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Proofreading: Who'd've thunk?

Updated on May 21, 2012

Sometimes I talk to myself:

- I dunno, £400 is a lot of money, especially when you don't have it.

- Yes, but consider how much more you will make when you've completed the training and start getting jobs.

- If I'm good enough.

- Oh, you will be good enough, I'm sure of it.

- Well, I don't know what all the different parts of a sentence are called, and my grammar isn't perfect.

- But that's why you do the training, to learn the skills you need.

- No, but the course is about learning the symbols not the grammar - you have to know the grammar already.

- So, brush up on your grammar - that's a feeble excuse.

- Yes, it is, you're right. But still, £400 is a lot of money.

- It's only a lot of money if you waste it.

- By not working hard you mean?

- Exactly.

- Well, I will work hard then. I'll pass very respectably.

- With distinction?

- Well, I'd like to say that, but I don't know how difficult it's going to be. We'll see. I don't think they do 'distinctions'.

- Give it a go. Go on, you'll regret it if you don't.

So ran the conversation between me and my mojo when I finally found the proofreading course that seemed perfect for me.

After a long internet search, looking for the most reputable and well-respected proofreading training provider, I happened upon the website for the Publishing Training Centre, at Book House, in London. This training centre's courses were endorsed by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), which straightway told me that it provided good quality training. Now, a word of warning here: there are other training centres that provide cheaper courses (half the price of the one I have chosen, actually), and whilst they are certainly not bogus companies, their certificates are not as valuable as a qualification from a centre recommended by the SfEP. The reason for this is that they pass people who would not meet the high standards set by the SfEP; you yourself might be an excellent proofreader, but if you have a certificate from, say, Chapterhouse (whose claims of proofreading earning you large amounts of money seem to be a mite exaggerated) you may well start to notice that you are ignored by the larger publishing houses. Just before I applied to enrol on the course with Book House I had my instincts confirmed as being correct when I received a reply to a request for advice from Penguin Books: the lovely and encouraging lady there told me that Penguin UK will only use freelance proofreaders who have been trained by Book House. Huzzah!

So, without a moment's hesitation I filled in my form and sent it off, and within a week my course materials had arrived. Within another week I had completed my first assignment - that's not me showing off about how brainy I am, there's just not a lot to it!

Let me tell you about proofreading. Basically, you're doing the job that a computer spell-checker can't do, you're looking for the word that is spelled correctly, but is not the right word; you're looking for minuscule grammatical errors that to some people may not even register, but to the pernickety reader will spoil a whole page. If you are the kind of person who enjoys a few quirky OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) traits, such as keeping pens aligned on your desk when you work, or using the correct stationery for each particular kind of writing, or having things in even numbers (or odd, if your disorder works that way), then proofreading might suit you perfectly.

When I first got down to business with the first unit of my course, I had to stop myself from squealing with delight as I realised how I was going to have to work. I sat myself at the dining room table, spread out my papers very neatly, and took out the pens that I was told I would need: one red, one blue, one green, one black, as well as one pencil, one rubber (eraser!), some correction fluid (Whiteout, Tipex!), two rulers, a pencil sharpener, and a notebook (brand new, never written in, of course - you know how I love my brand new notebooks: Stationeryphilia).

And off I went.

The first thing I realised, was that proofreading was not going to be quite what I expected — it was going to be much better! It involves reading - obviously - very slowly, very meticulously, using judgement and experience to decide whether or not something does really need to be changed, or whether it will be fine as it is. It requires total concentration — I will never be able to proofread with my children around. It involves strictness and discipline; there are no re-sits with proofreading, you have no second chances with the assignments. You are either good at spotting mistakes, or you are not. The course teaches you how to tell the typesetter to correct errors — it does not tell you how to spot them; that part cannot really be taught, as far as I can tell. Of course, brushing up on your grammar will help, but you do that on your own. This is not a crash course in grammar.

