Becoming an Expert Proofreader

Very first thought – “What is Proofreading?” The word ‘proof’ is used to mean the final trial print that is used for making corrections before printing. Hence, a proofreader goes through the entire text with a fine toothcomb, trying to look for errors and glitches in the document.

Becoming an Expert Proofreader

Proofreading involves detection of errors, such as punctuation, grammar, and choice of words, spellings as well as other details of font, style and alignment. It involves surface reading.

Grammar and style form the primary focus of proof reading. The hard and fast rules of grammar need to be adhered to, such as dangling participles, typos, tenses, voices and so on. This is important to create the best image of the company or the person. Style is a little more ambiguous and has to do with the tone of the language, such as sarcasm, serious, ironical, and humorous and so on. These are brought about by the choice of words and each piece of writing needs to have a specific tone. Proofreading, in a nutshell, is not just looking out for grammar and punctuation errors ,but rather looking at the document as a whole and see whether all the words fit in together, supplying better options wherever necessary.

Qualifications of Proofreaders

A proofreader needs to do a check on the quality of a publication before it goes into print. There is nothing like a qualification that is officially recognized for proofreading, nor is there any specific course for proofreading. This does not mean that certificates are of no use for a proofreader or that they can be entirely dismissed as qualifications. However, such certificates do not surely form part of the criteria for recruitment as a proofreader.

The experience of the person is far more important in a proofreading job. You need to get maximum opportunities in order to get this experience and then establish a formidable reputation in your niche to get the maximum possible testimonials. A freelancer with a good command over the language can become a proofreader for different types of documents and articles and even novels. Some of the important qualifications a proofreader needs to have are:

  1. A good eye for detecting details and errors.
  2. Excellent knowledge of the English language, along with intricacies of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.
  3. A dedicated and systematic approach to the task.
  4. Good concentration skills.
  5. Relevant experience would be an advantage in order to prove aptitude in the niche.
  6. A native speaker of English would also be an advantage, but not essential.
  7. A graduate or an undergraduate working towards graduation.
  8. A good grade in English Literature would be desirable but not compulsory.

A proofreader needs to prove his worth. A freelance job of proofreading done from home can be convenient but you need good communication and writing skills. One needs to go along with the flow and the tone of the piece along with understanding the layout. Freelancers who wish to break into this career need to provide work that people would like to come back for.

Types of Proofreading Jobs

Several websites offer proofreading jobs of various types. There are many writers who want their stories or articles to be proofread. These writers then refer them to others. These jobs can belong to several niches.

For instance, there is technical writing where proofreading is required in engineering and medicine. Several documents are published in these fields and need proofreading. Writers of blogs also require proofreading for their articles. They would like their posts to be perfect in order to draw in more readers and viewers to their blog and attract advertisements. The content and readability of the article can be improved by proofreaders. Many companies also require copyeditors for proofreading their content before it is uploaded to the web. Websites that regularly publish web content are also in continuous need of proofreaders. There are also jobs related to correction of academic papers, such as thesis and other educational papers.

There are sites that allow proofreaders to set prices for their project and only do the proofreading work of those who meet their price criteria. There are several student assignments and advertisements of businesses, such as brochures and newsletters that require proofreading.

There is general proofreading that just requires an overall correction of grammatical mistakes and language errors along with spelling and typos. Journal proofreading needs a little higher skill set according to the requirements of the publishing firm. Apart from this, manuscript proofreading and scientific journals contain more complex studies and need to be properly checked out.

