Climb the Ladder

What Does a Proofreader Do?

What is expected of a professional proofreader and how to become one

English aficionado? Check. Manically meticulous? Double check. Spots typographical missteps on anything with a printed word? Check, check, check. Sounds like you have a promising career as a proofreader, buddy.

Not sure? Check out what one veteran proofreader has to say about a career combing through text, and then decide.

So what exactly does a proofreader do?

People often confuse a proofreader with a copy editor. And who could blame them? The two are practically kissing cousins.

But there is a major distinction: a proofreader ensures content is free of errors, and—presto!—job is done. There’s no rewriting and revising involved—at least, there shouldn’t be.

Corrections at the sentence and word level (should) have been made before the text lands in the proofreader’s lap.

“I see proofreading as reading a proof—analyzing it on a visual and content level for final changes after it’s evolved through its stages of revision,” said Mary Emma Koles, owner and founder of online editing company ink200, and owner and director of SpiderSmart Learning Centers, which offer lessons and workshops in editing, writing and other areas.

A proofreader ensures content is free of typographical, grammatical, spelling, punctuation, syntax, formatting and other such errors.

This is the person who notices the extra space after a period, the “their” when it should be “they’re” and the compound adjective missing a hyphen.

The job is all about tweaking the syntax and diction in a piece to ensure the most fluid, original projection of the content possible, explained Koles.

What skills does a proofreader need?

“Patience for the tediousness that comes with fine-tuning every single aspect of every single word and line,” advised Koles. “Precision for the fine-tuning required in revising word-to-word, sentence-to-sentence, and paragraph-to-paragraph; and originality for the creativity each client deserves during every phase of revision.”

You should also be familiar with a style guide or two.

What about digital skills?
If you’re working on website content, hyperlinking is important. But for pretty much everything else, knowing your way around Microsoft Word—get to know track changes—suffices, Koles said.

What does it take to excel in this position?

The eyes of a hawk and an insane mastery of the English language, grammar and punctuation.

Is this more of a freelance position, or do companies keep a proofreader on staff?
In general, landing a job is all about connections and what opportunities arise because of them.

“Some are serendipitous; others are hard-earned,” said Koles. “Freelance and consistent positions alike are out there for the taking; it’s all a matter of seeking new avenues to editing work and—of course—doing an exceptional job with every single piece you are given to polish and perfect!”

Who is a proofreader’s supervisor?

You’ll likely be checking in with an editor.

How can I break into this field?

Proofread your friends’ stuff (e.g., resumes, college essays) to get your feet wet.

Prepare a portfolio to show off your work. Then try landing an editorial job, one that involves polishing prose, at a smaller publication, publishing house or website.

As with all jobs these days, having a good understanding of the basics. As with all jobs these days, having a basic competence across a variety of disciplines will make it easier to get hired. A good understanding of the copyediting process will help your proofreading prospects.

In our Multimedia Copyediting course you’ll develop your copyediting chops beyond static content and learn how to perfect copy across rich media and other interactive content.

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Climb the Ladder, Skills & Expertise