Working as a proofreader or editor

How do I become a proofreader or editor?

If you’re good with punctuation, spelling and grammar and have a keen eye for mistakes in writing, that’s a great start! But it’s only the beginning.

To work as a professional proofreader or editor you also need the following skills and knowhow:

  • up-to-date core skills training
  • a willingness to keep learning and updating your skills and knowledge
  • good general knowledge
  • a wide vocabulary
  • the ability to express ideas concisely
  • tact, discipline and communication skills
  • reliability and efficiency to work to tight budgets and deadlines.

You also need to be pragmatic. If there isn’t the time or budget to do a ‘perfect’ job, you need to know how to make sure it’s professionally good enough, and to be happy to leave it at that. And if you disagree with your author’s decisions on style or content you’ll need to be able to respect their wishes and do your best for them anyway. Editing and proofreading are not about imposing your own rules, voice or way of writing.

How do I get a proofreading or editing qualification?

There is no set pathway for training to be a proofreader or copyeditor: everyone has different needs and different previous experience. Read our free advice sheet to help you choose a training course.

Tell me more about training

If you’d like to find out what it’s really like to be a proofreader, try our course Proofreading 1: Introduction.

To find out whether you’re suited to copyediting, try our course Copyediting 1: Introduction.

What do editors and proofreaders need to know?

When people begin learning about professional editorial services we often hear them say ‘I didn’t know what I didn’t know!’

Initial training is essential to give you the skills you need as a professional, but also to give you the confidence to know when to make a change and when to leave well alone. It will also teach you the best and most efficient industry-standard practices.

To edit or proofread professionally it’s important to cultivate a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge, so continuing to learn through CPD is also essential.

Experienced proofreaders and copyeditors know that their next job could contain problems that they’ve never seen before. The world doesn’t stand still: technology moves on, conventions change, language evolves and professional proofreaders and copyeditors are always looking for opportunities to update their skills and knowledge.

Training will also give you knowledge in areas you may not yet have worked in, which will give you the flexibility and confidence to expand your business or career by finding new clients or taking on different editorial roles as your organisation changes.

Get professional skills and knowhow

The CIEP’s Code of Practice is a good guide to what we expect from professional proofreaders and copyeditors.

Show me the Code of Practice

You’ll find a full list of the skills and knowhow you need throughout your working life in our Curriculum for Professional Development.

Show me the Curriculum

Can I make a living from proofreading or editing?

Of course, and many people do. But many also struggle, and it’s not a quick-fix solution to earn money working from home.

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We’ve all seen ads like that, and it’s fun to solve the puzzle, but they can reinforce the mistaken belief that proofreading and editing are just about fixing typos and spelling errors. Plus, of course, those ads are usually selling something, such as a profit-driven proofreading course or ‘qualification’.

Some people are good at arithmetic. That doesn’t mean they can set up as an accountant without learning what’s required for professional accountancy practice. It’s the same with professional editing (of which proofreading is one part). Just because you are good with words or are the go-to spelling fixer in your group doesn’t mean you’re ready to do a professional editing job. But it’s a good place to start.

If you want to make a living out of working with words, start thinking of yourself as an editorial professional.

Learn about the practical aspects of setting up a freelance editing business in our short guide Going Solo.

Learn how to develop a pricing strategy and not undersell your services by reading Pricing a Project.

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Working freelance

If you intend to work freelance you’ll need to set up a business.

Fees paid for freelance work vary enormously. There is no general going rate, but clients will pay more in some sectors and poorly in others. As a business owner it will be up to you to set your fees according to what you need to earn. That may mean revisiting your marketing plan regularly to find the right clients for you.

To help with negotiating a fair price, check our suggested minimum rates for editing tasks. Note that these are only starting points, not recommended rates. Some clients may not have the budget to pay these rates. Others will happily pay much more for a professional job well done.

Getting a job in publishing or communications

If you’d prefer to find a job rather than going solo, such as with a publisher or communications department, you’ll need training and experience (or to be willing to learn) and will probably also need the right contacts to get your foot in the door because it’s competitive.

In-house salaries in traditional publishers tend to be low if you’re just starting out. You may find better-paid positions with large businesses or organisations.