Tips to help Proofreaders to Succeed

  1. Concentration. Concentration is the key factor for successful proof reading. You need to get rid of all distractions and do the work without interruptions. Try to remain away from other noises as well, such as the radio, the television, your email and so on. Even a split second of inattention could cause an oversight and you might overlook an important error.
  2. Be alert to Homonym. There are words that sound similar or those that have the same spelling but different meanings. A proofreader needs to be aware of differences between words, such as ‘complement’ and compliment’ or ‘later’ and ‘latter’, ‘council’ and ‘counsel’, ‘imminent’ and ‘eminent’ and several others.
  3. Errors in Apostrophes. Several errors in apostrophes need to be watched out. For instance, words, such as, ‘your’ and you’re’; its and it’s; there and they’re and so on. These are silly errors, but if they are not taken care of the credibility of the passage is put under great strain leading to a poor opinion of the writer. You need to remember that the apostrophe is only used to show possession and it should not be used in plurals.
  4. Possessive pronouns, such as my, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs and its do not have apostrophe, whereas possessive nouns, such as Jack’s, dog’s, cat’s and other proper and common nouns can take the apostrophe for possession.
  5. Check out numbers/dates. Numbers can play a crucial role in the essay or text. Look out for the number of zeros in a value, such as $ 10,000 or $ 100,000; million or billion; 1972 or 1982; 5% or 50% and several other numerical related errors. Wrong statistics could lead to a complete misrepresentation of facts.
  6. Cultivate a sense of doubt. Try to double check your work and keep doubting, so that you will be able to identify all the errors. You need to doubt every word in order to identify each and every mistake. It is important not to take anything for granted while proofreading.
  7. Reading aloud. Read through the text rather slowly and, if possible, try to read out aloud. Read only what is presented on the page and not what is in your mind or what you think is there. Reading aloud helps as it slows you down and you are able to hear the words as well as see them, thereby making use of two sense organs.
  8. Look at the words without just allowing your eyes to slide over the words. Don’t just look at the outer shell of the words, that is the first and last letters of the word, but take in the entire word.
  9. Look out for words having double letters. These usually lead to confusion and spelling errors. For instance, accommodation, embarrassment, omission, occurrence, possession, apparent and so on.
  10. Using a dictionary. Use a dictionary in case of words that you are not very sure about. Select a link where you can quickly check out errors in spelling, punctuation, pronouns, subject verb agreement, periods, sentence fragments, dangling modifiers and tenses.
  11. Choice of words. Instead of using common verbs, such as ‘give’, use ‘offer’ proffer’. Instead of using ‘tell’, make use of a more apt word, such as ‘suggest’ ‘inform’ and so on.
  12. Using Spell check. Spelling errors are the most common ones and are also the most easy to tackle and correct. You can, of course, use spell check and a dictionary for the wrongly spelt word. However, spell check is no use with homonyms, such as ‘accept and except’, ‘who’s and whose’ and so on.
  13. Create a checklist of your own for proofreading. Make a list of the common errors and mistakes that you usually find in a document and refer to this list while doing the job.
  14. Try analyzing one kind of problem at a time or during a reading. First, try to spot grammatical errors, and then look out for punctuation errors, then word choice and then the sentence structure. If you look for one type of problem at a time, you are more likely to do a more thorough job of it. When you look for trouble, you are sure to find it, so the saying goes.
  15. Build a good professional reputation. You need to provide a good quality service of proofreading.
  16. Always complete any project within the given deadline and be professional with the client. You must also do the job accurately and in a committed and conscientious manner, so that you can be set apart from the competition in the particular field.
  17. You could also register with several online proofreading services and submit your resume, but be careful of scams.
  18. To attain success in your niche, you can print your business card and even place them with printers or in the local college boards and other potential clients.
  19. Try to develop your experience by first doing some voluntary proofreading jobs in local schools and colleges. You can also take some online classes or tutorials to develop and increase your skills.
  20. Create a strong resume by clearly listing out your experience, your educational background and any style of writing that you are particularly familiar with. You can also add some samples of your work.

