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A proofreader is an editing professional whose job is to ensure that the punctuation, spelling, formatting, and grammar in a document are correct. To become a proofreader, you must gain a deep knowledge of the rules of punctuation and grammar. You must also be familiar with basic proofreading marks and how to use them. An ability to work with multiple writing styles can also open up your career options, particularly if you choose to freelance.
While formal education is not required to become a proofreader, many such professionals choose to earn degrees. The most common major is English, as courses in this program can include those on grammar, punctuation, and proper sentence structure. Students might also learn a wide variety of styles, such as Associated Press, or AP, Style, which is used almost universally by journalists.
Proofreaders must often be able to work very quickly, and minor mistakes can be easy to miss. If you wish to become a proofreader you must develop a quick, accurate eye for detail. You'll need to be able to identify a missing letter, improperly-used comma or extra space between words on the first read.
Learning about editor's marks is another step often needed to become a proofreader. Such marks are used widely throughout the writing and editing industry and are understood by those whose job is to make the corrections. Editor's marks are often made in red; in fact, editing or proofreading a document and making corrections is usually called "redlining." Examples of such marks include placing three short horizontal lines below a letter that should be capitalized and placing horizontal parenthesis above and below a space that should be closed up. Added punctuation marks, such as periods and commas, should be circled.
In most cases, proofreaders are not responsible for editing content. Proofreading can, however, be a first step toward an editing job. As a proofreader, you may be a direct employee of a print or online publication, book publisher, or other company that produces large quantities of written material. If you become a proofreader, however, you also may choose to become a self-employed contractor.
If you opt to become a freelance proofreader, you will also need to develop business skills in order to be successful. These skills include developing fee schedules, creating a standard contract, advertising for clients, and billing for your work. They also include being well-organized, learning to communicate well with clients and editors, and scheduling each day so that you are able to complete your existing work while soliciting new clients.