17 Essential Proofreading Skills and How to Improve Them

Proofreading is the process of reading a piece of text and carefully checking for errors. This process usually occurs before submitting, presenting, or publishing the document. 

No matter what your profession is, proofreading is critical to every profession because everybody writes. I’ll show you 17 essential proofreading skills and how you can enhance them. 

How to Proofread Effectively 

The act of proofreading occurs after editing. Proofreaders focus on surface-level errors like grammatical errors, misspellings, and formatting issues. One way to proofread effectively is by reading the paper aloud to check how it sounds on paper.

Double-check the following writing features:

  • Spelling.
  • Verb tenses.
  • Preposition use.
  • Proper names.
  • Punctuation.
  • Citation.
  • Font. 
  • Page numbers.
  • Header and footer.

Another proofreading technique you can try is reading backward. The brain sometimes has an auto-correct function that doesn’t let you see errors, especially misspellings. It also helps to proofread only one kind of error at a time.

If you want to be a quicker proofreader, try evaluating the texts you work with. Make a list of errors commonly made by the writer, then prioritize them while performing your task. 

Make sure you have your resources close to you if you’re unsure of any error. A dictionary will help you find a term’s correct spelling and meaning. Other helpful tools include a thesaurus, style guide, and punctuation book. 

17 Must-Have Skills to be a Proofreader

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Let’s explore these 17 skills you need before becoming a proofreader. 

Fluent in English

Fluency in the language with which you’re working is a no-brainer if you want to be a proofreader. You don’t need to be a native English speaker, but you must be excellent at it. Make sure you are aware of the basic grammar rules of the English language.

To be fluent in English, you need to gain more experience reading, writing, and speaking it. One of the many requirements is to surround yourself with people who speak the language. Then, start reading fiction and nonfiction works in English.

Try the Fluency Method to improve your grammar and vocabulary. After hearing a sentence, repeat and record yourself saying it. Listen to your version, then make changes in the way you speak. 

Once you’ve studied the grammar conventions, you’ll quickly spot any errors in writing. Keep practicing until you’re ready to become a professional proofreader.

The Capability to Correct Capitalization Errors

Aside from getting a grasp of language, it would help if you also made it a goal to correct a wide range of capitalization errors. It’s one of the few writing skills we tend to overlook because capitalization doesn’t completely change a sentence’s meaning.

However, proper capitalization is integral in providing precise information. It also indicates professional and accurate writing. 

Language experts agree that capitalization is essential to communicate particular terms to readers. For instance, we should always capitalize proper nouns to indicate their specificity.

Another rule is always to capitalize the first letter of a sentence’s first word. Doing so indicates the start of a new statement, idea, or thought. 

Proofreaders focus on every word when fixing capitalization errors. Make sure to perform this technique when offering proofreading services.

A Penchant to Proofread for Proper Punctuation

Correcting punctuation mistakes on a document is also part of the proofreading process. Proper punctuation is one of the basic skills that everyone should learn in high school. It helps you relay your message to your reader through stops, pauses, questions, etc.

But some punctuation rules can be complicated even after taking English classes. Some rules depend on the style guide you’re using, such as the use of the Oxford Comma. 

Punctuation rules may also differ when proofreading legal documents. For instance, it’s advisable to use a space before and after the period in the ellipsis. Legal writers should also prevent the use of informal contractions with apostrophes. 

Expert editors should know whether they should use parentheses or em dashes to separate additional information. Understanding the difference between a hyphen, en dash, and em dash is also part of excellent proofreading skills. 

Superb Spelling Smarts

Correct spelling is a social norm that helps with proper written text communication. Like reading and spelling, this skill is not natural. You need to practice it every day to improve your abilities. 

A skilled proofreader knows how to find spelling errors in a piece of writing quickly. They know online editing tools and spell checkers are insufficient to spot these errors. Only an excellent human proofreader or editor can spot contextual misspellings.

For instance, an online spell checker won’t always flag “see” as a misspelling when the right word is “sea.” These common errors in spelling are called homophones. They sound similar but have totally different spellings and definitions.

