Proofreading Career Advice
If you are wondering how to become a proofreader, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within publishing and journalism, as well as proofreading job prospects in the UK.
The Job Description
Proofreaders check written text after it has been edited and before it is printed or published. They carefully check the 'proofs', which show how the final pages will be laid out, using either a printed 'hard' copy or an on-screen version.
Most rewriting and corrections to spelling, grammar and style, will have been made at the copy editing stage (see the separate Copy Editor profile). Proofreaders act as a final quality check, making sure that nothing has been missed by the copy editor or typesetter. Proofreaders may compare the proofs with the edited copy as they go along, or they may read them without referring to the edited manuscript (known as reading 'blind').
Proofreaders' main tasks include checking that:
there are no errors such as letters in the wrong order
all the material is included and is in the correct place
page numbers are in the right order
the document follows the 'house style'
chapter titles match the list of contents
there are no confusing word, column or page breaks
illustrations have the right captions and relate to the text
the layout is logical and attractive.
Proofreaders mark necessary changes using British Standards Institution symbols, which are internationally recognised. When working directly on computer, they may use specialist software to mark up the document. If necessary, they also produce a separate list of any queries which need to be resolved.
Before marking any changes which could have a major effect on overall layout, proofreaders will discuss them with their clients. At this stage the changes could result in unacceptable costs and delay.
The key personal attributes of good proof readers include:
a good standard of English, particularly grammar and spelling
concentration, accuracy and attention to detail
good IT skills
self-motivation and a methodical approach
the ability to cope with repetitive tasks
tact and diplomacy
How to become a proofreader
You do not need any particular qualifications to be a proofreader. Employers will usually be more interested in your experience than your qualifications. Many proofreaders have had previous experience in publishing, journalism or other related areas.
Many proofreaders are graduates, so it could be an advantage if you have a degree, perhaps in English or in a subject which could become your specialist field for proofreading. For example, a science degree would be useful for proofreading scientific textbooks or manuals.
As a beginner, you can do short courses through the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and the Publishing Training Centre. You can also study the Publishing Training Centre Basic Proofreading course by distance learning. When you have completed the SfEP courses you can get support in establishing your career by applying to join the SfEP mentoring scheme.
Training and Development
In some publishing companies you will receive in-house training when you start work. You can also develop your skills by attending courses like those run by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and the Publishing Training Centre.
As an experienced proofreader, you can join the SfEP accreditation and registration scheme. This involves passing a proofreading test and getting recommendations from clients.
It will be useful to become a member of professional bodies such as the SfEP, Women in Publishing and the Publishers' Association, as this will give you opportunities for support and professional networking. As a full member of SfEP, your details can be entered on the society's directory, which is a resource for those needing proofreading and editing services.
You could study for qualifications such as a degree or higher education diploma in publishing.
You will need to keep up to date with developments in publishing, and with technical skills such as changes in relevant computer software. You can do training in these areas by seminar and distance learning through the SfEP and the Publishing Training Centre.
The Pay (a rough guide)
Salaries vary depending on the type of work and the employer, starting at around £16,000.
Freelancers are usually paid by the page or by the hour. SfEP recommends minimum rates of pay for freelancers. Visit the SfEP website (in Further Information below) for the latest figures.
Most proofreaders are self-employed and work as freelancers. Jobs may be advertised in the national press or in specialist publications such as Publishing News and The Bookseller, which may be available in reference libraries or can be ordered through newsagents. However, jobs for full time, in-house proofreaders are rare, and there is a lot of competition for work. Copy-editor or sub-editor positions are more common.
Few proofreaders earn a full-time living from this work – you may need to combine proofreading with another job.
As an experienced proofreader you could build up your reputation as a specialist in a particular field, or be offered more high-profile work.
Useful journalism or publishing resources:
Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)
1 Putney Bridge Approach
Tel: 020 7736 3278