Great news— You can absolutely become a proofreader without a degree or prior publishing experience. Proofreading is a flexible job that can be done from home or anywhere. That means you can achieve better work-life balance and prioritize what matters to you. It’s a great skill that you can build a full-time business with or run as a side hustle.
As a proofreader and editor with over 20 years of experience, I can tell you the exact skills you really need to succeed as a proofreader. In this post, I’m going to share:
- What proofreading involves
- Proofreading vs. other skills
- Why great proofreaders cannot be replaced by AI
- Qualifications you need to work with words
- The different kinds of content you can work with
- How much proofreaders earn
- Strategies for marketing your services
- How to manage a freelance proofreading business
- Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
A Proofreader’s Job Description
The skills and qualifications you need as a proofreader aren’t ones that can be acquired from years at school. I went to publishing school, and while it was a fantastic experience, it did not prepare me for launching an editorial business, managing it, and growing it.
The truth is, you don’t need an accreditation, a degree or diploma, or a membership to proofread professionally. You don’t even need a degree to work in publishing anymore! Many companies, writers, and publishing houses hire proofreaders based on their skills and knowledge of publishing standards.
You can learn the skills you need, and how to meet client expectations, by taking courses. (We have comprehensive coaching and training program, High-Level Proofreading And Copyediting Pro.) And since language is always evolving, you can refine your skills by reading to increase your exposure to various writing styles.
Most proofreaders work on a freelance basis, which gives you the flexibility to work from anywhere. You can work full-time for a company, which can involve working in-house in an office environment or remotely.
What Proofreaders Do:
- Correcting errors in spelling, punctuation, formatting, and obvious facts
- Researching in order to solve editorial issues
- Following a style guide to maintain a client’s voice and style
- Flagging issues in typography and formatting
- Spotting errors in visual content like graphics, charts, book covers, and illustrations
- Working according to publishing industry standards
Proofreading vs. Copyediting vs. Editing
Proofreading and editing are two very different skills. Editing skills refer to developmental editing and line editing, when the content is edited and rearranged structurally for flow, clarity, style, and tone. Copyediting is a deeper look at technical issues in content like grammar, facts, and maintaining technical style. Proofreading is a surface-level check only for technical errors.
Here are the different stages of editing and proofreading that content goes through.
Copy editors and proofreaders share many tasks, and sometimes copyediting is known as “high-level proofreading.” Copyediting is the step before proofreading in the publishing process, and can even be done in the same workflow. To become a copy editor is just as easy, and there is a small learning curve.
Different Kinds Of Content You Can Proofread
Proofreading is an adaptable skill that can be applied to any industry, for any kind of client. Here is a sample of what you can work on:
- Print books
- Blog Posts
- Digital products
- Social media posts
- Marketing material
- Product labels
How Much Do Proofreaders Make?
Freelance proofreaders can earn between $20-$35/hour working with fiction content. For nonfiction content and business communications, the rate is between $35-$40/hour.
Many of our grads have built successful proofreading businesses that they run on a full-time or part-time basis. There are few expenses, and the only tools you need are a computer, an internet connection, and resources that can be used for free online.
Make More Money By Adding Copyediting
At Edit Republic, we recommend adding copyediting to your services so you earn more and work with a variety of clients and content. I teach students both proofreading and copyediting in my program since copyediting shares some tasks with proofreading like fixing typos and formatting.
When you know copyediting, you can bundle it with proofreading. This allows you to work with more clients, work on projects at an earlier stage, and allows you to increase how much you make per project or hour.
It also enables you to stand out from the competition by meeting the needs of clients who need more than proofreading. Sometimes clients require copyediting because it goes deeper than the surface-only checks of proofreading.
Can AI Replace Proofreaders?
AI programs like Spell Check, Google (in emails and Google Docs), and Grammarly have been used to correct basic errors in content for years. They can be helpful, but they cannot take the place of a human. Unlike humans, they do not take context into account, which is very important when working with content.
I recently asked GPT-4 if it could replace a human proofreader. Here’s what it said:
“It’s important to keep in mind that I am a machine learning model, so my proofreading capabilities are based on the data that I was trained on, and I might miss some errors that a human proofreader would catch, especially when it comes to context, tone, and style. It’s always recommended to have a human proofreader to review the document before publishing.”
AI cannot replace the key tasks of a proofreader while maintaining the writer’s style. That’s why it is important to know how to work with AI-generated content so you can focus on the areas that need human skill. Knowing this gives you a competitive edge and the ability to work with businesses and writers as AI use grows.
Below, I outline the must-have skills you need to become a proofreader.
Qualifications You Need To Become A Proofreader
1. A Great Command Of English
While you don’t need a degree to become a proofreader, you must have a great command of the English language. This means you can recognize bad grammar and can identify errors in basic spelling and punctuation. For example, can you spot the error in this sentence?
