how to be a great proofreader

How to Be a Great Proofreader: Qualities You’ll Need to Succeed

Proofreading is a work from home job that can make you a great side income. While it doesn’t immediately pop to mind as a viable work from home position, there are people who do very well income-wise with this as a side hustle job.

Proofreading is ideal because it’s a fairly flexible job that can be done in your spare time. (This makes it especially great for moms with young kids). While anyone can be a proofreader, you do need to have certain qualities and skills if you want to succeed.

If you want to become a great proofreader, you must possess the following qualities:

  • Be able to spot errors quickly
  • Have a strong ability to focus
  • Understanding of good English grammar
  • Good communication skills
  • Willingness to learn

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the qualities that make a great proofreader and find ways you can improve your proofreading skills.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. 

woman sitting at computer and working or proofreading

1) Proofreaders Should Quickly Spot Errors

As a proofreader, you’ll need to have an eagle-eye to look for inconsistencies in documents. If you’re used to quickly skimming through whatever you’re reading, you’ll probably have to break the habit. 

This can be a double-edged sword because if you move quickly, you’ll be able to complete more work and ultimately make more money. However, you should not just breeze through each document with the hope of finishing fast.

If you miss many errors, it’s unlikely that your clients will come back to you with more work anyway, so it pays to move slowly and diligently through your work.

Pro tip: If you’re having trouble reading something too quickly, start at the end and read the very last sentence. Then, read the second to last sentence. Continue backwards in this way, until you’ve read and proofread the entire document. This helps isolate each sentence, so you’re less likely to skip over some hard-to-spot problems.

2) A Proofreader Needs to Know How to Focus

If you want to be a successful proofreader, you’re going to really need to know how to focus on what you’re doing. That’s because when you aren’t focused, you’ll likely miss a lot of errors.

The devil is in the details with this work at home job. And focusing isn’t always that easy if you’re a work at home parent trying to do this while your kids are in the same room.

However, if you want success as a proofreader, it’s very important that you figure out a system for yourself where you can work without distractions. Or, simply learn to tune out the noise around you so you can give full attention to making sure your document is flawless.

3) A Good Understanding of English Grammar

Grammar is so important. As a proofreader, spotting and fixing grammar mistakes is your entire job!

It can be helpful to use a browser extension tool like Grammarly to serve as a backup should you miss anything.

However, this tool is really only good for a backup. It can’t serve as your foundation. You need to have a solid understanding of grammar and a good grasp of proper English if you want to do well with this job.

4) Ability to Spot Missed Information and Inconsistencies

While your primary job as a proofreader will be to spot typos and other small errors, that won’t be your only task. As a truly great proofreader, you should also be on the lookout for any not-so-obvious errors and omissions.

For instance, say you’re proofreading a document that says, “Call the number below for more information.” Only when you look through the rest of text, you notice that the phone number is never actually given.

Another common error could be a switch-up in dates. Maybe one point in your text says Monday February 9, while another place the date is written as Tuesday February 9. Which is it? These small mix-ups are so important to spot.

As a good proofreader, you need to understand the context of the document, not just the words, and look for not-so-obvious errors and inconsistencies just like these ones.

5) Proofreaders Should Be Good Communicators

Good communication is a quality you should have any time you work for yourself, but it bears repeating for proofreaders. 

In short, good communication is one of the keys to success if you want to be a good proofreader. This has nothing to do with actual proofreading skills, but it has everything to do with being a good businessperson. 

Nothing is more frustrating for a client than when he or she sends an email and doesn’t get a response. Or you promise a due date and then return the work many days late without the courtesy of reaching out.

As someone who has worked with other freelancers themselves in the past, I was shocked to find how commonplace it is for people to provide very bad customer service. Don’t let bad customer service sabotage your business. 

Make sure you are always prompt and courteous in your replies, and follow the deadlines you agree to. If something comes up and you need to delay, reach out and let your client know!

A great proofreader provides a level of professionalism, trust, and rapport with their clients that will keep clients coming back time and again.

6) Proofreaders Need a Willingness to Learn Quickly

Nobody starts working as a proofreader knowing exactly what to do from the get-go. In fact, it takes time and practice to hone these proofreading skills.

Being successful at any work from home position requires a good work ethic and a willingness to learn.

The best way to learn is through a proofreading course, like Proofreading Academy. (You can read more about the top proofreading courses here). It goes through all the ins and outs of what you’ll need to know to succeed as a proofreader and gives you plenty of practice and guidance so you can be sure you’re getting things right.

If you can’t invest in a course, you should at least ensure that you know all the common style guides in and out, like the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Style of writing. Different clients will need work proofread in different ways, so you need to brush up on your skills to be prepared for any task at hand.

Things You Can Do to Improve Your Proofreading Skills

Proofreading is one job where you have to remain sharp and focused the entire time. However, it can be tiring to proofread many documents over and over.

There are some ways you can resist the drain of proofreading many documents, and remain eagle-eyed throughout. Use these tips to improve your proofreading and become a better proofreader:

  • Change the fonts of your document – A larger font can make things clearer and more legible, and may even make errors more apparent on the page.
  • Print it out – When possible, print out your work. Holding a physical copy in your hands often enables you to see things in a different light, and can make typos easier to spot.
  • Use a ruler – When you’re proofreading for a long stretch of time, it can be tempting to move quickly through the document. This is when you make the most mistakes. If you tend to speed through things, use a ruler to slow yourself down. Hold it under the line you are reading and force yourself to move slowly through the document one line at a time.
  • Take note of your mistakes – If you find that you’ve made a mistake (or missed a mistake), take note of what it is. Do you tend to mistake it’s and its, or they’re and their? If so, keep a checklist of these common errors and keep them by your computer. Before you submit any proofreading document, make sure you run through your checklist to ensure that you haven’t missed any of your most common mistakes.
  • Read it out loud – Things always sound different to us when we read them out loud. Verbally, you may catch an error or mistake that simply didn’t jump out at you when it sat on the page.
  • Double-check proper nouns and business information – Sometimes the biggest errors are the ones we tend to skip over altogether. Double-check all headings and proper nouns, to make sure they are in proper agreement. If any business information is included in the document, ensure that it is correct. If your document has a numbered list, make sure that the numbers are in order. Missing these big errors can quickly lose you a client and undo a lot of the good work that you accomplished finding smaller typos within the document.
  • Give it one more look before submitting – It’s always helpful to set a document aside after editing, and then give it just one more look before you finally submit. If you do this after a period of time has passed between proofreading and submission, you’ll be able to look at it once more with fresh eyes, just in case you missed anything. It’s amazing how often I’ve caught an error I just didn’t see before when using this practice.

Finding Success as a Proofreader

Like any other job, working as a proofreader requires time, effort, and a bit of a learning curve. Don’t let those things deter you. By following some of these steps and putting your best foot forward, it is possible to make a nice side income right from home with this job.

Interested in finding out more about how you can learn to be a proofreader with guaranteed employment? Check out my Proofreading Academy review to see more about the best proofreading course (that offers you guaranteed employment afterward)!

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