by Sharon Ford

What Is Proofreading?

Proofreading is usually the last step in the publishing process. It is the final analysis of the visual and content levels of a document after it has evolved from various cycles of revision and has been finalized by a content editor. By the time a document reaches the proofreader, corrections of sentencing and word usage have already been addressed. Having gone through a thorough review to tidy up text via a focus on style, content, punctuation, grammar and consistency of usage via copyediting, proofreading is the final polish that ensures that the document is finally ready for publishing.

Though proofreading reflects no real editorial authority, proofreaders mark-up documents for typesetters, editors, and authors to reference for additional changes. In addition to immediate errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation and other language misuse, proofreading includes a final check to ensure all elements of the document are included and in proper order, all amendments have been inserted, and that the house/style guide has been followed.

Get the Skills

What do publishers look for in a top-notch proofreader? Below are a few frequently noted skills to cultivate:

Hard Skills

  • Proofreading symbols and abbreviations
  • Knowledge of the publishing process and industry
  • Style or house manual(s)
  • Publisher’s preference for a descriptive or prescriptive approach to the application of grammatical rules
  • PDF editing tools for digital editing
  • Microsoft Word’s track changes
  • Hyperlinking when working with website content
  • Excellent command of written English
  • Specialization in a specific subject, though not absolutely necessary

Soft Skills

  • Above average eye for catching typos, punctuation, and formatting inconsistencies
  • Patience for the long, slow process required to review a document from word-to-word to paragraph-to-paragraph
  • Communication, communication, and more communication
  • Self-starter with the ability to work well independently
  • Ability to juggle and meet multiple deadlines
  • Tact
  • Relationship-building and management

How Do I Know I’m Good?
Want to test your current level of proofreading acumen? Most publishers will extend a proofreading and or copyediting test within their new hire/candidate review process. Some will assign a proofreading project as a task to entry-level new hires to ensure fundamental editing skills are in place. If you want to get an idea of what this testing may entail, here’s a 20-question online proofreading test from UK-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders. 

If you have a subscription to The Chicago Manual of Style online (PEN members get a discount) you can access their Editing and Proofreading Quiz No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 in the Chicago Style Workouts section of the CMOS Shop Talk area of their web site.

How to Get Trained

The PEN Institute has Group Courses and Lesson Packs that cover the how to of proofreading as well as how to provide services via freelancing. Each Group Course has a corresponding Lesson Pack. Lesson Packs include the same lesson materials as the Group Courses but are self-guided without the online discussion or instructor feedback you’d get with a Group Course. Check out The Pen Institute for a full listing of courses.

Since finding PEN during a prayerful search in 2015, Sharon has been more than blessed by the wisdom and camaraderie she’s found with the PEN family. When Sharon joined, she jumped at the chance to volunteer and support this newfound oasis in hopes that she’d learn and grow in preparation for a long mulled-over career change. Sharon felt called to information design and communication. She loves to make the confusing, clear and ensure good communication. After many classes and months of support from the PEN and PEN Institute courses, Sharon launched her freelance business, Tidy Up Content Services, late 2018.