So there are symbols. For the first unit I have learnt the marks for 'replace', 'delete', 'insert', 'transpose' and 'close up'. I have learnt a little about the publishing process, and where a proofreader fits into that. I have learnt that I still have much to learn; even though I believe I spotted all of the mistakes in my assignment (I am absolutely sure that I did not spot all of them really, but I think I have done reasonably well), I still have four more units' worth of symbols to learn.

I am only speaking for myself here, but I think that proofreading is a good job for people who, like me, are vain. It is a job that allows you to congratulate yourself on how clever you are at being able to spot what other people have missed. But of course, that's a nonsense, because everyone needs a proofreader; even the writing written by a proofreader who writes has to be proofread by a different proofreader (if you see what I'm convolutedly trying to say!) But nevertheless, after you have proofread a piece of writing, you can sit back and say to yourself, 'yes, I am good at this, and this piece of writing is now better because of my suggested improvements', whilst knowing it to be true.

And I have barely even mentioned the pens yet, oh my goodness: universally, blue for editors' errors, red for typesetters'. Oh, it's blissful, to see the page scattered with neatly drawn red and blue secret hieroglyphs — alright, I know they're not hieroglyphs, but they do look like a different written language, like cyrillic, or kanji, or even just shorthand.

I would recommend something that my course, so far, has not mentioned, and that is a plain A2 sized drawing board (roughly 420mm × 594mm). This serves to tilt the pages you're working on, and really saves a lot of strain on your neck and back. It also allows you to see what you're writing without having to peer over the top, or around the side, of your hand. I am borrowing one at the moment, but my first job will pay for my own (I hope!). The only problem with the board that I can foresee is that papers slip a little, because of the tilt - but I am thinking that it might be possible to cover the board with some felt, or baize, or perhaps even some kind of rubberised sheet, vinyl or something like that, that will grip the paper just a little.

Freelance proofreading is done at home, in the proofreader's own time (most proofreaders are freelance, incidentally). This is ideal for me, as a mummy who wants to be able to continue to do the school runs. Work, work, work all day, then play, play, play when the kids come home, leaving me time and motivation to write, write, write every evening — I've got it all worked out now, oh yeah, blissful happiness from here on in (either that, or complete burn-out!)

Now, I only have this left to say, at this stage: do not all jump on this bandwagon, otherwise there will not be enough work left for me. But I did think that I should hub about this, because it might encourage others like me to find a real way of working from home. Good luck. Be brave. Have some faith in yourself.


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    • profile image

      par1704 4 years ago

      I've recently started the Basic Proofreading course and have just submitted the first assignment. Your original post neatly summarises the beginning of the course. I'm interested in finding out if you finished it and in knowing your thoughts about the subsequent units. Has the qualification helped you to gain work with any leading publishers?

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      I always behave. It's you that's the bad 'un.

      Kiss kiss!

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Hey Girl!

      Are you behaving?


    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Thank you nighthag. I'm so sorry it took me so long to respond. Everybody needs a proofreader - even proofreaders need proofreaders!

      Thanks for reading.


    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 5 years ago from Australia

      Sounds fascinating, editing and grammar are my worst times during my creative process, but I have a very good friend who helps out, this sounds right up her alley. Thanks so much for sharing

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      'yes, I am good at this, and this piece of writing is now better because of my suggested improvements'

      That's it exactly: making a piece of writing better than it was. I had a newspaper editor who was a master at this process. My name was still on the byline because it was still my work - only better.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Who am I to talk really - I'm not even half way through my course yet, and already I'm doubting my abilities! It's very hard. But I'm determined to finish it - even if I only manage to scrape a pass.

      Lol, no, I wouldn't say that Chapterhouse training is useless. It's probably very good, and there is probably little difference in essentials between the course I chose and a Chapterhouse one. I should probably have qualified those statements with something else, about how it depends on how far you want to take your proofreading and whether you envision a long-term career in the field. It does concern me though, when I read a Chapterhouse brochure (they have sent me several in the past few weeks, even though I did tell them that I'd chosen a different training centre), and the 'praise for Chapterhouse' section contains anonymous statements from past students, but nothing from leading publishers, or even satisfied clients.

      Thanks for the comment Angie. Good luck with earning a living on HP!


