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In the two years that I’ve been a full-time writer, I’ve gotten exponentially better at grammar and punctuation.
But as any of my editors will tell you, I’m not perfect. That’s why it’s so helpful to have proofreading tools and services available when I need them.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. There are lots of professions and industries where people rely on proofreaders to make sure the things they publish are free from errors.
Ever wonder what it takes to become one of those proofreaders and make money from home?
It’s a great side hustle opportunity, but there are a few things you should know about how to become a proofreader before you get started.
What is Proofreading?
Proofreading is simply reading a document and marking or correcting any errors. A proofreader makes the final pass to ensure a published work is free of all spelling and grammar mistakes.
To be a proofreader, you must have great attention to detail and be willing to communicate if you’re not sure on something. If the proofreader is having a hard time understanding something, odds are the audience will, too. And the writer may not even read it once the proofreader’s done with it, so the document has to be perfect.
“What I didn’t realize about proofreading when I started – that I certainly know now – is that your clients really will depend on you to be a final proof and may not even glance at the content again before considering it finalized,” said Jennifer Johnson, a communications and public relations consultant at jentimecity.com.
How Much Do Proofreaders Make?
An experienced proofreader can charge anywhere from $20 to $45 an hour, depending on the scope of the work. According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, the average is $30 to $35 per hour, assuming 2,200 to 3,200 words per hour. While PayScale reports the median yearly salary to come in just under $45,000 per year.
Beverly Darnell, a writer for USInsuranceAgents.com, has been proofreading for nearly 30 years.
“I was a full-time contract proofreader for six months at a large insurance company,” Darnell said. “I was paid $23.00/hour for 40 hours a week of AP Style proofreading.”
What you make is also determined by how much your services are needed. If you choose an in-demand niche such as legal transcript reporting, you could have consistent work more easily than other niches.
Caitlin Pyle, legal transcript proofreader and educator, earned just over $43,000 in her first year working about 20 to 30 hours a week.
“There are a couple of reasons that transcript proofreading is popular,” Pyle said. “Court reporters are in high demand, there’s actually a projected shortage of these skilled professionals, and proofreaders enable reporters to focus on what makes them money: going to jobs and producing more pages.”
Proofreading vs. Copyediting vs. Scoping
“The first thing to know about proofreading — and this ties into how much you can charge — is that it’s critical to make sure you and your client are working from the same definition of “proofreading,” said Patti Podnar, a freelance content strategist at PattiPodnar.com.
“What if you realize that the content you’re proofreading is making an argument based on flawed logic? What if, from your own experience, you have additional information that would make the content stronger? Are they open to that kind of input? If so, you’re not just proofreading; you’re doing developmental editing and should charge accordingly.”
Copyediting and proofreading do much of the same thing, but they’re done in a particular order. Copyediting comes first, checking for initial grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. A copy editor also corrects for things like the continuity of the story, clarity of phrases, copyright infringements, facts checking, and correct citations.
Proofreading is the final step before publishing. Once something is copyedited and formatted, a proofreader checks for any mistakes the editor missed or potentially introduced, issues with formatting, and visual consistency in headings, tables, etc.
Scoping is another service that often gets mistaken as proofreading. Scoping is editing transcripts for court reporters. Scopists use the same steno software that court reporters use with audio to ensure everything was transcribed as accurately as possible.
A scopist or court reporter will then hire a proofreader to go through the document one final time to catch small errors like capitalization, punctuation, and word usage.
How to Become a Proofreader and Work From Home
You can start proofreading online as a side hustle — or potentially a full-time online business — in as little as a few weeks. Using the right strategy will get you there faster than others.
1. Decide if You Have the Skills to Become a Proofreader
Proofreading isn’t for everyone. You have to have exceptional attention to detail and be able to work fast.
“If you overlook something, it could cost a company a lot of money to make corrections,” Darnell said. “It can also be fast-paced, high-volume work. You need to be a master multi-tasker who can complete tasks quickly.”
Sometimes you have to learn specialized skills beyond traditional punctuation and grammar.
“For legal transcript proofreading, you also have to adapt to the rules of transcripts, which aren’t the same as other proofreading or copy editing,” Pyle said. “You can’t change the grammar, ever — no matter how awful it is. Punctuation is more important than grammar in transcripts, and you have to know how to apply those rules to some really tricky constructions.”
While skills vary across different types of proofreading, some qualities are universal for all proofreaders.
- Reliability: A sought-after proofreader must be able to meet deadlines and respond to client emails promptly.
- Flexibility: They must be able to work with printed and digital materials.
- Perfectionism: Proofreaders should be meticulous and detail-oriented.
If you’re still unsure how to become a proofreader or if it’s a good fit for you, Caitlin Pyle offers a free workshop designed to introduce people to the field of proofreading online. It’s also packed with great advice and business-building tips for any type of freelancer.
