Do you dream of eliminating typos from your favourite books or magazines? Do you find yourself spotting errors in adverts, menus, and billboards? If so, being a proofreader might just be your ideal job! But what does it take to become a proofreader? Do you need a degree? And how do you start on the path to proofreading? I started my publishing career as a proofreader, so I’ll let you in on the insider’s guide to proofreading…
You might assume that you need a relevant degree to become a proofreader (such as English), but that’s not necessarily the case. While some companies—such as book publishers and newspapers—do require their proofreaders to have a relevant degree, not all businesses do. Likewise, if you become a freelance proofreader, your clients are likely to care more about your proofing skills than a scroll of paper.
Studying a relevant degree gives you the knowledge, skills, and practice you need to become a proofreader, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to get there. You can develop those same skills and that vital knowledge through other qualifications (such as proofreading qualifications) or resources. Many proofreaders are self-taught via relevant books, style guides, and practice. The important aspect is having those skills—not where the skills were gained.
The key skills you need as a proofreader include: close attention to detail, great focus, a sharp eye, and the ability to block out distractions. Many of these skills can be improved through practice, but it undoubtedly helps to have a natural eye for spotting errors. For most proofreaders, this is what leads them to the job. Do errors leap out at you from the page? Do you spot typos everywhere?
Proofreaders need a strong knowledge of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation rules, plus common usage, colloquialisms, and conventions. These vary for each language, for example, British English can be quite different from American English. If you don’t have this knowledge yet, buy some books on grammar and punctuation, check out useful resources such as Grammar Girl’s website, or take a course that teaches you the basics.
To be a proofreader these days, you need a computer and an internet connection, as most proofreading work is found online and done via Word or PDF, rather than on paper. You need the ability to use markup tools in these software programs. You also need passion and to love what you do. Most proofreaders get a weird sense of satisfaction from eliminating errors, while other people find it boring or tedious.
The best way to find out whether you’re able to proofread is to have a go at it! There’s plenty of online tests. However, don’t be disheartened if you’re not amazing at the start. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. It’s all about practice. Think of it as your proofreading muscle—it gets bigger the more you work at it. If your first effort isn’t great, learn more about language, try again, see where you improve, and so on.
When you’re starting out, the easiest way to gain work is through your existing network—the people you already know. Offer to proofread your friends’ writing for free, and tell your network you’ve become a proofreader. The first paid proofreading job I gained was through a friend whose essays I had edited for free, so she recommended me when her friend needed a proofreader for his book.
When you have the skills and knowledge you need—and some experience—you can gain paid proofreading work via two different paths. One is to become an employed proofreader who works in-house for a company. While there’s less of these traditional jobs than a few decades ago, there are still many companies who hire full-time proofreaders, such as publishers, newspapers, marketing agencies, and magazines. To find these jobs, check out jobs boards and even LinkedIn. The other path is to become a freelance proofreader, which is more common these days.
Most freelancers start out on freelancing websites (also known as platforms) such as PeoplePerHour, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr, as there are already lots of clients looking for proofreaders on these sites. However, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Most freelancers gain work through a range of sources, including their own website, word of mouth, ongoing clients, and freelancing sites. You can also gain work by signing up to somewhere like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).
You might not want to be a proofreader forever, so the good news is that there are potential avenues to move into. Proofreading has natural overlaps with copyediting, so you might wish to move into this area later on. Some proofreaders I know moved into marketing, writing, or content/development editing. The skills you have as a proofreader can be transferred to other professions that rely on amazing written communication.
So now you know what it takes to become a proofreader, it’s time to get started! Get in touch if you have any questions, or let me know how your journey goes!
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