How To Be A Proofreader Without A Degree
Think you need an English degree to make money proofreading? Think again.
The essential skills you need as a proofreader aren’t ones that can be acquired from years at school.
The truth is you don’t need a degree to be a proofreader.
I’m going to reveal why you don’t need a degree or diploma, as well as what qualities and skills you truly need to succeed as a proofreader.
No Special Certificate Required
When a writer is finished writing, they’ll look over their work until they feel ready for a proofreader to take it on and polish it. This means that any substantial issues have already been dealt with. If the project is from a publishing house then it’s already passed through the hands of a developmental editor, line editor and copy editor.
Tackling issues such as timeline, story arc, character development and copyright issues is not a proofreader’s responsibility.
The truth is, you don’t need a special certificate or diploma in proofreading to apply for jobs or start working as a proofreader. Heck, you don’t even need a degree to work in publishing anymore.
Proofreaders Come From Different Backgrounds
I don’t have an English degree and I’ve been a successful proofreader for 14 years. In university I studied media and communications, after which I attended a post-graduate program in book and magazine publishing.
Over the years I’ve supplemented my editing knowledge through courses, books and online resources. I’ve also learned a lot from working with other editors who’ve been very generous with their knowledge. It’s important to always be learning.
Many of my proofreading and editing friends come from various backgrounds and most of them don’t have English degrees, either. They have degrees, diplomas and certificates in history, anthropology, film, philosophy and marketing, to name a few.
Studying in a post-secondary capacity gives you more exposure to different levels of language use, and forces you to learn how to write, but you can definitely pursue a career as a proofreader with a high school diploma as your foundation. You would just have to take classes to develop your skills.
Below, I outline the “must haves” that every proofreader should have. These skills are essential in propelling you forward and can determine if you can make it as a proofreader.
Before we start, I want to let you know that I’m holding a FREE workshop webinar on how to proofread blog post and books. It’s going to be jam-packed with info and I’ll be sharing over 15 years’ experience and insight! You can sign up for it in the box below:
The Must Haves
1. Must Have A Great Command Of English
While you don’t need an English degree to become a proofreader, you must have a great command of the English language. This means you can recognize bad grammar, and can correct basic spelling and punctuation mistakes off the top of your head.
If you want to see how your skills rate try our proofreading test that’s based on common mistakes found in a lot of content.
2. Must Love To Read
You may think this is a no-brainer, but you have to seriously love reading because, obviously, you read. A lot. Proofreading involves a lot of reading and rereading of material because you want to make sure you catch everything.
Have you ever started reading a book and stopped at some point because you just couldn’t get into it? That’s what proofreading can be like sometimes, except you can’t put the book/project down and walk away.
I’ll be honest, some jobs can be engaging and interesting, while other stuff can be dry and painfully boring. This is when your ingrained respect for words will kick in and rescue you. In fact, you might want to try my free intro course to see if proofreading could be for you.
3. Must Have An Eye For Detail
No degree in the world is going to teach you how to notice the details. Your talent for noticing the small and inconsistent things are going to be your biggest tool as a proofreader.
While you can rely on checklists, it’s also possible to develop a fine eye for detail with a lot of practice. The ability to notice the small things will help you catch issues with confusables (words that get easily confused, like “affect” and “effect”), formatting, graphics and consistency.
4. Must Have Self-Control
Why is self-control important for a proofreader? Because we MUST preserve the writer’s voice and respect their style preferences.
It’s tempting to just delete all those unnecessary commas, but if a writer insists on sprinkling commas around like glitter (yes, I’ve seen this many times), then you have to step back.
In one project I worked on the writer stated commas couldn’t be touched because of how he envisioned the reader reading his book. As wrong as that sounds, it was important for him to guide his readers’ experience, and there’s nothing you can do in that situation but respect that.
Entrepreneurs and writers put a lot of sweat and tears into their work, so you can imagine how hard it is for them to hand over their “baby” to another person. If it’s an issue you really feel strongly about and can’t let go of, then approach it in a way that’s respectful.
You can whine and complain all you want to your cat but at the end of the day it’s the writer who gets the last word.
5. Must Be Able To Manage Time Well
Time management is an essential skill in being a freelance proofreader. Working from home or from a sunny locale might make you the envy of your corporate-job friends, but watch out, it’s not all sleep-ins and playtime.
A common mistake with new freelancers is they let loose and don’t follow a schedule.
If you don’t get serious and dedicate a set amount of hours a day to your projects, then you’ll find yourself staring at a deadline that’s suddenly come too close, and you’re scrambling to meet it.
You also have to be available to clients who are most likely working traditional work hours. And you also need to set aside time for marketing and managing your business.
6. Must Be Willing To Market Yourself
It goes without saying that if you want work then you have to go out and find it. You have to have the motivation and perseverance to market yourself in order to land your first couple of proofreading gigs.
Marketing your services doesn’t include responding to job postings, it means making people aware of who you are and what you do.
It involves researching prospective clients and industries, cold-calling and positioning yourself in a way that makes people feel they need you.
It means making yourself visible online and within your niche if you have one.
This is the hardest part of being a freelance proofreader (or any type of freelancer) and the most important thing to remember is that you can’t give up. Be creative, set goals, and if an approach doesn’t work then try a new way.
7. Must Have Good Business Sense
Since most proofreading jobs are freelance, it’s necessary for you to have an understanding of business as a self-employed person. Freelancers have to manage tasks and projects, invoicing and accounting, and it can get overwhelming.
There are a lot of apps and software tools available to help manage every aspect of running a freelance business. If you work as an in-house proofreader it’s still a good idea to learn some business skills if you ever choose to take on extra side projects.
Let Go Of Imposter Syndrome
Everyone at some time has suffered from Imposter Syndrome, of feeling inadequate, of not really owning what we are doing, especially if it’s something new.
I’ve been through it, and trust me, it slows you down if you don’t learn to overcome it.
When I first started I doubted the corrections I made, second-guessed my research, I even worried I pointed out too many mistakes. Totally crazy, right?
Part of this train of thought also included me berating myself for doubting my skills because I knew I was good at my job.
In my heart, I trusted my abilities although I was swamped by fear.
So how did I get over it? I came to realize that I was hired to do the work because my clients believed in me. They hired me because they trusted I was knowledgeable in an area they knew nothing about.
All of the must-haves I’ve listed above are essential in establishing yourself as a proofreader. You don’t need formal education, but you do need commitment.
To succeed you need more than language skills. You also need discipline, drive and good business sense.
Treat proofreading as a business that you have to build. If you get a good grip on the marketing and business aspects then you’re more than halfway there.
Don’t let yourself be intimidated or led into thinking you’re not good enough.
Focus on yourself, your client and their content, and you’re gold.
What’s your background, and do you think you have what it takes to be a proofreader? Let us know in the comments below!