially, which is why I am going to encourage those without a degree in English — or any other subject — to take a deep breath and repeat after me:
It doesn’t matter.
What Does It Take to Become a Proofreader?
Seriously, if you’ve got an eagle eye and want to do what I do, you do not need to go out and get a degree in English before becoming an online proofreader.
All you need is excellent attention to detail, the drive to succeed, and the proper training under your belt.
Here are some key traits you’ll need to be a successful proofreader:
Excellent Knowledge of Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation Rules
The most important skills all aspiring proofreaders need to have are excellent spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills!
While you don’t need to memorize every single grammar rule, you do have to have a great command of the English language.
You need to be able to recognize bad grammar when you see it and be able to be able to fix it or know where to find the answers if you’re not sure.
Above-Average Communication Skills
Proofreading is a business so you must act like a professional when dealing with clients. This includes responding to emails in a TIMELY manner.
It also involves communicating in a clear and concise way. If your communications are rambly and riddled with errors, potential clients aren’t going to get a good impression of your proofreading skills.
Outstanding Time Management Skills
As a proofreader, you will have deadlines to meet. The deadlines can either be set by you or your clients, but either way, they need to be met.
It’s important to make sure you allow yourself enough time to complete the job so that you’re not rushing. Rushing leads to mistakes, and too many mistakes could lead to no repeat clients!
Once you know what the deadline is, come up with a plan to keep yourself on track.
The following time management techniques and tips may help you with this:
- Schedule your workload — write it down so you don’t forget
- Prioritize your tasks according to deadline
- Complete tasks that need the most concentration at the times when you’re most productive
- Turn off all distractions like phone and email
- Make a checklist of all the steps you need to take/things you need to check for
- Use the Pomodoro technique
Willingness to Research What You Don’t Know
An excellent proofreader takes the time to look up something they don’t know.
Clients won’t be impressed if you send back documents with tons of words highlighted with a note saying you weren’t sure of the correct spelling, etc. They will be more impressed if you research the answer so they don’t have to.
That’s what they’re paying you for, after all!
Ability to Use a Computer and Popular Proofreading Tools
These days the majority of proofreading takes place online, so you will need to be comfortable with using a computer and navigating the web.
You’ll also need to learn how to use software like Microsoft Word, iAnnotate, and Google Docs to mark up the documents with your changes.
Familiarity with Essential Style Guides and Other Resources Every Proofreader Needs
Maybe you’re familiar with some grammar rules, but you’re not sure where they came from. Some rules differ depending on which style guide you’re using, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with at least one of them (depending on what type of document you’re proofreading) and apply its rules consistently.
Understanding of the Difference between Copyediting and Proofreading
You mean proofreading and copyediting are not the same thing? That’s right!
Many authors/writers are not fully aware that there are different levels of editing, so they may contact you asking for proofreading. It’s important that you are aware of the difference between the two so you don’t agree to copyedit at a proofreading rate.
Willingness to Market Your Skills
This is the part almost everyone dreads! But it is an essential part of growing your proofreading business.
As I always say, mastery leads to confidence, so focus on building your skills first before you worry about marketing.
Then when it comes time to market, focus on active marketing (networking, talking to potential clients) versus passive marketing (website, directories).
Both have their place, but active marketing will get you there a lot quicker!
Don’t worry if marketing still freaks you out! You can learn how to get better at it. Both of my Proofread Anywhere courses include extensive modules on marketing your business.
What about Proofreading Court Transcripts? Do I Need a Degree for That?
I bet you’re wondering, “So I don’t even have to go to college to become a transcript proofreader?”
Nope! With transcripts, you proofread spoken word, so you’re not analyzing text and rearranging sentences — none of that. Punctuation is much more important than grammar when it comes to proofreading spoken work. You don’t need to know the names of each sentence element, nor do you need to know how to write good. (Just kidding; I know it should be “write well”! ;-))
Is It Worth Going to College to Become a Proofreader?
Going back to school is overrated.
My bachelor’s degree is in communication, not English, and it never stopped me from working as a proofreader! None of my clients were worried about what degree I had; in fact, none of them even asked to see my résumé! They were only interested in my ability to get the work done on time and to a high standard.
Schooling does give you all kinds of knowledge, but it won’t teach you how to proofread transcripts or general texts: not the practical side (how to do the work), nor the marketing side (how to get the work), nor the business side (how to manage the work) — all of which is included in my courses.
More debt makes it harder to go places and do things too. So, please, for the love of all things written, do not go into debt to start a proofreading business. It’s just not necessary.
For my full thoughts on why a college degree doesn’t create income, click here!
So I Don’t Need Any Proofreading Training?
That’s not to say you don’t need any proofreading training!
Even if you were top of your high school English class, chances are you will have forgotten a lot of the rules in the intervening years. And you may never have been trained to follow a certain style guide so that you apply the rules consistently.
There’s still a lot to learn when it comes to working as a professional proofreader, but luckily it can be learned for much, much less than the cost of a degree.
Not only will proofreading training give you the confidence to do your job well but it will also ensure that you can compete with other proofreaders out there who have completed training.
But All the Proofreader Job Ads I See Require a Degree?
Some proofreading companies (usually those that focus on academic editing) do require that you have a degree in a relevant subject or a few years of experience.
There are plenty of other options available to you as a freelance proofreader though!
There are a huge number of different clients out there from self-publishing authors to bloggers to businesses to court reporters who don’t care if you have a degree or not.
As a freelancer, you get to set your own rates and you can work online from the comfort of home rather than commute to an in-house role. These are just two of the benefits of being your own boss!
Here’s another one: if you find your own clients, you don’t have to give 20% of your earnings to a proofreading company!
What If I Don’t Have Any Proofreading Experience At All?
Having no proofreading experience is not the deal breaker it sounds like.
You can still become a proofreader even if you are a total newbie!
If you take either of my training courses, you will end up with way more proofreading experience than someone who hasn’t taken any training at all. My Transcript Proofreading course includes over 3,000 pages of practice transcripts for you to work on! And my General Proofreading course includes 40 practice essays. That’s like having 40 practice clients before you even start!
You can also consider volunteering your services or doing a couple of small jobs in exchange for testimonials when you’re first getting started.
I hope this post has put your fears to rest about if it’s possible to become a proofreader without a degree or any experience! You certainly can! All you need is an eye for detail and the determination to provide a top quality service to your clients.
Ready to learn how to become a proofreader without getting a degree? Check out our free Intro to Proofreading workshop to find out more!