Thoughts on becoming a proofreader

Often we receive questions about how to start a career as a proofreader.

Now, we started proofreading almost by accident. When setting up our business, I was asked to proofread for Safeway Stores. 10 years later we were still proofreading for Safeway at the time it was bought out by Morrisons.

Since 1994 we have proofread for many organisations, mainly businesses. Our experience is wholly commercial, so we cannot speak for the book publishing industry.

Below are our requirements for success in commercial proofreading:

1. You need to be precise, accurate and methodical, and able to spot mistakes and inconsistencies.

2. You need an understanding of grammar and punctuation, as well as the ability to spell.

3. For commercial proofreading, you need common sense and judgement. If a client asks you to proofread text written specifically for a specialist market, such as teenagers, the writing may not be consistent with what some people call standard English. The text must be proofread with this in mind and the appropriate ‘rules’ of language applied, which are not necessarily the ones you would choose to adhere to for your own writing. So commercial awareness and judgement is required.

4. You need to be familiar with computer document formats, including word processing and PDF files, which can be amended or annotated on screen. Most commercial proofreading is undertaken electronically and annotations to paper copies are rarely used.

5. Language is always changing and you must keep up with this, whether or not you agree with the changes. As a proofreader, you can help to influence the evolution of English by ensuring it retains its intelligence, usefulness and beauty.

A proofreader can feel satisfied when a proofread text that is published reads well, is easy to understand and pleases the reader.

Robert Zarywacz