Are you the person your friends turn to when they need someone to proofread a letter before sending it? Maybe you were the one kid in class who looked forward to grammar assignments while the other kids groaned. Let’s face it, you have always had a knack for spotting weird sentence structure and all things grammar-related. Most people do not have this gift, and it would be a shame to see yours go to waste. After seeing a decline for several years until 2010, the demand for skilled proofreaders has increased annually since that time. Now that we are living in a post-pandemic world friendly to the remote worker, the demand for people to complete proofreading duties from home is especially strong. As with any work-at-home opportunity, however, you need to tread carefully before signing up for proofreading courses online.
Proofreading is hard work, and you will not become rich overnight. That said, you are in complete control when it comes to how many hours you work and the income you ultimately earn. Before we dive into qualifications you need and what to look for in proofreading courses, let’s quickly review what a proofreader is and is not.
A proofreader is not an editor
Although people sometimes confuse these roles, they are more different than you might think. The job of an editor is to plan content, assign work to writers, and make any necessary revisions to the copy submitted by writers. An editor may rewrite the original copy several times before sending along the final copy to the proofreader. The job of a proofreader is to ensure the final copy has no errors before a company publishes it either online or offline.
Proofreaders typically report to editors, but this is not always the case. Smaller companies with tighter budgets may roll the two positions into one. This is just one of many reasons why you must always clarify client expectations before accepting a proofreading job.
What type of education do you need for online proofreading jobs?
Clients and employers often prefer their remote proofreaders to at least have a bachelor’s degree in journalism or English. Some offer greater flexibility regarding educational background and will accept candidates with undergraduate degrees in other disciplines. Other companies needing proofreaders do not have formal educational requirements but will request applicants to complete proofreading certification before taking on any assignments.
Regardless of your educational credentials, you can expect to take a proofreading competency test with each new client or remote employer. The simplest way to prepare for these tests is to find and complete proofreading courses available online. The best proofreading course provides you with real-life job examples and plenty of grammar hacks to prepare you for life as a freelance proofreader.
Skills employers look for in their remote proofreading staff
After you complete a paid or free proofreading course and begin to market your services, it is important to view things from the employer’s vantage point. All clients you work with need to know what you can offer to them, not necessarily what they can offer to you.
Hiring managers do not want to hand over confidential company documents to someone who only wants the job for its flexibility. While the ability to determine your own schedule is definitely a selling point of this job, it primarily benefits you and not the client.
Clients are more interested in the background, skills and passion you bring to your proofreading work. When the choice comes down to who gets the proofreading assignment, hiring companies are most likely to choose the person who seems most enthusiastic about the work. They also look for people with tempered confidence in their own abilities.
What we have just described meets the definition of soft skills. These are attributes people usually do not include on their resume but are important, nonetheless. Here are some other soft skills you need in this role.
- Ability to ask for and receive feedback in a nondefensive manner and use it to help you improve in the future.
- Ability to meet strict deadlines is crucial in this line of work. You should not take on an assignment if you have any concerns about completing it by the client’s deadline. Although you may need to occasionally request an extension because life happens, this should be the exception and not the rule.
- Ability to complete a rush job or to put in more time than you initially expected when necessary.
- Persistence to earn your proofreading certification and to keep going when you feel like your brain cannot possibly take in more information.
- Professional communication skills and, above all, tact. You never want to utter a sentence such as, “What is this garbage you just threw at me?” Always seek to clarify any questions or concerns in a diplomatic way instead.
Okay, now onto the hard skills you will need to do well as a proofreader. A strong grasp of the English language to understand its many idioms is necessary, just for starters. Cat got your tongue, anyone? How about words that sound the same, but you need to spell differently? “We received an invitation to the picnic, but whether we go depends on the weather.” You do not have to have been born in the United States to make a good proofreader, but you should have a deep understanding of its sometimes crazy language.
You will need strong attention to detail to catch those small errors that people without proofreading skills just do not see. A common experience of freelance proofreaders after being on their own for a while is that writing mistakes jump off the page at them. We are certain that you catch the figurative reference here without further explanation.
Your grammar, punctuation and spelling skills need to be far above average to receive consistent work as a proofreader. You could be a natural for the job if errors such as using “your” instead of “you’re” or throwing an apostrophe into any word that ends with the letter “s” make you cringe.
Even if you do consider yourself a natural at proofreading, you must have the willingness to adjust to changing expectations. English is a dynamic language that progresses over time, so there is no sense clinging stubbornly to the rules you learned and mastered in high school.
How to choose the best proofreading course
Now that you know the kind of skills you need to successfully work as a freelance proofreader, consider signing up for proofreading courses online to hone your skills. This recommendation stands even if you are a recent college graduate who majored in English.
While academic work is essential, it provides mostly background information. You need to dig into the nitty-gritty of proofreading to prepare you for the types of assignments you will receive from clients. Any online proofreading certification course can claim to be the best. Your job is to evaluate those claims to first determine their truthfulness and then compare proofreading courses to see which one is right for you.
What is your learning style?
To succeed at proofreading courses online, you must feel comfortable with a self-taught learning style and completing your lessons remotely. This level of comfort is necessary to give you the widest range of proofreading courses available. With online courses being popular for many years now, most people understand what they entail and are okay not commuting for traditional classroom instruction.
