How to Become a Proofreader: Key Qualifications & Skills 👓

  • Writing
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Learn what proofreading is, how much the profession pays, and how to become a proofreader. Plus, discover the qualifications required to become one.

Clarity and precision play pivotal roles in written communication. Any blemish, typo, or inconsistency can undermine credibility and lead to misunderstandings. This is where proofreading steps in.

In this guide, we'll discover what proofreading is, how to tell the difference between a proofreader, editor, and copyeditor, and how to become a proofreader in 6 easy steps.

What is proofreading? 🤔

Proofreading is the process of reviewing the final draft of a piece of writing to ensure consistency and accuracy in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. It's the last step in the writing process and ensures a document is error-free and polished for its intended audience. 

What does a proofreader do? 🧐 

A proofreader meticulously examines the text for any errors that might've been overlooked during the initial writing and editing phases. This includes:

  • Grammar: Reviewing sentence structure for errors and ensuring everything flows well.
  • Punctuation: Ensuring no misuse of punctuation or adding punctuation where needed.
  • Spelling: Fixing any spelling errors or typos ("fo" instead of "of" or "teh" instead of "the," for example).
  • Formatting: Ensuring headlines summarize the entire news piece correctly, using the right font and size with no unnecessary spaces. 

Editors vs. proofreaders vs. copyeditors: What’s the difference? 💬 

Many people confuse these roles, and this is likely because, in small companies, you might be asked to do all three yet only be labeled as one. Of course, many proofreaders eventually become editors after gaining enough experience, whether a book editor or a company's email newsletter editor. Here’s how they’re distinct:

  • Editors: These professionals suggest alternative wording and restructure sentences to fit a company or brand's voice or style.
  • Copyeditors: They fix punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors while sticking to the brand or company's voice style guide.
  • Proofreaders: They meticulously comb through content to catch any overlooked errors. They primarily ensure the content is polished and error-free.

Qualifications and skills to become a proofreader 🎓

To become a proofreader, you might think it's locked behind qualifications, but in reality, anyone can become a proofreader without formal training. But if you possess a journalism, communications, or English degree, you have a more substantial chance of gaining freelance projects or employment. Getting a proofreader certification increases your chances of finding work in this field, too. That said, some positions might require knowledge of an industry (science, law, psychology, etc.) to understand editing and proofreading. 

In terms of the skills you'll need, the following will come in handy:

  • Patience: Some texts will be challenging to get through, so you'll need patience to not give up or get frustrated.
  • Attention to detail: Your job is to find and fix the small details that prevent a piece of writing from being perfect, so a keen eye is essential.
  • Understanding of style guides: A strong grasp of style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS), Modern Language Association (MLA), and American Psychological Association (APA) is vital, as a lot of work will come from students. 
  • Excellent language skills: A robust command of grammar and vocabulary ensures you identify and correct mistakes effectively. 
  • Post-secondary education: While it's not necessary to do basic proofreading, without some post-secondary education, you won't be able to work within high-paying niches. 

Sign up for Contra Pro today

Get more leads, more earning, and more tools to grow your freelance business.

How to become a proofreader: 6 steps 🪜

Proofreading is an enticing prospect, especially if you have a natural inclination for grammar and a keen eye for detail. Here are six structured steps to guide you on your journey to becoming a successful proofreader:

1. Build your language and writing skills ✍️

You'll read, write, and edit a lot, so it's best to work on your grammar, punctuation, and syntax skills. Overall, improve your language skills and learn various writing strategies by taking English or writing courses and reading novels. 

2. Take a proofreading course 📚

To further bolster your confidence and skills, enroll yourself in a proofreading course. Not only do these courses teach you basic language skills, but they also teach you the fundamentals of what it means to be a proofreader. They'll also give you direction and make it easier to begin.

3. Determine the services you’ll offer 📝

Proofreading is a general term that describes perfecting a document with last-minute minor revisions. However, there are many types of proofreaders, such as:

  • Translation proofreaders
  • Print media proofreaders
  • Academic proofreaders
  • Business proofreaders

The proofreading you do determines the type of documents you'll work on and the type of language you'll use. Naturally, you should begin with what you’re most comfortable with and slowly branch out if you want.

4. Learn different style guides and writing styles 🖥️

Style guides are the foundation for any proofreader, and different types of proofreading require you to understand additional style guides, such as APA or CMoS. And as mentioned, much of your work will likely come from students, so knowing the various style guides will open up your work opportunities. Learning writing styles are also essential, as these are the tone the writing takes, such as description, content, and persuasive writing.

5. Gain experience 🤓

Once you’re ready to enter the corporate world, start by offering your services for free to friends or local businesses, or consider internships. Building a portfolio and gathering testimonials can help you transition to paid gigs. 

6. Market yourself 🥳

Create an online presence, whether through a personal website, LinkedIn, or freelance platforms like Contra, Upwork, and Fiverr or, better yet, niche-specific sites. Remember, networking is vital in this field.

How much do proofreaders make? 💸

Much like any job, your experience determines your pay, especially as a freelancer. You can make (at the time of writing) up to $20 an hour as a beginner and up to $50 as someone with more experience. According to sites like GlassDoor, a proofreader's salary is usually between $44,000 and $68,000 annually. Remember, your location and experience will influence your earnings. 

Pros and cons of being an online proofreader 🎭

Before you rush out to apply for jobs, you may want to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of being an online proofreader. Here are a few:

Pros 👍

  • Flexibility: You can work from home, which gives you more time to do other things you love. You can also work from anywhere in the world, meaning more traveling. 
  • Diverse opportunities: As an online proofreader, you can work on a wealth of content types, ranging from blog posts and e-books to academic papers and corporate documents.
  • Low overhead costs: Starting as an online proofreader usually requires minimal investment. All you need is a computer, a fast, reliable internet connection, and proofreading software like Grammarly.
  • Consistent demand: As long as there's written content, there’ll always be a need for proofreaders, ensuring a consistent demand for the skill.

Cons 👎

  • Isolation: Working alone can be boring, so having a social life and hobbies is essential. 
  • Intense concentration required: Proofreading demands sharp focus, which can be mentally exhausting, especially when working for prolonged periods.
  • Irregular workflow: The demand might be consistent in the long run, but day-to-day or month-to-month, you might face periods of feast or famine in terms of assignments.
  • Stiff competition: As the barrier to entry is relatively low, the market can be saturated, making it challenging for newbies to establish themselves.

Start your freelance career with Contra ⚙️

Online proofreading offers immense potential for growth and consistent income. If you're a freelancer looking to capitalize on this opportunity, Join Contra for Independents, find remote working opportunities, and match with clients looking for your skillset commission-free. And if you’re ready to handle a lot of work, upgrade to Contra Pro to increase the discoverability of your profile. Sign up now.

Sign up for Contra Pro today

Get more leads, more earning, and more tools to grow your freelance business.
Contra Tips
We're here to help. 👋
Need some help? You've come to the right place. Here, you'll learn more about Contra and how we can help you with your journey.

Related articles

Start your
independent journey

Get started

Hire top

Hire now