Proofreader

The Job and What's Involved

A proofreader performs a 'quality check' on publications, usually immediately before they are issued or go to print.

Proofreaders carry out their task once the author, copywriter, editor and designer have completed their work on the text. The proofreader acts as a fresh pair of eyes, highlighting any mistakes others might have missed.

A proofreader may check a wide range of publications, including:

  • Books of all kinds.
  • Magazines and newspapers.
  • Business publications.
  • Website pages.
  • Specialist publications, e.g. academic journals or technical manuals.

Proofreaders may check a 'page proof'- a printer's image of the designed pages, either on a computer screen or on paper. Alternatively they may be asked to check draft web pages or portable document format (pdf) files.

Proofreaders often compare the page proofs alongside the edited text. At other times they may proofread 'blind', without referring to the original text.

A proofreader generally checks to ensure that:

  • The text matches the original, especially when dealing with technical information.
  • Page numbers and headings match the contents.
  • All spelling is correct.
  • Hyphenation and capital letters are consistent.
  • Illustrations are appropriately captioned.
  • There are no technical errors generated by the software used.
  • The layout of each page is clear for the reader to follow.

On printed proofs, proofreaders mark the changes using a recognised set of symbols. However, if the task is done on a computer screen, they may use tracking software such as 'track changes'.

Proof changes can be costly and disruptive, and proofreaders must use their judgment to decide which changes are essential. They may liaise with the author, copy-editor or printer to resolve queries. Once their work is completed they collate a set of marked-up proofs, to include all the approved changes.

Many proofreaders combine the work with other roles, such as copy-editing or project management.

Most proofreaders are self-employed and work from home. The volume of work is unpredictable and hours worked can vary from one week to another.

Proofreaders may be employed in-house by publishers, print companies or media agencies, often combining the work with copywriting or translation. Contracts are often temporary, and proofreaders may need to work longer hours once a project reaches a critical stage.

A common arrangement involves working from home for a professional proofreading agency, such as Oxbridge Editing for academic clients, or TurboReview for English as a Second Language (ESL) clients. Proofreaders working from home are usually expected to have their own computer with up-to-date and compatible software functions.

Freelance proofreaders negotiate their own fees. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) suggests a minimum hourly rate of £19.25.

Newly qualified proofreaders may command fees totaling around £15,000 a year. With experience, earnings may rise above £20,000.

Experienced proofreaders in company employment may earn up to £30,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Publishers, graphic design houses and printers may employ proofreaders on a full-time or freelance basis. Other potential employers include all organisations that publish documents, ranging from high street retail chains to media agencies and government bodies.

The media, print and publishing industries are often concentrated in urban areas. However, freelance proofreaders can usually work from home.

A new entrant needs to gain experience and establish themselves in the business, and this involves competing with experienced and established proofreaders. Most proofreaders generate work over a period of time, gradually acquiring contacts in the industry and developing an expert knowledge of a 'niche' subject.

The number of new publications and website's is increasing, resulting in more opportunities for proofreaders. At the same time, however, some publishers, in an effort to reduce costs, are asking writers to undertake the task of proofreading. Some publishers also send work abroad.

The following sources advertise vacancies for proofreaders:

The national press, especially The Guardian (Mondays), Book People (monthly) and The Bookseller (Fridays).

Publishers' website's, including Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and Inspired Selection.

Media job website's, e.g. www.gojobsearch.co.uk and www.ifreelance.com

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements for a career in proofreading and an eye for detail is just as important as qualifications. However, proofreaders are often graduates, and it can be an advantage to possess a degree, particularly in a niche subject area. For example, a history degree may be useful for proofreading historical documents or textbooks.

The minimum entry requirements for a degree are normally five GCSE's (A*-C) and two A levels, or equivalent.

Many proofreaders start out in a junior role in the media, print and publishing industry. Others take up proofreading after working in journalism or other fields.

Apprenticeships may provide a route into the media, print and publishing industry.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Proofreaders employed on a full-time basis normally train on the job or are sent on day-release courses. Freelance proofreaders usually fund their own training. Training providers include:

Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) - which runs courses on different aspects of proofreading and copy-editing, as well as how to work on a freelance basis.

Publishing Training Centre (PTC) - which also offers a range of courses on proofreading and related subjects, including distance-learning and online courses.

Chapterhouse - which runs distance-learning courses and seminars.

SfEP requires trainees to sit a rigorous exam which, if passed, leads to formal accreditation. SfEP runs conferences, networking events and a mentoring scheme for its members. It also helps new proofreaders to locate work and produces a directory aimed at clients who are looking to employ a proofreader.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Proofreaders must have:

  • A scrupulous approach to detailed work.
  • A high level of skill in written English, including spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • The motivation to work on their own and to meet deadlines.
  • The ability to stay focused throughout an entire document, which may be long and technical.
  • Good judgment, to gauge which changes are necessary.
  • Familiarity with the production processes for books, brochures and web pages.
  • The ability to work within the style parameters of their employer, rather than impose their own ideas.
  • Good interpersonal skills, with the ability to build working relationships with potential clients.
  • Excellent computer skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Proofreaders advance their careers by establishing a reputation for excellent work. They often circulate references from satisfied clients and, at some stage, may choose to specialise in a particular field, e.g. technical or financial materials.

It is important for proofreaders to keep up to date with new developments in the media industry.

It is also good practice to acquire skills in related areas such as copy-editing or production. This can create opportunities in other departments, for example copywriting or account management.

Get Further Information

National Council for the
Training of Journalists (NCTJ),
The New Granary, Station Road,
Newport, Saffron Walden,
Essex CB11 3PL
Tel: 01799 544014
Website: www.nctj.com

National Union of Journalists (NUJ),
Headland House, 308-312 Gray's Inn Road,
London WC1X 8DP
Tel: 020 7278 7916
Website: www.nuj.org.uk

The Publishers Association,
29B Montague Street, London WC1B 5BW
Tel: 020 7691 9191
Website: www.publishers.org.uk

Publishing Scotland,
Scottish Book Centre, 137 Dundee Street,
Edinburgh EH11 1BG
Tel: 0131 228 6866
Website: www.publishingscotland.co.uk

The Publishing Training Centre at Book House,
45 East Hill, Wandsworth, London SW18 2QZ
Tel: 020 8874 2718
Website: www.train4publishing.co.uk

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

Society for Editors and Proofreaders,
Apsley House, 176 Upper Richmond Road,
Putney, London SW15 2SH
Tel: 020 8785 6155
Website: www.sfep.org.uk

Society of Young Publishers (SYP)
Website: www.thesyp.org.uk

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