Another important consideration is your career goals once you have earned your proofreading certification. Do you want to work in a variety of industries as a copy editor? If so, general proofreading courses should be adequate to help you reach this goal.
There is also the option of completing specialty training for the financial, legal or technical industry in addition to your general proofreading courses. These industries are jargon-heavy and require proofreaders who understand their insider terms.
What can you expect to learn in general proofreading courses?
You should prepare yourself to learn technical skills, business skills and much more at a fast pace when you complete a paid or free proofreading course. Most courses have a brief introduction period where the instructor discusses the purpose of proofreading, the skills you need, and duties you can expect to complete on the job.
Proofreading students must also learn the language, abbreviations and symbols common to the industry. The proofreading course you choose should provide a solid introduction to these concepts before moving into the more technical aspects of what you need to learn.
The common types of errors you need to learn in a proofreading course
No proofreading course would be complete without a thorough overview of the most common errors writers make in their copy. These include:
- Commas and semicolons.
- Commonly misused words.
- Noun and pronoun agreement.
- Quotation marks and italics.
- Subject and verb agreement.
You also want a proofreading course that covers variations in the English language, such as the spelling of certain words in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Understanding the nuances of different English-speaking countries opens the door to proofreading assignments outside your own borders. Instructors should discuss how idioms differ from one English-speaking country to the next as well.
Be sure to look for a proofreading course that offers instruction on the different style manuals your client or employer might want you to use. The Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are the two most prominent writing and editing style guides used today. Once you start freelancing as a proofreader, you might want to consider picking up both style guides for your in-home library.
The more clients you take on, the more likely it is that you will need to use different tools to complete your proofreading duties. For example, one client may send you documents in Microsoft Word, another in Google Docs, and still another in PDF format. The best proofreading courses cover the different ways your clients might send you work and how to navigate around each system.
Learning about the business side of proofreading
Covering the technical skills required to be an excellent proofreader is crucial, but proofreading courses need to go beyond the basics and teach people how to work as independent contractors. Learning how to think like a businessperson takes an entirely different set of skills. This is especially true if you have always worked for someone else and proofreading is your first stint with self-employment.
While earning your proofreading certification is exciting, keep in mind that clients will not come to you automatically. You need to let them know about your services and credentials by marketing yourself heavily, starting with building a website for your proofreading business. The best proofreading courses include step-by-step instruction on how to register a unique domain name and build each page of your website. Be sure to order business cards as soon as you have a website address and then pass them out every chance you get.
Next, you will need to prepare a resume for the position of freelance proofreader. Since you are new to the field, you will want to emphasize your education over your experience at first. As you start to complete assignments for clients, ask them for permission to include their contact information on your resume. Eventually, your proofreading experience will become the primary focus of your resume and your education the secondary focus.
One of the biggest questions you might have at this point is how much you should charge as a beginning freelance proofreader. Self-employed proofreaders typically charge by the word or by the project, unlike in-house proofreaders who usually earn an hourly wage. The online proofreading courses you consider should go into detail about this concern. After all, your instructor knows the industry and would be the best person to give advice on setting your starting rate.
Independent contractors and taxes
Your proofreading course should offer at least one chapter on taxes, since you are responsible for paying them on your own as an independent contractor. According to Internal Revenue Service guidelines, you should make estimated quarterly income tax payments if you expect to owe more than $1,000 when you file your return. The due dates for this year would be:
- April 15, 2021.
- June 15, 2021.
- September 15, 2021.
- January 15, 2022.
If your state collects income tax, you will need to make quarterly payments for state taxes as well.
Clients do not need to send you a W-2 form for your tax return since you are not an employee. However, you should receive a 1099 form to report miscellaneous income to the IRS if you earned $600 or more from a single client during the year. You should report all income to the IRS and your state government regardless of whether you received a 1099 from clients. A financial program such as QuickBooks can help you stay on top of what you have earned and what you owe.
The best proofreading courses teach you how to find clients
You should avoid any proofreading course that accepts your money, teaches you a few skills, and then expects you to immediately start finding clients on your own. The proofreading course you eventually choose should devote plenty of time to marketing. Proofreaders have many avenues available to them, and you need to learn from an experienced instructor who has successfully used them all. Some possibilities include:
- Associations and groups for freelance proofreaders.
- Placing an online and/or newspaper ad.
- Social media sites.
- Starting a blog.
You will also need to know how to write a proposal and a contract for services before working with clients. Although it may feel awkward to place conditions on your work at first, creating a contract makes your expectations clear and protects both you and the client. At the very least, your contract should specify whether the client has to pay a deposit and when you expect payment in full.
Hearing the stories of freelance proofreaders who went through the same course as you can be immensely helpful. These people know exactly where you are now and can provide you with real-life answers to your questions. Previous students also provide the best testimonials for the course you are about to take.
Speaking of testimonials, be sure to research any company offering a proofreading course that you want to take. Look on websites such as the Better Business Bureau, Yelp and Facebook for objective reviews that may not necessarily be on the company website. You should see mostly positive reviews from people who feel happy with their decision to invest time and money into the proofreading course.
Sign up for a free proofreading course to learn more
For a limited time, you can sign up to attend a free proofreading course online led by the founder of Proofread Anywhere. Caitlyn Pyle will talk about how to know if proofreading is right for you, attracting clients, achieving financial freedom, and much more. Just click here to save yourself an online seat today.