Ten Common Errors to Avoid as a Proofreader

Some common errors to look out for during proofreading are:

  1. Subject verb agreement – For instance – The balls of slime is eaten by ants. Here, the subject of the verb eaten is ‘balls’ and not ‘slime’. Hence, the subject is plural and should be followed by a plural verb – The balls of slime are eaten by ants. Another example – This box of ornaments belong/belongs to me. Here again, the subject is ‘box’ and not ‘ornaments’. Hence – This box of ornaments belongs to me. ‘One of my sister’s friends is/are a doctor. The answer is – One of my sister’s friends is a doctor (because only one of them is a doctor).
  2. Commonly confused words – We often get confused between words, such as advise and advice; farther and further; affect and effect; adopt and adapt; confident and confidante; envelop and envelope; altogether and all together; amount and number; and several others. You can keep a handy list of such commonly confused words and go through the examples in order to get these words straight.
  3. Verb tenses – Verb tenses are very often confused by writers. The passage begins with a tense and then it continues into another tense. These are very often overlooked by proofreaders. You need to identify the situation and check out whether it belongs to the past, present or the future and then use the correct tense. Facts and Universal truths always need to be in the present and wishes need to be conveyed in the past. Shifting and changing the tense in paragraphs continuously confuses the reader.
  4. That and Which – This is another common error that (not which) many authors and proofreaders overlook. There is a simple method of understanding when to use the right connective. ‘That’ is used as a defining clause and ‘which’ as a non defining clause. When you need information that is essential to the subject, the correct word to use will be ‘that’. When the information following is only supplemental and not essential to the subject, we use ‘which’. For instance – XXX is a company that offers proofreading service. Here, the information following is defining and very essential to know about the company. Look at this – XXX is a proofreading company, which delivers all work in time. The second part of the sentence that follows ‘which’, offers supplemental information.
  5. Active and Passive voice – When the subject of the sentence is more important than the action done, the active voice should be used. When the action done is more important and in cases where the subject is unknown, the passive voice is used. For instance, ‘A well is being dug’ and not ‘Some people are digging a well’.
  6. Use of Ellipsis – This is a common error. An ellipsis is a punctuation used to indicate that some text has been deleted or omitted, or it can be used as a pause. It should consist of three dots that are evenly spaced with space between them.
  7. Use of commas – You have to know when to use a comma and when it is redundant. They are used for indicating a pause, when providing additional information, when joining a main clause with a subordinate clause, to separate items in a list and so on.
  8. Article use – a/an/the – When you refer to something specific, use the article ‘the’. When referring to any noun, use ‘a’. I need a (meaning any) pen. Please give me the (particular) pen. However, a general statement in the plural does not need an article. For instance, Pens are useful for writing. Yet, the pens that I bought yesterday were very cheap.
  9. Singular and plurals of nouns – Some nouns in English form plurals by adding an ‘s’; others by adding ‘ies’ ( babies). Some others remain the same for both singular and plural – deer/deer; sheep/sheep; aircraft/aircraft. Some nouns convert ‘a’ into ‘ae’ (formula/formulae); some others convert ‘I’ into ‘e’ (crisis/crises; thesis/theses) and so on.
  10. EI or IE – The rule here is that ‘I’ before ‘e’ except in case of ‘c’. Thus, ceiling and not ceiling; believe not believe; field not feild; siege not seige.


A proofreading job requires an eye for detail along with accuracy, concentration and excellent language skills. There are no other specific formal training required to become a proofreader. However, one should be careful of the common pitfalls and errors that you need to look out for while doing a proofreading job. You need to establish a good name in professional circles to become a successful proofreader. A proofreader needs to be constantly on the lookout for a whole range of mistakes and errors to do with punctuation, grammar, spellings and also the fundamental structure of the sentence and other word usages. You need to know common spelling errors, homophones, apostrophes and other details of grammar to do a thorough and professional job.


There are various types of proofreading jobs available these days and you can easily carve a niche for yourself in the field. However, the competition is fierce and one needs to do a competent and thorough job to thrive in the field. It can be a pleasant rewarding work that you can do from the comfort of your home and is a great career option for the dedicated freelancer.


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