What You Need to Know to Become a Proofreader

March 4, 2020
What You Need to Know to Become a Proofreader


The amount of information on the internet today is staggering. Domo.com says that 2.5 quintillion (that’s 2,500,000,000,000,000,000!) bits of data are uploaded every day. That includes a lot of text! With all that writing comes the pressing need for proofreaders.

A career in proofreading can be a rewarding one, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. Whether you’ve toyed with the idea, or never gave it a thought till now, you may want to consider it as a career option, especially if you have the skills.

We’ve taken some of the legwork (maybe better, finger-work) out of it for you and put together some information to help you understand better what being a proofreader is all about.

We’ll tell you what proofreaders do, discuss the need for them and the job prospects in this field. We’ll consider the skills and certifications that can help you to become one; finally, we’ll offer some practical tips on how to find a job as a proofreader.

Read on to learn more about a career in the proofreading profession.

What Do Proofreaders Do?

The basic work of proofreaders is ensuring that grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choices, spacing, and formatting are error-free. Some proofreaders go beyond analyzing for errors into fact-checking, research, and even ensuring the legality of texts. Others include copy editing, where you don’t just find errors, but suggest changes that can Improve writing clarity and quality. We’ll focus on the basics of proofreading.

Proofreading is usually the last stop before a text is published. Therefore, proofreaders provide an essential service by ensuring that everything in a text is presented without error.

People hire proofreaders for different reasons. Here are a few examples:

  • Checking book and e-book manuscripts for errors
  • Checking articles before they’re posted in newspapers, periodicals, or websites
  • Ensuring error-free blog posts
  • Reviewing legal documents for potential incongruities
  • Making sure academic papers are without issues
  • Examining business documents and identifying potential problems
  • Making sure webpages are free of grammatical or formatting issues
  • Checking English as a second language (ESL) writings

Even with spell-checking in documents and browsers, grammar-checking software, and auto-formatting, things get missed by machines. It’s unwise to rely on automated proofreading. So, texts need human proofreaders to provide a more nuanced and thorough final review of a text. The human element is essential when checking texts.

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The Need for Proofreaders Is Real

People once associated proofreaders with newspapers and book publishers. But when the worldwide web came along, all that changed.

According to worldwidewebsize.com, there are about 6.46 billion indexed web pages on the internet on the day this post was written. Try to take that into account with other mind-blowing statistics. Netcraft.com states that upwards of 1.5 billion sites were indexed in January 2019 alone. Statistica also reports that there are a staggering 4.48 billion internet users in October 2019.

With all that traffic, internet publishers and web businesses pursue favorable attention. To engage and motivate people to stay on their sites, gain clicks and convert visitors into customers and subscribers, publishers and other web businesses need all the help they can get. One way to do that is by ensuring high quality, error-free texts.

When website visitors see poor spelling or improper grammar, they’re less inclined to stick around and explore. Many people interpret spelling and syntactic errors as signs of a lack of professionalism and look elsewhere.

First impressions can make or break a website. Therefore, a good web engagement and retention strategy includes proofreading. Many companies these days have full-time proofreaders on staff. You could be one of them!

Job Prospects for Proofreaders

Proofreading is in demand these days. According to recruiter.com, employment for proofreaders will increase 4.25% in the next few years. With all the data on the web, the need for proofreading skills is likely going to be around for many years to come.

Some job sites report that proofreaders typically earn between $20-30 per hour, but that may be misleading. For entry-level proofreaders, our research indicates a range from $5.00 to 12.00 per hour.

The higher pay comes with experience. As you gain skill, you’ll be able to earn more.

Proofreaders are typically paid per word instead of per hour unless they work in a company. Pay ranges vary, from $.0025 to $0.01 per word. So, if you proofread 3,000 words in an hour at $0.0025 per word, you’d earn $7.50 per hour.

More experienced proofreaders can check up to 5,000 words per hour and charge $0.01 per word. That’s $50.00 per hour. That could be you!

A booming area not mentioned in many job forecasts we read is the ESL industry. But checking the writings of millions of people whose first language isn’t English has wide-ranging and lucrative prospects.

Some traditional proofreading companies are beginning to focus more on ESL writing as their bread and butter instead of the more traditional proofreading gigs. You could specialize in ESL writing and earn a lot.

Looking for a job? The article below will show you ways on how to make money online this year.

Read More: How to Make Money Online in 2020

Skills Needed

If you like what you see so far, becoming a proofreader is doable – if, that is, you have the basic skills and aptitudes this career requires. We’ve listed some below:

1. An Eye for Detail 

If you tend to spot poor grammar in emails, incorrect punctuation in news reports, or misspellings in social media posts, proofreading may be your cup of tea. What others may call OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) tendencies in you may work in your favor as a proofreader.

