Proofreaders, explained

Other terms related to proofreaders: Proof reader, proofreading, proof reading, proofing, proofread, proof read, freelance proofreader, copy editing, developmental editing, substantive editing, grammar, punctuation, spelling, proof.

A proofreader is a professional who reviews text to correct errors in punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Proofreaders will fix individual word and sentence issues within a piece of writing, rather than copy editing for overall approach, clarity, consistency, or nuance—for that, you would hire a copy editor. Once a piece has been proofread, it should not contain typos, spelling mistakes, incorrect punctuation, or grammar issues.

Proofreading is a fundamental step in the process of reviewing and editing a piece of text or content before it's finalized. This step in the process is less concerned with style, flow, narrative, or clarity as it is with basic correctness in word, sentence, and paragraph structure. In some cases, a proofreader will ensure consistency between different versions of documents. For example, they might compare an author’s manuscript with a publisher’s galley proof. Another example would be validating that an article is the same between the physical and online version of a magazine.

Proofreaders, copy editors, and fact checkers

Freelance proofreaders perform slightly different roles than copy editors or fact checkers. Copy editors will take time to understand the narrative and purpose of the piece of writing and will edit and polish it with that in mind. Fact checkers will verify facts against outside sources of knowledge.

For example, a fact checker would see the sentence “Barack Obama was, ellected President in 2009” and check outside sources and change 2009 to 2008. A copy editor would evaluate the sentence for how it fits into the purpose of the larger piece of writing and might change it accordingly. A proofreader would see the faulty comma and the misspelling of “elected” and fix them.

Proofreader training and education requirements

A good education in the English language is a prerequisite for amateur or professional proofreading. At a minimum, this means 12 years of education in English. This will include grammar, spelling, vocabulary, critical reading, writing, and literature. Most professional proofreaders will need a college degree in English, communications, journalism, or a related field. Although there are courses and certifications available for proofreading, if you want to hire a high-quality proofreader, look for someone with a degree and a wide base of knowledge.

Due to their training and experience, freelance proofreaders find it easy to identify grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues. Expertise in proofreading relies on time, study, and exposure to a wide variety of documents and texts.

The amount of time it takes to proofread content does vary. Longer documents means it takes more time to ensure a high-quality proofread. Additionally, not all proofreading jobs are created equal. Proofreading a first grade math textbook is different from proofreading a 100,000 word novel. Proofreading speed and accuracy should improve over time, as will confidence.

Proofreaders staying current with an evolving language

A freelance proofreader will understand both the context of the writing and specific guidelines or style guides. In theory, a proofreader’s job will never change. Punctuation is punctuation, and a misspelled word is misspelled whether in a novel, tweet, or blog post. In practice, proofreaders may be employed differently based on many factors, including line of business, industry, communication and marketing channels, and the style of writing required.

For example, a proofreader employed by an online content site specializing in memes may allow the misspelling of certain words or the improper punctuation of certain sentences. A proofreader may even have to validate that some words are spelled incorrectly on purpose.

The English language is changing fast, and proofreaders must stay current. Five decades ago, grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules were standard across writing style and medium. Writing in books obeyed the same rules as newspapers or office memos, but that’s not true today. The internet has infinite, unique “content spaces,” so the writing on NYTimes.com will be different from a celebrity’s blog post, and both of those will be different from a company website or dissertation.

If you’re hiring a freelance proofreader, it’s important to find an expert who has the right qualifications, skills, and experience, and who specializes in particular niches. They will then have the right approach and instinct to ensure your work is flawless.

FAQs about proofreaders

Can I proofread my work myself?

Yes, although you may not be the best person to do so. For example, we are often “blind” to mistakes in our own writing. Another professional looking at the work will help to ensure it’s completely free from errors. Proofreaders are also trained to spot issues you may not, and can help to ensure consistency, correct word usage, and perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

What is the difference between a proofreader and a copy editor?

A freelance proofreader focuses on correcting the “mechanics” of the text, areas like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Proofreaders ensure that content is error-free. Freelance copy editors will look at the overall intent of the piece and make edits and rewrites to enhance clarity, understanding, approach, and other areas. Copy editors ensure that your work is perfect for your audience. Some copy editors will also provide proofreading as part of their services.

How long does it take for a proofreader to proofread work?

Proofreading speeds do vary, but a good ballpark figure is to assume a proofreader can proofread around 1,500-2,000 words an hour, or around 10,000-14,000 words a day.

How many times will a proofreader go through a piece of work?

It depends on the proofreading service. Some proofreaders will go through a piece of work just once, others will read it through twice or more.

Do I need to hire a proofreader in a particular niche?

It can help. For example, a fiction proofreader will understand more about how to proofread dialogue and narrative, whereas a non-fiction proofreader might focus on how facts are laid out and formatting. Ideally, you will look for a proofreader who has experience in specific topics.

Copy editors, explained

Proofreading, explained