    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Uh-oh! So my Chapterhouse training is useless then? I did it years ago and never used it or even suspected it wasn't good enough. But, despite being your usual nitpicking Virgo perfectionist, I don't think I did too well towards the end of the course ... when things got more difficult to spot. Think I'll stick to writing on HP for cents ... lol! :-)

      Ver good hub, LW ...

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Oh, I do Mike; great long periods of not producing anything at all - I have these on a weekly basis, and it makes me angry with myself, and anger, as you know, is counter-productive, so I'm in a cycle of anger and inactivity. It would be very useful to learn how to break out of that. I'm going to try it, this week!

      Thanks for the suggestion, I have high hopes that meditation will be the thing for me.


    • profile image

      Aka Professor M 6 years ago

      In this world Everyone needs some quiet time to reflect and clear ones head! Yes Linda, I Do Indeed Meditate as often as I can, whenever I can and especially when I'm feeling the weight of world pressing down on me!

      It will boost your health (both physical and mental) and increase your creativity! Not that you need help in the creativity department, Linda! LOL!

      Regards Mike (Aka Professor M!) ;D

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      There's a lovely place in town that offers meditation classes; I've been meaning to make time to go for ages. I think I will. It'll make for a lovely hub too! You meditate yourself do you, Professor?


    • profile image

      Aka Professor M 6 years ago

      I find that meditating does wonders to calm the mind and make the rest that you do get do the most go for you! Remember Sleep is important for both the mind and the body, Linda! Regards Mike!;D

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Ah, thanks Professor :) I think I will probably do okay, though the work is getting harder, and the mistakes are becoming harder to spot - but I got my first assignment back this week, and I want to hub about the next stage of the process. I'll say no more, and save the rest for the hub :D

      So much to write, so little time - I know this, and tricky is exactly what it is! If only I could find out how to survive and be totally sane with no sleep at all; that would solve everything.


    • profile image

      Aka Professor M 6 years ago

      @Lady Wordsmith: Hi Linda, I took a little time off to follow up on this proofreading adventure of yours. Sorry that I didn't get to it sooner.

      Pesky thing this timetable for work and writing for my blogs and Hubpages! Tricky sometimes, but this was quite the treat, to read about your progress!

      Good On You and if this article is any indication, I have every confidence, that success will be yours! Voted this up and Enjoyed it thoroughly!

      Regards Mike (Aka Professor M!) ;D

    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 6 years ago from east of the equator

      Hello Linda- Just back to read your comments and vote up again. I do love proofreading my own work and notice grammatical options instinctively now.

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      I love finding errors when I read anything. I have had a field day lately. I have found perhaps half a dozen in 'The Far Pavilions; so far. Mind you, there are almost a thousand pages, and I am over two-thirds of the way into it.

      I found an error on C-fax or Tele-Text (OK, I don't know how to spell them) once and I felt as if I had won the lottery.

      (Thinks: Maybe I should get out more)

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      A proofreader loves nothing more than many, many errors! Unfortunately, they do require payment for pointing them out to you. (No errors in your comment here, by the way :D )


    • myi4u profile image

      myi4u 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      If only someone could proofread for me for free. But that someone would be very frustrated and fed up by the many errors that I may have made in my hubs. Microsoft Word's Spelling and Grammar checking is all I have at the moment.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Right LW! Yes it did put me to sleep and worse - you had to comb through the second time forward! All for one little piece of correspondence! Really - a typo was a federal offense (we are talking about lawyers here:)! A copy was kept of every single thing too - so you didn't dare think it would slip through unnoticed! Lol!

    • michael ely profile image

      michael ely 6 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Linda, I like what you've done with this hub. I take it you put all the errors in intentionally so that we would have a good idea of what is required. Only joking!!! It's a really good hub and you make this sound interesting with your article. All the best with your course. Michael.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 6 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Indeed it is Jack. Thanks for stopping by :)

      Ian, did I make up a tongue-twister?? Cool!