Meticulous people make great proofreaders. People with eagle eyes, with innate abilities to spot errors have a leg up over those who don’t. But that doesn’t mean people who aren’t meticulous can’t enter the field; it just means they might need to work harder training themselves to find mistakes.

2. The Ability to Focus.

Another skill you need is the ability to focus for long periods of time. You’ll be reading and checking a lot of documents for errors, and that requires concentration. If you’re someone who gets distracted easily, proofreading may be difficult for you. At the very least, you’ll need to train yourself to concentrate. Distractions around you will be counterproductive to this kind of work.

3. An Understanding of Spelling Rules

Native speakers of a language have a feel for spelling. Sometimes you can’t put your finger on it, but you may instinctively know a word is spelled incorrectly. That capability will be put to good use as a proofreader. But even if you aren’t a natural born expert in spelling rules, you can learn them. There are several options for that, including apps, websites, dictionaries, and even word games. It isn’t too difficult of a problem to overcome.

4. An Excellent Grasp of Grammatical Rules

You need to know the ins and outs of grammar. If you don’t know what the rules are, you won’t be able to spot violations of them. You can, of course, learn the rules of grammar in many ways, but you also need an analytical mind to spot errors. So, study up on the rules, and hone your analytical eye, and you’ll soon master the conventions and regulations of language.

5. Organizational Skills

Successful proofreaders are methodical. They organize their work into stages.

One approach is to focus sequentially on different proofreading categories:

  • Spelling check
  • Grammar check
  • Formatting check
  • Commenting

Not everyone’s cut out to be a proofreader. If you lack all of these skills and traits, you may want to seek a different profession. But if you think you have what it takes, you’re primed for a great career opportunity.

Education, Training and Certification

The next part of becoming a proofreader is formal preparation. Education, training and certification can help, especially when competing against others.

For sure, there are successful proofreaders without formal education or certification. That’s because they were in the right place at the right time, and likely possessed the skills required in good measure.

Academic degrees related to language -- literature, journalism, writing, communication, even theology -- are good foundations for proofreading. That’s because you learn elements of what proofreaders do to achieve these degrees.

With language degrees you gain a deeper understanding of the language being proofread. With journalism, writing, and communications degrees, you learn valuable writing skills. Theological degrees prepare writers to be clear and accurate in presenting religious thought and doctrine. Each degree path provides skills that contribute to becoming a more skilled proofreader.

There are a few good online schools that prepare proofreaders and issue certificates. One is the College of Media and Publishing (CMP) which offers accredited professional training and proofreader certification.

Certificates offer a lower-cost solution to getting full-blown university degrees. And hey, if you can do the job, that might be all you need.

There are also professional organizations out there that might boost your credibility, but there’s no one standard certification for becoming a proofreader. The bottom line is whether you can deliver, day in and day out.

If you want to know how to be a certified translator, we recently did a piece just for that! Click the link below to get started.

Read More: How to Become a Certified Translator

How to Land a Proofreading Job

After assessing your skills, getting training, and possibly certification, you can look for work by offering your services through freelancing websites such as Upwork, Flexjobs, Freelancer.com, GURU, Fiverr, and PeoplePerHour.

With these marketplaces, you can get your feet wet, gain experience, and earn money at the same time. At first, offer your services at low prices to build a customer base. Then, as you gain experience, high ratings, and stellar reviews, you can increase your rates. Research what others charge for their services and then adjust your rates to find the right balance of competitiveness and earnings.

Some proofreaders are satisfied with freelance work, often combining proofreading with copywriting and editing.

But it’s also possible to pivot from a freelance gig to regular part-time or full-time employment on the payroll. Many large companies outsource projects to freelancers on these sites, so you may end up landing a big fish. Do good work for a such client, and they may offer you a staff position.

If you have enough customers, you can create your own proofreading business and promote your services through your own website and social media. There are a lot of self-employed proofreaders out there. Some freelancers are making $50.00 or more per hour, and working as much as they need or desire. The beauty of this work is that you can do this work anywhere, on your own schedule.

The Proof

So there you have it. We’ve explained what proofreaders do, described the demand for their services in today’s web-based global community, detailed the skills and qualifications you need to become one, and provided guidelines for getting work.

The familiar saying “the proof is the pudding” is shortened from an older proverb that was phrased: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” The true value of something can only be judged properly, and proved, when it is put to the test and used.

In that spirit, we might be tempted to update that old saying a bit: “the proof is in the reading.”  But – ahem -- that would be “pudding” the proverbial cart before the horse. Why settle for reading when you can go out and “proof” yourself? Go for it!

What do you think? Is proofreading something you’d like to try? Why or why not?

And, if you’re an experienced proofreader, why not share your insights with our community? We’d love to taste your pudding!

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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