How to learn to proofread
Posted: 3rd Nov 2011
A lot of people have been asking me recently how I learned to proofread. If you’d like to become a proofreader or simply improve your ability to check your own work, the following tips may help you.
- Improve your knowledge of the target language. This doesn’t necessarily mean learning technicalities like what a subjunctive clause is, but you should be as fluent as a native speaker in order to be able to spot mistakes instinctively.
- Read widely. I personally think this is what helped me to develop most as a proofreader. I have had an addiction to reading since I was very young and have never stuck to reading one genre. Project Gutenberg is a great source of free eBooks – it has over 36,000 available in all the popular formats.
- Go on proofreading courses. Courses can be a great way to really hone your proofreading ability with other people who want to learn as well. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders run courses throughout the year and across the UK, from ‘Introduction to proofreading’ to more specific courses, like ‘Editing medical texts’. You can find the full list here: http://www.sfep.org.uk/pub/train/courses.asp. Fees start from £120.52 for SfEP associates and members (associate membership costs £120 for the first year).
- Proofread voluntarily. Focus and attention to detail are required to be a competent proofreader. It’s hard to develop these skills without practice, so I really recommend Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreaders website. The website asks volunteers to check scanned images against what the computer has read: a form of comparison proofreading. There are different levels of proofreading required, making it easy for beginners to get started.
- Proofread for friends and family. Whether you have student friends that need essays checking or an uncle who runs his own business, offer to proofread their work for free in return for feedback on your proofreading or testimonials.
- Take online tests. Tests like the one provided by the SfEP can really help you to identify weaknesses in your proofreading ability. It can also give you an idea of whether you would like to proofread for a living!