      The bulldog clips and post-it solutions might work for some people, but I'm not sure if I'll like them, because I like the paper to be loose and to be able to move it about the board. I know that's a contradiction really, when I said that I wanted it to stay still - but I am a walking contradiction, and that's why my other half finds me so difficult to live with I think! I tend to want things that are impossible!

      Barbergirl, It's annoying isn't it, when you read a typo in a book? An actual printed and proofread book?! Sometimes they seem so glaringly obvious that you wonder how the errors could possibly have slipped through - manuscripts are usually carefully checked over by at least three different people in the process. My assignment, I've been notified, has been sent to my new tutor to be marked - as soon as I get it back I will hub!

      Keith! Anything's possible! But I absolutely promise that I will never be too busy to wave - I wouldn't be able to read a manuscript in my Rolls anyway: I get severely travel sick ... :oS

      It is pretty complicated actually Chris, and although I love it and get rather excited by the whole process, it also makes me nervous - but this is only because I'm at the beginning and don't yet know how well I'm doing, constantly thinking 'oh dear, what if I missed loads of mistakes?' I think that the nerves will abate once I've had my first couple of assignments back.

      RealH - that sounds awful! Reading stuff backwards, oh dear. Did you struggle to stay awake? With the proofreading that I'm doing I don't think it would be possible to read it backwards, because as well as looking for spelling errors, we're reading for 'sense' as well - you couldn't do that backwards, thank goodness!

      Ah annmackiemiller, thank you so much for the vote :)

      sligo, hello! No, I don't imagine that ADHD would be conducive to this particular kind of activity at all. I think it would drive you nuts!

      Hello Genna :) Thanks for the well wishes. I am now very conscious of my own writing on here, and think that if I start to make lots of errors I will never live it down!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Good luck in this endeavor; I hope it goes very well for you. And you are right -- we all need proofreaders.

    • sligobay profile image

      sligobay 6 years ago from east of the equator

      Don't worry about any competition from me. This is a useful article for those with enough patience. OCD might enhance your skill but my ADHD won't fit the bill.

    • annmackiemiller profile image

      annmackiemiller 6 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      good for you - very well written hub - voted up and stuff

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I like proof reading and marking other people's work - not my own! Lol

      My first REAL job was working for a condemnation attorney (can you imagine anything more boring!) ugh - but I was trained to proof and mark up correspondence. For spelling errors - they made me read everything backwards! This way you were supposed to spot errors more easily because you didn't pay attention to the content.

      I can still picture myself - sitting with my ruler - reading carp backwards:) ugh! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      That is something that sounds incredibly complicated, rather than simple, but I hope it goes very well for you.

      If you have found a rewarding, and reasonably lucrative way, of working from home, that is a blessing.

      Good luck.

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      We want that course to pay dividends, we want you to take the literary world by storm, because we, as fellow writers, share the same passion for words. Maybe we don't get quite as excited over a table full of stationary and coloured pens as you do, but we understand how you feel. We want you to be the next Emily Bronte, picking out those tiny errors that we would stumble past without noticing, or caring in my case, (being a bit lazy, and uneducated.) Then even when you've made it and you drive past in your Rolls Royce and don't have time to wave, as you'd have your head in your latest manuscript, we'd still be able to say. We knew that lady when she was just a wordsmith with a, i can and will attitude. Ok i'm going, from an amateur.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      I love proofreading. Unfortunately, I also hate it at the same time. Because of my need to pick out errors sometimes I will be reading something and spot and error and it will drive me nuts. Don't worry though, I am not ready to step on the proofreading wagon just yet - but maybe in the future if all goes well with your journey I might be convinced :)

      Interesting hub - good luck!

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Really interesting hub, Linda... as usual.

      The slippy A2 board business. Wouldn't bulldog clips hold the paper up? Or what about double sided POSTIT NOTES thingys with semi adhesive glue stuff on at least one side?

      And your comment: "even the writing written by a proofreader who writes has to be proofread by a different proofreader" made me think of "Who's taking care of the caretaker's daughter when the caretaker's daughter's taking care?"

    • Apostle Jack profile image

      Apostle Jack 6 years ago from Atlanta Ga

      You said it well.Prevention is better than cure.