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23 April 2024

How to become a professional proofreader

Are you thinking about becoming a proofreader? Perhaps you’re a career-changer looking for inspiration, or you’re already a proofreader but lack formal training. Whatever your starting point, here’s some guidance on the next steps that you can expect to take.

The role of the proofreader

The proofreader gets involved in the final stage of the editorial process, before publication. In book publishing, the publisher sends the author’s typescript (raw manuscript) to the copy-editor, who checks and corrects it. They ensure that it’s consistent, readable, free from errors and correctly formatted, among other things.

When this stage is completed, the typescript is typeset (into its final layout) and sent to the proofreader who checks that the copy-editor’s instructions were followed (e.g., pages are numbered correctly).

The role of the proofreader is important in acting as a second pair of eyes, catching any missed editorial errors (e.g., grammar and spelling). They will also check the typesetter’s work, and fix any errors in fonts, styles and layout, for example, before final production.

What qualities do you need to be proofreader?

A love of reading helps, but this is a nice-to-have. To be a successful proofreader, you need:

  • the ability to concentrate
  • excellent interpersonal skills, to build positive relationships with colleagues and clients
  • a good grasp of the English language, grammar and punctuation
  • well-rounded general knowledge
  • an eye for detail.

Other qualities include a willingness to learn, adaptability, curiosity, perseverance and patience.

Why training matters

As with other careers, proofreading takes time to master. Training is important because it shows that you’re serious about becoming a professional proofreader.

Gaining an industry-recognised qualification can give you confidence in your abilities, help improve your professional credibility and build trust. This is important, particularly if you’re a career-changer. Potential clients need reassurance that you’re competent, that you have the basic skills and also expertise in the field.

Each proofread is an opportunity to broaden your knowledge and sharpen your skills. So not only does initial training matter, but continuing professional development is important too.

The PTC’s bestselling Essential Proofreading course is ideal for learning the skills and knowledge required to proofread effectively.

The type of proofreading work available

Mention the word ‘proofreading’ and traditional publishing houses come to mind. The reality is that publishers hire trained, experienced proofreaders. The good news is that there is a wealth of proofreading opportunities outside traditional publishing, so it’s worth approaching:

  • local businesses
  • organisations with a publishing/marketing function
  • charities and professional organisations
  • self-publishing authors
  • family and friends

You’ll find an array of documents that require proofreading, including theses and dissertations, websites, annual and business reports, and marketing materials.

Where to get answers if you have a proofreading question

It’s fine if you don’t know the answer to queries in the text that you’re proofing. You aren’t expected to know everything – no one does! What’s important is that you know where to find the answer. Depending on your question, the information might be found in the client’s house style guide, or in other reference materials (e.g., the style guides New Hart’s Rules for British English, or The Chicago Manual of Style for American English). Or, you could contact the client with a query that’s specific to them.

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading is a membership organisation for editorial professionals. It offers access to benefits including a members’ forum, where you can post questions and all aspects of proofreading (and editing) are discussed.

Getting proofreading experience

Start by telling family, friends, and people you work with (past and present) about your proofreading plans. They may know someone who could benefit from your skills.

You could also consider the following:

  • ask your current employer about proofreading opportunities
  • volunteer for a charity or other organisation producing print or digital content
  • mentoring (your current employer may offer opportunities)
  • internship with a publishing house (many publishers advertise on their websites and on social media)
  • paid work with a publishing house (advertised on publishers’ websites and social media, The Bookseller, recruitment agencies, job boards; freelancers could try cold emailing publishers).

Before contacting potential clients, you need to think about how to market yourself, which could mean updating your CV and highlighting relevant skills and training. Research potential clients and market yourself to your ideal client, making sure you have the proofreading skills and knowledge they want.

Keeping the work coming in

If a client is happy with your work, don’t be shy about asking for a testimonial, which you can use to gain more experience.

It takes time to become established and visible as a proofreader. Here are some activities to keep the momentum going:

  • update your CV, website and portfolio regularly
  • promote your proofreading service
  • network with other proofreaders (online or in person)
  • hone your skills and knowledge.


Tania Charles

Tania Charles is a freelance proofreader specialising in fiction and narrative non-fiction. She is also a tutor for the PTC’s Essential Proofreading course. Follow her on LinkedIn.

To find out more about the role of the proofreader, download your free copy of the PTC’s guide to Copy-editing and Proofreading.

Discover if a career in proofreading is for you, with the PTC’s e-learning module An introduction to proofreading.