One of your goals for proofreading skills should be memorizing difficult words’ spelling. Some examples include “misspell,” “pharaoh,” “pronunciation,” and “logorrhea.” Your employer will surely be amazed by your skillfulness. 

Stellar Style Guide Familiarity

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The next step to acquiring proofreading skills is to learn the major style guides. This is super important if you specialize in academic documents and business documents. For instance, you might need to use an academic writing style guide for an essay assignment.

But there are also discipline-specific styles you should master in the proofreading industry. One example is the Modern Language Association, used in arts, cultural studies, and humanities documents. 

Besides fundamental grammar rules, learning style guides aid in consistency. It keeps a business’ tone recognizable and ownable, too.

You’ll also encounter editorial style manuals, including the ACS Style Guide, AP Stylebook, APA Style, and the ISO 690. Learn all the editorial style guides so you can render excellent service to any potential employer. 

Refined Research Ability

Research skills allow you to give better proofreading services at times. Freelance proofreaders don’t always know a word’s correct spelling or meaning. That’s where research skills can compensate for the lack of editing skills. 

Ensure you consult a reliable online dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster or Oxford. Do not rely on sites like Urban Dictionary. 

Research abilities are also related to fact-checking skills. Make sure there aren’t minor mistakes on a piece of writing, such as dates, places, and names. You should also know how to recognize basic information from biases and prejudice. 

Try including research skills on your resume to make the application process more manageable. It will let the client know that you also have multitasking skills as a proofreader. 

Competence with Computers

Aside from linguistic skills, a proofreader should also know how to use digital tools to make editing easier. Proofreaders must know how to use spell, grammar, and style checkers to look for linguistic errors in a piece of writing.

Some common mistakes they can spot on online documents include misspellings, grammar errors, and style mistakes. Grammarly and ProWritingAid are two special software programs you can try. 

Grammarly uses artificial intelligence to check more than just spelling and grammar. It also detects the tone and style of the message. This online writing assistant also suggests sentence rewrites for lengthy sentences. 

The only downside to these AI writers and editors is their inability to spot contextual errors. They also can’t fully make suggestions based on the editorial style preferences of your clients.

Knowledge of PDF markup tools is also one of the industry-specific proofreading skills you need. Some software programs you might use include Adobe Acrobat Reader, Nitro Reader, and PDFelement Pro. 

Capacity to Concentrate for a Long Time

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Being a successful proofreader is more than just having a solid command of language. You also need nontechnical skills like some hocus-pocus focus. A certain degree of focus is essential to make the writing process more time-saving.

Don’t let an email or SMS notification instantly take away your concentration on the texts you’re proofreading. Being constantly distracted will make you unable to spot acute errors. You won’t be able to finish your work on time, and your future employer will not appreciate it. 

Stay focused for a long time, but don’t forget to take frequent breaks. Try the Pomodoro Technique so as not to prolong your break time. This system includes 25 minutes of working and then a 5-minute break. 

Keen Attention to Detail

Proofreaders have ninja-like skills that allow them to finish their jobs on time. They know how to spot misspellings and grammatical errors with just one look at the paper. One of the essential steps to finding them is reading line by line. 

If you have enough industry experience, you should make corrections one at a time. For instance, you read the paper line by line for incorrect spelling. Then, you give it another read for punctuation mistakes, and so on. It’s one of the most essential steps to polishing the text.

Don’t entirely rely on online grammar checkers, as they sometimes make improper corrections. They also cannot make suggestions based on different editing styles. Knowing how to edit content for language errors will give your reader a desirable experience. 

Good Communication Skills

Don’t let email job alerts stay in your inbox. Communicate with potential employers who might want to work with you. Many beginners easily get hired with minimal proofreading experience only because of their interpersonal or problem-solving skills. 

Aside from being an error patrol with a good grasp on grammar, you should also have solid communication with your client. Have good feedback skills to inform the writer of some areas for improvement. 

Always check your emails for spelling mistakes and grammar errors before hitting send. Learn how to listen and analyze their requests. For instance, many writers ask proofreaders and editors not to take away their personal writing style.

Good communication helps you get additional employers. They will be pleased with your personality, especially when you show interest and empathy for them.

