What a conundrum! As evidenced by text messages, online forums, web sites, business signage, and even newspapers, never have so many people used the written word to communicate—yet never have so few exhibited correct spelling and punctuation. Proofreaders are concerned with the same grammatical details that seem to be falling through the cracks. If you have wondered how to become a proofreader—fantastic! The world needs you.
Is this the type of work for you?
You must enjoy working on many different types of documents, have strong research skills, have a long attention span, and have a moderate level of computer and Internet knowledge. And it goes without saying that you must pay sharp attention to detail.
Five things to consider if you want to be a proofreader
1. Love to Read
To be a proofreader, you must love to read. You should enjoy reading many different forms of writing, familiarize yourself with various writing styles, and acquire knowledge in a broad range of subjects. Read books, newspapers, web sites, and even the text displayed on TV news programs and commercials with a critical eye. This will help train you to spot errors in spelling, punctuation, and word usage.
2. Understand the Skills Required
To be a proofreader, you must understand the specific skills that you require. You must be competent in correct word usage, spelling, and punctuation. You must be perceptive enough to understand what a writer intends to say, even though the written text in front of you might not be perfectly clear. Many professionals also suggest that you use techniques such as reading the text backwards, reading the text aloud, or reading a printed version of online text.
3. Solid Computer Skills
To be a proofreader, you will need solid computer skills. Quite often, proofreading is done on-screen, so you’ll need to be familiar with the proofreading and editing tools in your word processing program, such as Microsoft Word’s Track Changes and Insert Comments features. Occasionally, clients may prefer that you print out the text, proofread the hard copy, and then fax it back. In those cases, you’ll need to possess knowledge of proofreading symbols and know how to use a printer and fax machine.
4. Know the Stylebooks
To be a proofreader, you should also familiarize yourself with the most common stylebooks. Organizations often adopt an established style guide or create their own in-house guide. You should at least become familiar with the AP Style Guide, used by most newspapers and online news organizations and many websites, and the APA and MLA style guides, used by many academics. Other stylebooks include the Chicago Manual of Style, the New York Times Manual of Style, and the AMA Manual of Style. In addition, for a good refresher on grammar, punctuation, and language usage, take a look at The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White.
5. Consider Formal Training
You should consider some type of formal training if you want to be a proofreader. High school courses in English, journalism, and literature will give you a foundation in language and basic proofreading skills. You can supplement this knowledge with post-secondary education, or with online courses and tutorials.
When you consider training, you should reflect on any personal areas of interest. If you wish to be a proofreader in a particular field, such as finance, law, or medicine, you may want to concentrate your training efforts in one of those areas. This may lead to greater financial rewards and more personal satisfaction than trying to proofread anything that comes your way.
If you have ever considered pursuing proofreading as a career, we hope that this article gave you some food for thought. Is proofreading right for you? Do you have what it takes to be a proofreader? With a little patience, attention to detail, and training, you might soon find yourself putting the world back on the grammar track!