How to improve your proofreading skills

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If you are reading this article, you’re probably a proofreader or you’re thinking of becoming one. Either way, this article will help you succeed in the market as a professional freelance proofreader.

Before we get started with how you can improve your proofreading skills, let’s understand what makes a good proofreader and how good a proofreader you are right now.

How do you know if you are a good proofreader?

Not everybody can be a good proofreader. Good proofreaders have certain features and qualities that distinguish them from the rest.

I’ll list down a few qualities I constantly see in the best proofreaders:

  • A desire to learn
  • Great concentration levels
  • You love to read
  • You pay attention to details
  • You like working alone
  • You enjoy grammar, punctuation, and languages
  • You like being organized with things
  • You consistently read books
  • You are not too dependent on proofreading software
  • You are flexible to change
  • Your PRACTICE Daily

How many of these qualities do you have? Let me know in the comments below!

You don’t have to have all of these qualities to be an excellent proofreader, but having at least three should help you know where you currently stand.

There are proofreading tests online to help you figure out where you currently stand. Take those tests and review your work. This is the simplest way to learn proofreading skills.

Can you make a living as a freelance proofreader?

Proofreading is not a low-income job today. Freelancers make 5-6 figures per year working part-time as freelance proofreaders. 

According to salary.com, The average Proofreader earns $54,095 in the United States in 2021. 

The proofreading industry is a gold mine right now, and if you have the skills required for the job or you’re keen to learn and grow as a proofreader, you’re earnings will rise.

The amount of money a freelance proofreader earns totally depends on how fast they work (per hour basis) and how good they are at their job. 

For example, A top-level proofreader can work for 2 hours a day and still make more than a proofreader who works 10 hours a day.

If you want to become a proofreader in 2022, you must learn these 13 proofreading skills. So let’s get right to it!

How To Improve Your Proofreading Skills: 13 Tips

1. Proofread It Out Loud And Clear

Reading makes life easy for proofreaders. All proofreaders read every single sentence they have because reading helps them find mistakes. 

Activating our eyes, ears, and mouth makes catching mistakes far easier. Reading it out loud increases speed and reduces errors by at least 40%. So next time you’re working, read it out and see the benefits yourself 🙂

2. Change Font, Colour & Size Of Text

being a freelance proofreader

Want to improve your proofreading skills? Do this!

Making a document familiar and easy to read makes finding errors twice as tough.

Let’s take an example:

  • I ate bread on the seashore with Albus, my old friend.
  • I ate bread on the seashore with Albus, my old friend.

The first sentence is with Italic and the second is not. The first sentence is tough to read, while the second is slightly easy.

By making the text harder and less familiar to readers, I am forcing my brains to work twice as hard to understand the context. This makes proofreading a million times easier.

Here’s how you go about it:

  • Change the font
  • Add Italics
  • Change the font color
  • Change the font size
  • Increase/decrease the line spacing
  • Bold/Underline it (optional)
  • New reading software (optional)

3. Make The Best Out Of The Worst

Do you want to learn what the best proofreaders do to stand out of the crowd? Want to learn the secret sauce they add that makes them 100 times more awesome? Well, hire a proofreader!

Let me explain…

Instead of being a proofreader, you are a client looking for the best proofreaders on the market. You create a list of the top 3 proofreaders and hire any 1 or 2 of them. 

You give them a grammatically bad document and ask them to proofread it for you.

They do their job, you pay them, and Voila – You just implemented the best out of the worst strategy.

Your job is to pay attention to their customer service and how they make clients love them. Ask questions a genuine client would ask and see how they react to it.

Basically, you’re trying to understand how they do business so you can learn directly from the best and practice those principles yourself.

The only downside is you will have to pay them their fees, but I feel it’s a small cost for what you’re getting in return.

4. Read Backward

Reading backward might seem weird and illogical but try it out. When you read something backward, it doesn’t make sense, so our brain focuses all its attention from understanding the text to finding errors in the text.

For example, Theo started the fight, but Albus ended it by accepting his mistake.

When you read the above example for the first time, you may not find an error because you’re trying to understand the story. Now read it backward, one word at a time. The word “accepting” is wrongly spelled.

Proofreaders with 5+ years of experience also use this proofreading skill from time to time to ensure they don’t miss any errors.