2. Get Training on How to Become a Proofreader
To get started, you’ll need some proofreading training. Darnell recommends picking one style and committing to it.
“I suggest picking either AP Style or Chicago Style of writing and becoming so well-versed in it that you can tell which is being used within the first few sentences of a written document,” she said.
You can find free quizzes to test yourself on Chicago and AP Style, but there aren’t many places to learn the skills needed to become a good proofreader. That’s one of the reasons Pyle makes proofreading courses.
Her course, Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice, teaches students basic proofreading skills, how to set up their business, and how to get and keep clients. Students complete more than 3,000 transcript pages and take three tests to graduate.
At the end of the self-paced course, which usually takes between two and four months to complete, graduates are well-equipped to start their own legal transcript proofreading business.
She also has a general proofreading course for people who want broader proofreading training. Her training aims to take the learning curve out of proofreading and get students making more money faster.
3. Determine Your Niche
Once you’ve decided you’ve got the skills for proofreading and you enjoy it, it’s time to explore the niche options available. You can choose from several different types of proofreading niches depending on your strengths and time availability.
Print media proofreading: This is the most traditional type of proofreading. Checking for spelling, grammar, and formatting issues in newspapers, books, and other printed or online publications.
Marketing materials: Large companies spend millions of dollars on printed and online ad campaigns, and one mistake could cost them additional millions. A marketing proofreader checks the spelling, grammar, and formatting of ads, press releases, and emails.
Academic proofreading: Beyond grammar and spelling, academic proofreaders check references, citations, and style in assignments, dissertations, and course materials.
Proofreading translations: Proofreading translations may require proficiency in the translated language, but not always. These proofreaders specifically make sure the meaning and context of the translation are accurate.
Transcript proofreading: Many YouTube and podcast hosts will transcribe their audio for use on their website. Proofreaders here make sure the automated transcription makes sense and is formatted correctly.
Legal transcript proofreading: Checking for accuracy of court reporter transcripts. This type of proofreading is unique in that there’s no grammar or style correction. Proofreaders are checking for accuracy between the audio and transcript and correcting punctuation. This is one of the more lucrative and consistent forms of proofreading.
4. Set Your Proofreading Rates
Beginning freelance proofreaders charge anywhere from $10 to $35 per hour based on the document length, turnaround time, and skill set needed to complete the work. The more specific your expertise, the more you can charge.
Johnson said she made $15 an hour starting out proofreading and technical editing at an engineering company nine years ago.
“A starting rate for proofreading in 2019 would be more like $25 per hour,” she said.
When you’re starting out, don’t be disappointed by all the lower-paying proofreading jobs. Take what you can get and make it a point to continue learning and niching down as you gain experience.
5. Look for Online Proofreading Jobs for Beginners
Decide whether you want to start your own business and find clients on your own or take a job. You can find proofreading jobs from sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter.
Fiverr, Upwork, and LinkedIn are great places to post your resume when you don’t know where to start. Facebook groups for writers and people in media can be good too, but you should avoid being spammy and only offer advice or services when asked. You can also post your services in the English building or library on college campuses.
If you know the niche you want to work in, join industry-specific groups and reach out to people who might be in charge of finding proofreaders.
To be a successful proofreader, you have to be proficient with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and more. But there are tools and resources that can help you do work faster and with more accuracy.
Grammarly is a free app for Google Chrome and macOS that detects grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors and allows you to fix them with one click. It also detects wordiness and offers alternative phrasing.
The premium version of Grammarly goes further by detecting overused words, unclear sentence structure, and even plagiarism.
ProWritingAid is a premium app with a limited free version that focuses more on context, syntax, and structure. It’s helpful in editing long-form content and can help you become a better writer with in-depth explanations for its recommendations.
The Hemingway App aims to make your writing clear and concise. You can use it as a free online editor or pay for a downloadable version. It highlights in different colors to show where sentences and words can be made clearer. It even analyzes the text to show the grade level it’s written and how long it takes to read.
The Associated Press publishes and updates the AP Stylebook, the primary style reference for news and public relations. You can purchase a physical or digital copy to reference when proofreading or download style-checking tools for Microsoft Word and more.
Chicago Manual of Style
Anyone proofreading books, periodicals, and journals should be well-acquainted with the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s much more in-depth than the AP Stylebook so having a copy to reference will be far easier than trying to memorize the complete 950-page guide.
Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer
Dreyer’s English is a book on grammar that will teach you lessons from Dreyer’s 20 years in copyediting for Random House and will entertain you to no end. This book is essential reading for anyone who works with the English language.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
The Elements of Style is an American English writing style guide focusing on telling good stories with as few words as possible. Time listed it as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.
Proofreading Online Can Provide a Flexible Income
Proofreading is a reliable job that’s been around since the dawn of print media, and it’s one that will continue to stick around as the demand for content marketing and court reporting increase.
It won’t make you rich, but when you know how to become a proofreader you can create a lucrative side hustle for yourself.
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