5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Proofreader: A Survival Kit for Beginning Proofreaders
So you want to be a proofreader.
What’s involved? What exactly do proofreaders do? Where do you begin? Here are our five tips for setting yourself up for proofreading success:
1. Understand the publishing process.
The requirements of a proofreading job will depend on the final destination of the manuscript. Will it be published as a print book? If so, proofreading might involve marking up a “print galley” in a PDF. Will it be published in a scholarly journal? You’ll very likely find yourself tracking changes in Microsoft Word. These resources can help you navigate various publishing processes:
- A Freelance Editor’s Guide to Book Production, by Rachel Hockett (print publishing)
- Publish not Perish: The Art and Craft of Publishing in Scholarly Journals (scholarly journals)
- Editors and Ebooks* course, available through the Editorial Freelancers Association (self-publishing and ebooks)
2. Take a course or a workshop, or work through a proofreading book.
Do you know what to look for when proofreading a manuscript? It takes time to hone your proofreading skills, especially if you’re proofreading in a variety of contexts – on paper, in Microsoft Word or in a PDF. These resources will get you started:
- McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook, by Laura Anderson (paper)
- Proofreading course, available through the Editorial Freelancers Association (paper)
- E-Editing: Put Down That Pen course, available through the Editorial Freelancers Association (Word and PDF)
- Training courses, available through the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (paper, Word, PDF)
- Proofreading seminar, available through the Editors’ Association of Canada (paper, Web)
- Digital Proofreading workshop, available through the Publishing Training Centre (Word and PDF)
3. Get the right technology for the job.
Does it matter what kind of computer you work on? According to Rich Adin, author of the popular An American Editor blog, choosing the right computer for the job will give you access to tools that can improve proofreading accuracy and efficiency. And what kind of computer does he recommend? A PC (sorry, Mac users). All of the proofreading and editing efficiency tools that we know of have been designed for PCs … which leads us to our next tip …
4. Use digital tools to improve proofreading accuracy and efficiency.
Proofreading tools can do an excellent job of checking the internal consistency of a document (try this free online consistency checker on your next proofreading project to get a taste of what these kind of tools can do). While digital tools can’t replace a human in the proofreading process, they can, in many instances, save proofreaders from having to complete a manual second pass. They can also assist with some of the more repetitive proofreading tasks – the ones that can cause humans to “zone out.” Below is a list of some of our favourite digital proofreading tools and resources:
Making the Most of Microsoft Word
- Making Word 2010 Work for You, by Hilary Powers (in press – available soon through the Editorial Freelancers Association)
- Effective Onscreen Editing: New Tools for an Old Profession (2nd Edition), by Geoff Hart
- Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word, by Jack Lyon
Microsoft Word Add-Ins
Build Your Own Proofreading Tools
For PDF Mark-Ups
- PDF XChange Viewer, by Tracker Software
- Adobe Reader XI, by Adobe
- Proofreading stamps for PDF mark-ups – British and American
5. Develop your business acumen
Recognize that becoming a successful proofreader involves developing some business acumen.These resources will help you to learn most of what you need to know about the business side of proofreading:
- Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Freelance Business, by Ruth Thaler-Carter (available through the Editorial Freelancers Association)
- Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters, by Louise Harnby
- An American Editor blog
- Editorium Update Newsletter
Investing your time in just some of these tools and resources will put you well on your way to learning the basics of what successful proofreaders know. But it will help you, too, to understand what they are: Successful proofreaders are curious – they read widely, always with an eye to what might be on the horizon. The publishing field is constantly changing. Stay nimble and keep yourself informed so you can quickly adapt to frequent and sometimes disruptive changes that lie ahead for publishing professionals.
*Disclaimer: Carla and Corina are the designers and instructors of the Editors and Ebooks course.