5. Know The Basic Proofreading Marks

Want to increase your speed to be as fast as The Flash? Well, I suggest you get well versed with Proofreading Marks. 

At first, you will find proofreading marks scary! But take some time to learn how these marks work, and then it’s all about practice.

Proofreading marks are used by elite proofreaders to highlight spellings, grammatical and punctuation, formatting, and sentence flow errors.

Here’s a great article by ReedsyBlog on the basics of proofreading marks. Go slow, read the entire article, and I’m sure you’ll scratch the surface.

6. Scrap Out Unnecessary Words & Jargons

Apart from scrutinizing for errors, you should also pay close attention to scraping out unnecessary words and jargon. 

These words only make your content monotonous and irritating. Your content should be concise and to the point. Anything that’s not necessary throw it out of the window 🙂

7. Beware of Prepositions

Prepositions are one of the nasty things of proofreading. They seem simple at first but are quite tricky. I have made preposition mistakes a million times, and I’m sure I’ll make a million more. A tool like Grammarly can be extremely useful in such situations. 

I would also suggest creating a notebook containing the most common prepositions, their correct usage, and errors. This notebook will be your go-to guide every time you get confused.

8. Avoid Distractions

Avoid distractions as a proofreader

Proofreading is all about focusing on the text in front of you, catching errors, and rectifying them immediately. 

If your sister is talking to her best friend or if your dad is watching TV, or your co-workers are chatting about the new employee, don’t expect great results proofreading. 

It’s impossible to focus when proofreading!

That’s why mastering this proofreading skill is essential for long-term growth.

Fix a time and place with a good wifi connection, some mild songs if needed, and a clear mind to get work done. 

And you dare use your phone to chat with someone or browse through Instagram! You won’t even realize when you wasted three hours scrolling on social media.

9. Read Good Grammar Books

Professional Proofreaders don’t just by-heart grammatical errors and rectify them. They have a good flow with their language. They practice improving their language skills daily. One way to boost your grammar skills is to read good grammar books.

You don’t have to read these books every day, but a few pages a week will surely do more good than harm. 

It helps you broaden your perspective, get better and more fluid with your language, and most importantly gives you the edge over mediocre proofreaders.

10. Study and Research

Proofreaders often have problems when dealing with the context they know nothing about. Let’s say I usually proofread arts and commerce-based text, but I took on a client that needs to proofread a scientific paper. 

Now unless I know the basics of the paper, it is pretty hard to provide good quality results. 

I could say no to the client, he gets upset, and I lose a good client and money.

Or I do some research, spend a few hours learning something new and proofread the scientific paper myself.

The second choice is more time-consuming and harder, but I am learning a new concept. This opens me up to a new set of future clients in the science space. 

Don’t hesitate to charge your clients a little more if it means you spend more time and pour in more effort.

11. Computer Read Aloud

Popular browsers like Chrome and Edge have the Read Aloud option that reads the text on the screen for you. 

Proofreaders love this feature and use it almost all the time. It’s possible that you could’ve skipped a few mistakes when reading the text. By letting the browser read for you, your complete focus is on listening and getting those grammar errors correct.

By listening to the text, you’re putting yourself in the client’s shoes, and thus you know how to work on this to get quality results. 

Overall, using the computer read-aloud feature is an effective strategy that many beginner proofreaders fail to understand.

12. Use A Ruler Or Your Finger

If you’re a beginner proofreader and have difficulty focusing on a single line at a time, using a ruler (for a physical copy) and highlighting (for pdf view) can surely help you focus on the line at hand.

Alternatively, you can use your finger to point and read. If you’re a fast reader, you will have problems adjusting to slow reading. 

Basic rule of proofreading: The faster you read, the more mistakes you miss.

13. Take A Proofreading Course

take a proofreading course to improve your proofreading skills

Proofreading is a unique skill that not everybody can master. It takes time, a hell of a lot of practice, and proper guidance. 

You can do it yourself and become a successful freelance proofreader, or you can take the shortcut and purchase a proofreading course.

I’ve personally checked out a bunch of proofreading courses, but most of them don’t seem to provide the best of all worlds. Some are good but not great for the price.

