How to become a proofreader – the complete guide
Updated: Sep 11
You are thinking about becoming an editor or proofreader but have no idea where to start or if this would be a good career choice for you.
To help you decide, I created this guide that touches on the main points concerning a career in editing and proofreading: training, marketing, clients, pricing, among others.
I start by explaining the different levels of editing as it's something that many people are not aware exists.
The different levels of editing
Before anything else, you need to understand what each level of editing means. And this is important because it will influence your choices in terms of training.
Proofreading is the last round of editing before a text is published. The text (or proof) is checked by the proofreader who will correct any technical mistakes (grammar, punctuation, etc.) and formatting errors. The proofreader will only change what is wrong and nothing else.
This stage of editing comes before proofreading and is completed by a copyeditor. The copyeditor verifies grammar, spelling and punctuation at a deep level, and is allowed to make changes to improve the text. They are also responsible for producing a style sheet where they will record all the style choices made during the editing of the piece. This style sheet will then be followed by the proofreader.
Stylistic editing/Line editing
The stylistic editor, also called line editor, improves the text in terms of flow, coherence, tone and mood. They also ensure that the piece is logically structured and that the visual elements are correctly placed.
This type of editing doesn't include making changes at the technical level of the language. However, in practice, it's frequently executed at the same time as copyediting.
Developmental editing is the first stage of editing. The editor checks the structure of the materials and guarantees that the different sections flow in a coherent and logical way. They might recommend that certain parts are deleted or that more content is added. It might also be necessary to present certain elements in a different fashion.
If you want to become an editor and/or proofreader, training is essential. I will share below several options of training, whether from universities or professional bodies.
Editing and proofreading training -- UK
Find next a list of a few editing training courses from British reputable organisations.
PTC (Publishing Training Centre)
PTC has a wide variety of courses (short and long) related to the publishing world. In terms of editing and proofreading, you can enrol in Essential Proofreading: Editorial Skills One, Essential Copy-Editing: Editorial Skills Two, and if you're eager to learn deep editing skills, Rewriting and Substantive Editing (Non-Fiction). Access PTC's website for other training options.
CIEP (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading)
The CIEP (former SfEP) is a professional body that provides its members with useful resources, allowing them to keep professionally updated. It also offers editing-related training courses, including proofreading and copyediting.
At CIEP, proofreading training is offered in a suite of three courses: Proofreading 1: Introduction, Proofreading 2: Headway and Proofreading 3: Progress. This last one gives you access to the mentoring scheme.
For a complete overview of CIEP training check their website.
Editing and proofreading training -- US & Canada
If you prefer a training course from an American organisation, check out my list below.
EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association)
EFA has a vast catalogue of online courses and webinars. Some online courses are self-paced, which means that the students receive all the materials and study them in their own time. Others are accessed through a platform on certain dates, and the students are guided by an instructor. They also provide webinars, live and recorded.
I advise you to check which EFA courses are now active, but you can usually find training in different levels of Developmental Editing, Copyediting, Line Editing and Proofreading.
ACES (The American Copy Editors Society)
ACES has partnered with The Poynter Institute’s News University to offer a Certificate in Editing and an Advanced Editing Certificate Program. You can find all the details about these certificates on ACES website.
Queen's University offers a Professional Editing Standards Certificate that is composed of five courses:
Fundamentals of Editing Standards
Copyediting Standards 2
Structural Editing Standards
You'll need to complete them all successfully to gain access to the certificate. You'll have the support of a tutor throughout the course you are completing.
These courses run on specific dates. To find out the next available date, check the page of each course.
UC Berkeley Extension
UC Berkeley Extension has available a Professional Sequence in Editing. You'll need to complete four courses in a pre-determined order to be presented with the Award of Completion. The courses are the following
Grammar, mechanics, and usage for editors
Editorial Workshop I: Introduction to Copyediting
Editorial Workshop II: Intermediate Copyediting
Advanced Editorial Workshop
You must achieve at least a C in each course to obtain the editing certificate.
Complementary training and continuing professional development (CPD)
We've talked about basic training, but an editor or proofreader doesn't work on all types of texts. Therefore, depending on what sort of specialisation you're looking for, you're probably going to need complementary training.
You can specialise in fiction or non-fiction, academic writing, marketing and business materials, technical writing, etc.
Throughout your career, you'll also need to invest in continuing professional development (CPD) to stay updated. CPD could be in the form of attending short courses or a conference, for instance.
Editorial societies are a good way for you to stay updated, have access to training and get in touch with other professionals.
Many societies have local groups that you can join. Each week they discuss a different topic. It's an excellent option to learn new things and meet new colleagues.
Types of clients and where to find them
Your ideal client will depend on your specialism. And different clients will be present on different platforms.
Independent authors might be part of Facebook or Goodreads groups. Many business owners have a LinkedIn profile, so it might be useful to post there. You can contact universities if your target clients are students. If you wish to work for traditional publishers, send them your CV by email.
Marketing is part of any business, whether you like it or not. If you really hate any sort of marketing, your best bet is to work for a publisher or an agency or as in-house staff.
It's important that you take some training in marketing if you don't have any knowledge. Otherwise, you'll be wasting time with actions that won't work.
You can start marketing your editing or proofreading business through a simple website or at least a social media profile on Facebook or LinkedIn, for example. For something more advanced, you can try paid ads.
Use every opportunity that you have to promote your business, among friends, neighbours or former colleagues. A no is always guaranteed.
We're humans. We can't prevent all the mistakes. But there are several pieces of software that can help us get closer to perfection.
Grammarly – some editors hate it, but I think it's useful. Even if it only prevents one mistake, in my opinion it's worth it. You can't simply accept all the suggestions, though. You have to check each one of them and see if it's actually a mistake.
PerfectIt – this software will help you enforce style guide rules throughout the document you're editing. It also highlights inconsistencies and wrong words.
Pricing is always a difficult matter. 'How much should I charge for my editing and proofreading services?' you might be wondering. No one can answer that for you.
Editorial societies often have a table with minimum rates that you can use as a reference. But depending on your location, type of clients, years of experience and other factors, those rates might be too high or too low.
You need to evaluate how much you need to earn to make a living and analyse if that will be acceptable to your potential clients.
Hopefully, you now feel more clarified about a career in editing and proofreading. Bear in mind that it entails a lot of training, especially if you come from a different area, and that it will take time to find your first projects.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.
Cristina Magalhães is an editor, proofreader and crochet tech editor who works with businesses, content writers and individuals.
She edits business documentation, marketing materials, LinkedIn profiles, CVs, cover letters and crochet patterns.
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org