The kids are looks forward to summer break.
The sentence should be: The kids are looking forward to summer break.
English also does not have to be your native language. I’ve trained people all over the world whose first language wasn’t English, but they had a great command of it.
2. Must Enjoy Reading
You may think this is a no-brainer, but you have to enjoy reading because proofreading involves a lot of reading. Proofreaders approach reading differently, though, and it’s important to set aside any preferences you may have.
Reading professionally is very different from reading for fun. Without knowing how to read with a critical proofreader’s eye, you will miss issues like inconsistencies, misspellings, and incorrect formatting.
3. An Eye For Detail
No degree in the world is going to teach you how to notice the details. Your ability to notice the small and inconsistent things is going to be your biggest tool as a proofreader. Being able to notice the small things will help you catch issues with word use, spacing, and graphics.
4. Be Able Work Within Boundaries
When proofreading, it is necessary to work within boundaries. In freelancing terms, it is known as the scope of the project. You do not want to do more than necessary or what was asked of you without being compensated for it.
It is important for proofreaders to preserve the writer’s voice and respect their style preferences. It may be tempting to correct as much as possible, but if a client does not want something changed, you must respect their wishes.
5. Manage Time Well
Time management is an essential skill in being a freelance proofreader and copy editor. A common mistake with new freelancers is they let loose and don’t follow a schedule. While there is the flexibility to set your hours, you must make sure you meet deadlines and do great work.
Educational Requirements To Start Proofreading
It is necessary to be trained to become a proofreader (and copy editor if you want to make more money). Using spell checking programs and researching online is not enough to work on a professional level. You need to know about the publishing and content industries, how to meet industry standards, how to implement editorial processes, and how to market and run a business.
Some employers may require proofreaders to have experience or a degree in a specific field. This is to ensure that they attract proofreaders who understand the content nuances of a certain niche. For example, an engineering firm may require a proofreader to have a related background or degree in engineering because they need someone who understands the terminology and can catch discrepancies in the content.
If you’re ready to become a proofreader, we have a free masterclass that shares our 4-step framework for getting started. You can sign up and watch it here.
How To Market Your Proofreading Business
When you become a proofreader, marketing your services is a key task, and there are various strategies you can use. You do not need to spend any money on ads, although if you wish to, that is okay too!
Social media is an excellent way to market your proofreading business for free. The benefits are you can reach a lot of people at once and you can be creative. When you post on social media, you have access to analytics. You can see what kind of content is working and what isn’t. That allows you to refine your marketing strategy as you go.
Other strategies you can try are cold-calling, handing out business cards, attending events, writing guest posts, speaking on podcasts, and writing blog posts.
Marketing your services doesn’t mean responding to job postings or waiting for an agency to send you work. It means making people aware of who you are and what you do. Be creative, set goals, and be willing to try new things.
Managing A Freelance Editorial Biz
Freelance proofreaders and editors manage tasks like setting and raising rates, invoicing, marketing, client communications, holding discovery calls, and getting testimonials.
There are apps and software programs available to help manage every aspect of running a freelance business. You can automate tasks like social media posting and create email scripts for customer queries. If you work as an in-house proofreader, it’s still a good idea to learn business skills in case you decide to take on extra side projects.
Dealing With Imposter Syndrome
Did you know that 82% of people have experienced Imposter Syndrome? Everyone at some time has experienced intrusive thoughts and feelings of being inadequate or a fraud.
I’ve experienced it, and trust me, it slows you down if you don’t learn to overcome it. When I first started proofreading and editing, I doubted the corrections I made and second-guessed my research. I even worried that I pointed out too many mistakes. Eventually, I learned to overcome my fears and trust in my abilities.
There are several ways to deal with Imposter Syndrome. You can share your thoughts of inadequacy with someone you trust. Learn to let go of perfectionism, celebrate your successes, and practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and take the pressure off.
Personally, I overcame Imposter Syndrome as a new proofreader and editor by acknowledging that I was hired to do the work because my clients believed in me. They hired me because they trusted I knew what to do in an area they knew nothing about.
Your Next Steps To Become A Proofreader
As you’ve discovered, you can become a proofreader easily. As long as you have the skills, eye for details, love of reading, and a desire to work with words. You don’t need formal education, but you need formal training since there is more to proofreading than fixing a typo.
Learning copyediting so you can offer multiple services to clients also brings in more income. You also need to do various admin tasks, manage your time well, and market yourself.
Don’t let Imposter Syndrome convince you you’re not good enough. Focus on yourself, your client and their content, and you’re gold. With professional-level training, guidance and coaching, you can tackle any kind of content.
I have a free training masterclass that outlines my 4-step framework for starting a freelance proofreading and copyediting business. It gives you the essential foundational skills for starting and includes some exclusive bonuses and coaching. Sign up to watch it here.