Impressive Independence

Whether you work at a company or with a client, proofreader job descriptions usually include working solo. You should know how to work alone with an array of texts, including financial texts, novels, nonfiction, and legal writing.

It’s not enough that you have a good grammar game. Freelancers have greater professional independence, so they must know how to create schedules, set rates, and pay taxes independently. 

Always create SMART goals for your proofreading projects. This acronym stands for systematic, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. You must meet deadlines, set timelines, and communicate with your client.

Set additional goals for yourself and your proofreading career. Set a specific week to enroll in a proofreading course, so you can keep enhancing your skills. 

An Eye for the Unique

The proofreader’s job isn’t static because it’s not all about spotting any amateur mistake on a document. It’d help if you also had a superb eye for the unique. This is a prevalent demand for editors required by writers with a unique writing style. 

When you know a writer’s writing trends and personal style, you should not make changes to their original touch. Find out how you can make their piece of writing concise without removing the figures of speech. 

Besides having an eye for the unique, you must have a good relationship with the writer. Give them appropriate suggestions that will not affect the core of their piece. 

Marketing Skills

Marketing skills are not on the clients’ list of proofreading skills you should have. But it’s an unwritten rule that every freelancer should know how to market their freelance business. For example, you can blog on the side to enhance your personal brand.

You should also develop your portfolio as you work on different proofreading projects. Potential clients might want to check your skills and previous experience if you don’t have referrals. 

Marketing oneself in the proofreading industry also involves tailoring one’s pitches. Constantly adapt for every project or client you encounter so you can cater to their genre, style, and workflow.  

Producing a unique pitch shows that you’re the perfect proofreader for the task. For instance, if you’re pitching to a fantasy author, you would use figurative language to get them to hire you. 

Time Management Skills

An entry requirement among all freelancers is their ability to manage time. Whether you’re a writer, proofreader, or editor, effective use of time is a technique to get the job done within a time frame. 

The best time management tip you should follow is to make a flexible schedule. Planning to work at a specific and realistic time will help you get in the zone when you have to. Don’t forget to set a schedule for your rest days, too. 

Rest days are a critical element of work-life balance. Working all day can increase your stress and decrease your brain function. It will also make you less productive. 

Self-Disciplined

Freelancers have no one else to help them in their work but themselves. No one else will create a schedule for you, manage your finances, or set your rates. That’s why you take full accountability for your work.

Your client won’t always be present to assist you in complex tasks. They don’t have to track your progress or motivate you to do your assignment.

Always have self-control when proofreading different types of writing. Don’t accept too much work to the point you can’t finish everything on time. Instead, focus on the more essential tasks, and schedule everything in advance. 

Neat and Organized

Some simple steps to being neat and organized include fixing your files and tasks based on priority. Clutter can eliminate your overall productivity when proofreading. Clear your desk from unnecessary items like food, clips, and your phone. 

Arrange your computer files based on their type, dates, clients, and other aspects. Doing so will help you locate your assignments better. You don’t want to risk losing your obligations on a pile of mess.

Another way to be organized is by completing high-priority tasks as soon as possible. Then, allot more time for your low-priority tasks during downtime periods. 

Always Broadening Their Intellect

Language is the cornerstone of your career, and it’s constantly changing. That’s why it’s a no-brainer for proofreaders to become lifelong learners. Style guides change, and grammar conventions evolve. So should you!

Dictionaries receive new word entries daily. Some famous words that didn’t exist a few years ago include “fist pump,” “selfie,” and “hashtag.” Also, the Chicago Manual of Style states that open or hyphenated compounds tend to be closed with frequent use.

One way to continue broadening your knowledge is by reading. A love for reading also helps you become a better proofreader, especially when working with long-form content. 

Practice Your Proofreading Skills Now

Simply being an excellent proofreader is not enough to get you your dream career. Your task goes beyond analyzing grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. You must also be a good listener, learner, and language expert. 

To become a better proofreader, try taking a proofreading course and testing your knowledge through quizzes. Read relevant books, build your portfolio, and market yourself on different freelance platforms.