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What are Proofreaders?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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For many people, spelling, punctuation and grammar are a source of constant irritation. How many times have you written a college essay or business letter only to find embarrassing mistakes that the spell check has not caught? The spell check on a computer is very useful, but it won't be able to spot every spelling or grammatical error. This is where having your own personal team of proofreaders may come in very handy.

Proofreaders are trained to spot grammar, punctuation or spelling errors in written copy by quickly scanning the page. Proofreaders usually perform their work in two ways. One way is to compare proof documents against the original copy and mark any differences they find. They sometimes have a person read aloud from the original while comparing the proofs.

Proofreaders also read copy on its own with nothing to compare it to, marking down the errors they find on the written page. Trained proofreaders signal these errors with marks on the page. These marks are standard marks used by proofreaders, but they can also be understood by printers and writers.

Most proofreaders also have their own set of reference books that they use when checking for errors. They refer to dictionaries in order to verify unfamiliar or unusual words. They also use reference books that explain the diverse range of correct grammatical usage. These are very helpful when the proofreader has only the original copy to work from.

If a proofreader is working for a particular company or client, he or she may have to check that the copy is written to the client's standard guidelines. The company usually has a style guidebook that is specific only to their company. Proofreaders check the writer's copy to make sure it is written strictly to these guidelines. If it is not, the proofreader may contact the writer and ask questions regarding inconsistencies of style. Errors will then be marked and sent back for correction.

With the advent of the Internet and telecommuting, the flexibility offered by proofreading has become appealing to many people. People can train as proofreaders at college, or through one of the numerous night-classes and Internet courses available on the subject. Once training is complete, proofreading is a job that can be performed in a traditional work environment or just as easily from home. Many large and smaller businesses farm out this type of work to trained individuals. It's an ideal job for stay-at-home parents, or just about anyone looking to earn some extra money with very little overhead.

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Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On Jul 04, 2012

@kentuckycat - I am not very familiar with the book publishing world, but I am sure they do have a lot of proofreaders employed. There are a lot of different outlets for proofreading. Although editing and proofreading are two different things, they have a lot of similarities in that they both involve recognizing errors in writing.

Most websites that have a lot of text would most likely need someone to proofread. Even the articles on this website have to go through an editor before they are published. Another good example would be a website design firm. They may get information from a customer about the script that should be on a page. It would then be the proofreader's job to make sure the words ended up the same on the website as on the submitted material.

I guess a proofreader's salary would mostly depend on their industry and other factors. A lot of proofreaders work as freelancers, and their pay would probably go by the size and importance of the project.

By kentuckycat — On Jul 03, 2012

@Izzy78 - That is funny, because I have had the same idea before. In my plan, though, I would just find signs that are already misspelled and offer to tell the owner the mistake for a few dollars. Like you said, though, I think if someone has already put out the bad sign, they probably don't care enough in the first place to want to change it.

As far as professional proofreaders go, where do you get a job like that? The obvious answer is a book publisher. I am sure publishers hire the vast majority of proofreaders. There have to be other outlets for proofreader jobs, though.

Are there actual companies that just provide a proofreading service? How much would a proofreader like that make?

By Izzy78 — On Jul 02, 2012

@rugbygirl - I agree. I don't even think it just has to apply to professional printing jobs. Just walking to work every day, I see tons of spelling and grammar errors on random signs. I think editors and proofreaders have a very necessary job, since it seems most people don't understand basic grammar. It's one thing to have a typo. It's another to not recognize that plural words don't need an apostrophe.

I always thought a good side business would be providing small-scale proofreading to local businesses. For example, if a local grocery store planned to post a bunch of signs outside their store, I could proofread them and check for errors.

The reason I think it would never work, though, is because it seems most people don't care even when you tell them their spelling or grammar is wrong. I never understood that. I can see where people wouldn't care about the use of the semi-colon, but I think it is ridiculous that no one can seem to figure out the various uses of there/their/they're.

By TreeMan — On Jul 02, 2012

@MissDaphne - That sounds like a lot of the same process that professional journal manuscripts go through. There is the initial writing stage where the author puts together the first submission of the paper. Obviously, it is wise to have several people proofread the paper at this point just from a professionalism standpoint.

After the paper has been submitted, if it is approved, a few reviewers will look at it and point out any grammar and spelling errors along with content that should be added or modified. After that, the second version is submitted, and it is usually accepted for printing. Before the final version is published in the journal, though, a proof will be sent to the author to see how the paper will look in the journal. At this time, the author can check one final time to make sure there are no grammar or spelling errors as well as seeing the proposed placement of tables and graphs and suggesting changes.

I have a feeling this timeline is much longer than for a typical printing company. From the first submission to final printing, a journal article can easily take over a year, and that doesn't include the research and writing the first draft.

By rugbygirl — On Jul 01, 2012

@MissDaphne - I've never heard of that kind of proofreading! It sounds like it must take a completely different set of skills than typical spelling-and-grammar proofreading.

Personally, I've never understood why a company would pay a lot of money to have something printed (whether a sign, a pamphlet, or whatever) and not spring for a professional proofreader. There are plenty of embarrassing mistakes that spell check can't help you with and those can really hurt your business!

By MissDaphne — On Jun 30, 2012

Another kind of professional proofreading takes place at a printing company. Customers will submit mock-ups of their projects along with a digital copy. The printing company then generates a "digital blueline" -- a very rough version of what it will look like when printed. (These used to be done entirely in blue ink, but these days they are in color.)

The proofreader than compares the proof, the digital blueline, to the customer's mockup to make sure that they are a match. Occasionally, colors, fonts, and other graphic features can change from one version to the next, and the proofreader needs to spot any potential problems like that before the job is printed -- because otherwise it might have to be redone completely at the printer's expense!

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