Do you know what I’ve just realized? I’ve been running a proofreading blog for six years and I’ve never done a basic “What is proofreading?” blog post!
Whoops! I assumed that everyone landing on my blog would already know what is involved in proofreading, so I wouldn’t need to go into it, but when I look at some of the frequently asked questions I receive, it’s obvious I haven’t been answering those questions on my blog.
So now I’m going right back to basics by taking an in-depth look at what proofreading is, who it’s a good fit for, and how you can become a proofreader.
If you’ve just hit on the idea of becoming a freelance proofreader, but you’re not really sure what it involves, keep reading!
What is proofreading and what kind of errors do proofreaders look for?
Proofreading is the last step in the editorial process. It comes after the document has already been through the developmental and copyediting stages. A proofreader’s eyes will be the final set of eyes to check the document before it is printed or published online.
A proofreader is responsible for double-checking documents for errors and typos, including:
- Double words (“the the,” “and and,” etc.)
- Formatting issues
- Ensure document adheres to chosen style guide
Traditionally, proofreading would have been done when the book had been formatted and laid out, so proofreaders needed to focus on issues like awkward page and word breaks and inconsistencies in the layout.
The proofreader would compare the printed version of the manuscript (proofs) against the edited copy to ensure that no errors were introduced by the formatting process. That will still be the case if you work with publishing houses. Although the comparison may be done electronically now, rather than on printed proofs.
Nowadays, many proofreaders work with bloggers or directly with self-publishing authors, so the work is often carried out in Microsoft Word or Google Docs before the formatting stage.
The use of proofreading marks is becoming less common, but they’re still interesting to know about.
Why is proofreading important?
Proofreading ensures that your readers can immerse themselves in your content rather than get distracted by errors. If a document is full of typos or grammatical errors, the reader will be yanked right out of the story. They will be trying to understand what the writer meant rather than enjoying what they read or learning from it.
Proofreaders also protect a writer’s or business’s reputation. We stop them from making embarrassing or costly mistakes.
In the online era, it’s even more important to make sure as few errors slip through the cracks as possible as if they don’t, the writer can get torn apart on social media. Internet trolls take no prisoners!
What’s the difference between editing and proofreading?
A lot of people get mixed up between proofreading and copyediting or assume that they’re the same thing.
They are similar, but there are some key differences.
Both copyeditors and proofreaders check for errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation; however, copyeditors make changes at a sentence or word level. They suggest alternative words or rewrite sentences. A proofreader doesn’t rewrite.
It’s important to identify the correct level of editing required. Otherwise you may end up copyediting at a proofreading rate.
Who hires proofreaders? Are proofreaders in demand?
A lot of people wonder if proofreaders are in demand. The answer to that is YES!
The great thing about being a proofreader is that there are many markets where you can find work. None of these markets are oversaturated with quality proofreaders.
Here are some of the proofreading clients you can work with:
- Self-publishing authors
- Publishing houses
- College or graduate students
- Anyone with a résumé/LinkedIn profile
- Web content creators
- Marketing managers
- Graphic designers
- Script writers
- Business owners/entrepreneurs
- Court reporters
With so many different potential clients available, it can be difficult to narrow down your marketing message. Choosing a proofreading niche is a great way to tailor your marketing to a select group of people so they can find you more easily.
When choosing a niche, consider what your interests and experience are like.
Do you have a science degree? Maybe you could proofread academic papers in this area.
Have a hobby? Mention it on your website, so people who have written content about that topic are aware of your interest in the area.
Interested in the legal system? You could specialize in proofreading court transcripts. This is an even more specialized niche, and it’s one of my favorites because it has greater scope for you to get repeat clients.
Picking a niche allows you to position yourself as an expert, and you can build a reputation as an excellent proofreader for this particular topic.
What kind of documents need to be proofread?
Every single person or business that creates content needs a proofreader. As a result, the list of documents a proofreader could work on is almost endless.
Here are just some of the documents you could be hired to proofread:
- White papers
- Résumés/LinkedIn profiles
- Newspaper articles
- Marketing copy
- General transcripts
- Legal transcripts
- Press releases
- Product descriptions
Haven’t proofreaders been replaced by apps like Word’s Spell Check and Grammarly now?
