Many people say they have eagle eyes and can spot a typo a mile away, but do you really have what it takes to be a professional, money-making proofreader? Since I write about this all the time, I changed it up and asked my friend Shannon, who’s also an editor, to give us some insight into how you can turn your “knack” into a skill. Take it away, Shannon!
Do you think you have what it takes to be a professional proofreader? If you think you do, you’re likely right. It tends to be something you’ve probably known about yourself for a long time, the same way other people show proficiency for athletics, other skills, and hobbies from a young age.
It’s incredibly difficult to become a professional athlete and get paid for playing sports, but getting paid to read is a more achievable goal. Do you have the stuff? Try answering the next seven questions.
1. Do you love reading?
This may seem like an obvious question, but you have to really love reading in order to be an effective proofreader. It’s something that you enjoy doing and make time for in your life.
2. You do? Great! Can you keep reading something even if it’s boring?
Gotcha! That’s where your love of reading is key. As a professional proofreader or editor, not everything you work on is going to interest you. In fact, some of it will be dry as dust. But everything — from thriller novels to textbooks to microwave instruction manuals — needs to be proofread. And sometimes the more boring material has the best rate of pay (because they know it’s boring). Do you have what it takes to stick it out and do good work even if it’s dull?
3. Do you have a good command of the English language?
Love of reading is important, but if you have what it takes to be a proofreader, you must have an excellent command of language. You have an innate understanding of grammar and what is right and wrong on the printed page. If you’re constantly finding errors in everyday things you read, like menus, signs, headlines, and even the books you read, you have a good command of language. This is essential in proofreading.
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4. Do your family and friends consistently ask you to read over important documents for them?
I tutored my elementary school classmates in spelling, I read my high school friends’ essays over for errors, and I edited my brother’s law school papers. The only reason my parents don’t ask me to read over their documents is that my mother is also a terrific natural proofreader. If many people in your life trust you to proofread for them, you may have what it takes to be a professional proofreader.
5. When you proofread for your friends and family, are you able to keep from rewriting everything?
This is key for proofreaders. Your job is to fix mistakes and elevate the writing with your technical know-how. Rewriting it to “sound better” is not proofreading. Not unless you’ve been specifically asked or given permission to do so. This is especially true for fiction. Preserving an author’s voice and tone is extremely important and a proofreader needs to be careful to not interfere with this while doing their work. Save your ideas for your own writing.
6. Do you know a little bit about typography or are willing to learn?
A lot of proofreading work happens with documents that have already been laid out in a design program such as InDesign (MS Word or Pages don’t count). A great addition to your skill set is to learn about typography errors such as bad breaks, widows, orphans, and rivers. Once you start seeing them, you’ll see them everywhere! This also means that you have to consider what happens to the layout if you start making large-scale changes or deletions.
7. Are you able to meet deadlines?
Whether you are doing a favour for a friend or colleague, or you have been formally hired by a company or client, you must be able to respect and meet deadlines. Proofreading is only one step in what can be a lengthy process in preparing a document or writing project for submission or print. If you miss your deadline, you could be holding up other people down the line.
How many YES answers did you get?
If you answered YES to five or more questions, it sounds like you have what it takes to be a professional proofreader. So, what now? If you think you have the skill set, it’s a good idea to look into some formal training, such as proofreading and editing courses.
This is useful not only for developing and refining your proofreading skills, but also it helps when you are looking for proofreading work and potential employers/clients can see that you have invested time in training. You want to be able to do the best job you possibly can and there is a lot more to it than just noticing spelling errors.
Proofreading is a very valuable skill and is always in demand, as it is needed for both print and online communications. If you think you have what it takes to do this kind of work, then consider taking some classes and seeing where it will take you.
Don’t forget to read the next post, which is all about copyediting training. Click here to read it now.
Shannon Whibbs is an editor and writer who has been working in publishing for the past fifteen years. She has worked as an editor for HarperCollins Canada, Dundurn Press, House of Anansi Press, and Harlequin. She currently is a freelance editor, and copyeditor for NOW magazine.