Career insights: Become a Proofreader
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If you’re an avid reader who has a knack for spotting typing errors and you also have a methodical mindset, then proofreading could be the career for you. Proofreaders are needed across all industries, so your job could take you anywhere you want to go. You could work for a large publishing house or go it alone as a self-employed proofreader, helping authors to get their work published.
What is a Proofreader?
A proofreader corrects spelling mistakes and grammar and checks the formatting of written text.
The exact role of a proofreader can vary slightly from industry to industry. Traditional proofreaders work for publishers, which entails checking lengthy manuscripts of fictional or nonfictional works, depending on the type of publisher you choose. However, the scope for proofreading work has grown in line with digitisation, and proofreading is no longer confined to print media.
There are many options for you to take on your way to becoming a professional proofreader. For example, you may choose to work for a design agency, which could involve proofreading websites, as well as proofing advertising text and even packaging. Or you could choose to work for a translation agency. This would involve checking for sense, as well as spelling mistakes and grammatical errors made by non-native English speakers.
Fundamentally, the task of proofreading remains the same no matter where you work. The job is to ensure that text is free of errors before it is printed or published.
A proofreader generally checks for the following issues:
- Poor spelling and grammar
- Incorrect punctuation
- Clarity of meaning
- Appropriate word usage
- Layout errors such as missing images and line-spacing problems
- Style inconsistencies – many companies have a style guide; it is the proofreader’s job to ensure that the text adheres to the specified format and style
- Page numbering
You may also be asked to check captions, the wording on graphics and numerical data.
Every proofreading job is different and ordinarily you will be given a brief detailing what to look for when you undertake a proofreading assignment.
What Skills Does A Proofreader Require?
To become a proofreader, of course, it helps if you like to read; however, proofreading requires more than just a love of reading. You’ll need to have the following skills:
- Native-level understanding of English language
- Excellent written skills
- Well organised
- Good concentration
- Self-discipline – you may have to spend long hours reading at a desk or computer screen; the job requires discipline in order to retain focus for extended periods of time
- Computer literacy
- Ability to communicate clearly (you could be asked to liaise with authors and printers)
- Attention to detail
- Able to use your initiative
- Ability to cope with pressure – proofreaders usually work to tight deadlines, so make sure you’re well organised and stay on top of your workload
It also helps if you have a broad base of general knowledge, as you will need to be able to understand unfamiliar topics and new subject areas.
What Qualifications Can Help You Become A Proofreader?
Having a degree is not a requirement for becoming a proofreader, however, many employers will look favourably on graduates and people with A-levels.
Relevant qualifications include:
- A GCSE in English (essential)
- A-levels (preferably English)
- A university degree in English, journalism, publishing or marketing (desirable)
- Proofreading qualifications – the best way to gain entry into this role is by enrolling in one of the specialist proofreading courses that are available
If you want to specialise in a certain area of proofreading, such as scientific proofreading, you’ll need to have obtained a degree, and preferably a Masters Degree, in the relevant discipline.
How To Get Proofreading Jobs?
The best route into a career as a proofreader is by gaining a proofreading qualification; you can apply directly to publishers if you have the relevant certification. However, the most common way into a proofreading role is through work experience as an editorial assistant or intern.
Employers are increasingly looking for people who can demonstrate experience within the industry, and showing that you’re motivated to learn on the job will work in your favour.
Some companies offer paid internships, where you will gain experience over a set period of time. This option will allow you to assess whether this really is the job for you.
How To Get An Internship
- Step 1: Simply carry out a search online. Type in “proofreading internships” to see all the latest opportunities in your search browser OR check out job boards which specialise in internships. There are plenty of internships websites to be found online.
- Step 2:Identify internships that match with your existing skills and interests.
- Step 3:Demand for internship is high, so it’s essential that your CV and cover letter/email is free from typing errors and grammatical mistakes.
- Step 4:Most internships will require you to go through a standard application process. Each company will have its own recruitment processes, so make sure you read the application carefully and follow their guidelines to the letter, as the ability to take instructions is key to working as a proofreader.
How To Apply For An Editorial Assistant Role
An editorial assistant carries out basic administrative duties but may also be asked to undertake editorial tasks, too, such as basic proofreading and some ad-hoc writing work on behalf of an editor.
There’s often fierce competition for these roles but if you can get a job with a smaller publisher then you’re more likely to be able to take on editorial responsibilities, rather than just general admin duties.
With this option, you’ll be able to learn the job from the ground up and gain a broader view of the business while progressing towards your preferred career as a proofreader. Many proofreaders establish their career this way.
- Step 1: Find a media or publishing company that you’d like to work for; consider what types of media they publish – you’ll have a better chance of winning the role if the organisation specialises in a subject you’ve studied, for instance if you like history you could find a specialist history publisher.
- Step 2: Ensure that your CV and cover letter reads well and is free of mistakes. This is important if you’re hoping to become a proofreader.
- Step 3: Send a speculative letter or apply for an advertised vacancy. When sending a speculative letter, try to find out who will deal with your query and address that person directly, rather than writing to “whom it may concern”. You can often do this with a search or a quick phone call to the company’s switchboard.
- Step 4: In your letter or email, make sure you highlight relevant skills, such as good organisation and the ability to work in a team. Remember that this is a junior role as you work your way up to a proofreading job, so be sure to demonstrate that you’re willing to take on the mundane tasks and that you want to learn the ropes – this kind of “can-do” attitude will stand you in good stead.
Instead of writing an email, pick up the phone and ask to speak to someone in recruitment or even better, in the department in which you want to work. If they’ll take your call, enquire about proofreading work and ask if they will accept a CV for any editorial assistant roles they might have. Often, they’ll keep your CV on file and call you up if there are any vacancies in the future. Be prepared to talk about your experience, skills and any interests that will come in useful for the role. It will help if you have your CV to hand so that you can list your skills and experience without hesitation.
Whether you gain experience as in intern or in a junior role, if you make yourself indispensable, you’ll usually end up staying at the company and progressing to proofreading and other senior positions.
Proofreading can be a very rewarding career. There are countless opportunities within this profession; you could specialise as an academic proofreader or set up your own proofreading business, allowing you to set your own hours and work around family and other commitments.
Many people think of proofreading as a dull and boring job for “bookish” types, but in fact, it can be a fascinating and fulfilling career path which allows you to learn about new things and interact with people all over the world.
Ready to kick-start your career? Explore proofreading courses today and take your first step towards becoming a professional proofreader.