I’ve narrowed it down to two courses that I can recommend you to buy:

You can purchase any of these courses, and I’m sure you will love the content, support, and community they offer.

I also have a detailed review on Proofread Anywhere and Knowadays here, check it out!

If you want to figure out the course syllabus and my honest opinions on the course, check out my review.

Why Is Proofreading Important?

Proofreading is a writer’s last chance to rectify errors in their document. 

The job of a proofreader is very important! Proofreading reduces errors allowing readers to understand the message clearly. 

If sentences have errors, it distracts the reader from the main premise and makes the overall reading experience extremely bad. 

No matter how good the book contents are, if it’s filled with punctuation, numbering, spelling, and grammatical errors, nobody will be interested to give it a read.

The main work of a proofreader is to provide a seamless reading experience. If you can do that, you’re destined to be a professional proofreader.

The above-listed proofreading skills will surely help you do that.

Four Things To Look For When Proofreading

When I proofread online, there are four essential elements I keep an eye on.

  • Spelling
    One of the most common and underrated errors in languages is spelling errors. Is it ‘accomodate’ or ‘accommodate’? Should you use American English or British English? 

    The only solution to this is practicing your vocabulary every other week. Here’s a list of 32 common misspelled words.
  • Grammar
    Grammar seems easy at first, but the more in-depth you try learning grammar, the more confusing it gets! There are two ways to tackle the grammar problem:
    • Learn from a proofreading course
    • Start making notes from YouTube

If you can afford courses, I say you learn from those learning modules as they break down exactly what to do and what not to do. 

Else, you browse through YouTube and make notes.

  • Punctuation
    I’ve always found punctuation to be easy. There are very few rules, and not much logic is necessary. On YouTube, you can find a bunch of revision videos on prepositions.
  • Capitalization
    Capitalization can get slightly confusing sometimes. To ensure you reduce capitalization errors, read more books and articles.

Best Course To Boost Your Proofreading Skills?

A proofreading course can surely save you months and months of hard work. If you google proofreading courses, you’ll likely find hundreds of courses promising you a deal of a lifetime.

But all courses are not made with the intention of the user (i.e. YOU)

Following are the courses I recommend to anyone looking to be a proofreader:

Proofread Anywhere is currently having a 76-minute workshop. If you have some time, I highly recommend this workshop. Caitlin (founder of Proofread Anywhere) talks about:

  • Five signs proofreading could be the perfect fit for you
  • The basics of proofreading
  • How to land huge clients and make money

Apart from these two courses, Skillshare, Udemy and Coursera are good alternatives.

Skillshare is one such platform where the best creators and artists teach you skills that are in high demand.

Everyone should use Skillshare to learn and grow their skills. Right now they’re having a One Month Free Offer. I suggest you grab the offer before it runs out!

The One Proofreading Skill You Have To Master 

If there’s one proofreading skill that no proofreader can live without, it has to be “being attentive and having high focus levels”. 

The job of a proofreader is to read, find errors (that most people can’t), and rectify them. If you can’t find those errors in the first place, don’t expect to make a name in the industry. 

So start with ways on how to be more attentive, focused, and alert when reading anything so you can pick up errors in seconds. 

Read More >>> 10 Natural Ways To Sharpen Your Memory

The only way I see this happening is through Practice!

Every day, take a few paragraphs and try spotting errors, correcting them, and timing yourself.

Proofreading Tips And Techniques Checklist (Free Download)

That was a good read, right! If you want to revisit this page, I suggest you should bookmark it. If not, download the free proofreading tips and techniques checklist below. Refer to it anytime anywhere without the internet.

Final Thoughts: Building Your Proofreading Skills

These 13 points will definitely help you improve your proofreading skills. Keep practicing to get better and faster at proofreading. 

Proofreading is all about reviewing your work and learning from past mistakes. Most of what you will learn will be from analyzing. Be attentive, focus on the article and try to find errors. 

The more you do this, the better you’ll be as a freelance proofreader.

Also, don’t forget to download the Proofreading Tips and Techniques Checklist (It’s FREE), keep it handy at all times, so you don’t make unnecessary mistakes again and again.

Feel free to leave your comments below if:

  • You have a question or feedback
  • You wish to share your Proofreading skills tips and strategies

I will get back to each of you as soon as I can.

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