Nope! Proofreading tools like Grammarly or Word’s Spell Check can be a useful final check to make sure there are no remaining errors, but they shouldn’t be relied on as the only means of proofreading a document.
Tools like these often can’t pick up on context, so they may highlight things that are not errors. They may also be programmed to highlight errors that are really just myths or rules that have since changed.
As a result, the human mind is still better when it comes to proofreading!
What skills does a proofreader need?
Proofreaders need to have an above-average understanding of grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules. You can hone your grammar skills, but it’s better if you have a natural ability in this area and a tendency to spot errors.
You also need to have an eagle eye for detail. A person who skims while they read or who doesn’t care about the nitty-gritty will probably not be a good fit for proofreading.
If you routinely spot errors when reading books, blog posts, ads, billboards, menus, or just about any copy, there’s a good chance proofreading would be a good fit for you!
You must also possess soft skills like communication, time management, and the ability to meet deadlines. These are transferable skills that many people will have likely picked up in their previous work experience.
What qualifications do you need to be a proofreader?
You don’t require a degree to become a proofreader. All you need is an eagle eye for detail and strong knowledge of grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules.
Occasionally, if you want to proofread academic papers, you may be required to have a qualification in that area, but in general, you do not need a degree.
If you don’t have a degree or any proofreading experience, you can still get proofreading jobs from individuals like self-publishing authors or bloggers. In my experience — and the experience of many of my students — these kinds of clients are not concerned whether you have a degree or tons of experience.
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 over the 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.
How to become a proofreader
Now that you know what proofreading is, what it involves, and what skills you need, you may be wondering how to become a proofreader.
It all boils down to a few steps:
Hone your proofreading skills
If you want to become a successful proofreader, you must hone your editorial skills.
Proofreaders must have an eye for detail, above-average knowledge of grammar rules, and a willingness to research what they don’t know.
Even if you have a strong natural grammar ability, you still need to make sure that your knowledge of the rules is up to date as language changes over time. Continuous professional development is essential.
Taking a course is a great way to update your knowledge. My Proofread Anywhere courses not only test your grammar skills but they also teach you how to create a successful proofreading business.
I highly recommend taking a proofreading course before looking for clients, especially if you have no experience. My Transcript Proofreading course includes over 3,000 pages of practice transcripts, and my General Proofreading course includes 40 practice essays. That’s like having 40 practice clients before you even start!
Use your resources
Wondering what tools you need to become a proofreader?
The answer is very few. It really doesn’t cost much to start a proofreading business.
All you need is a laptop, a reliable internet connection, and a few grammar books or style guides.
To me, this is the most important part; you must use your resources if you want to be an excellent proofreader.
Style guides are manuals that provide guidelines for the grammar, punctuation, and formatting rules of various documents. Excellent proofreaders take the time to become very familiar with these guides.
Which style guides you will use depends on your niche and the types of documents you work with. The most used style guides are:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)
- The Associated Press Stylebook (AP)
- The MLA Style Manual
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style)
My General Proofreading course is based on the Chicago Manual of Style guidelines.
Following a style manual will ensure that the document is consistent throughout, which will make it easier to read.
One of the best ways to get more familiar with grammar is to read grammar books. (They’re fun, I swear!)
Everyone makes mistakes — even proofreaders. Shocking, I know! Proofreaders are held to such a high standard, but sometimes we make mistakes. What can I say — this proofreader is still human!
But those mistakes get fewer and fewer the more we learn, so to get over your fear of making mistakes, get as much proofreading practice as you can.
Do online quizzes and look up any of the questions you get wrong.
Practice makes progress, y’all!
The more you practice proofreading, the more the errors will start to jump out at you. Many proofreaders comment on the fact that they now struggle to read for pleasure because they’re always subconsciously looking for errors.
That’s one tiny drawback, but the benefits of proofreading professionally more than make up for it like doing work you enjoy, the ability to make money from home, and the satisfaction of being your own boss.
I hope I’ve answered any questions you had about what proofreading is and how you can become a proofreader. If you have any other questions, please leave a comment below!
Ready to jump into being a freelance proofreader now that your questions have been answered? Check out our free proofreading course to learn how you can get started.