A quick guide to proofreading

Proofreading means carefully checking for errors in a text before it is published or shared. It is the very last stage of revising a text, when you fix minor spelling and punctuation mistakes, typos, formatting issues and inconsistencies.

Proofreading is essential for any text that will be shared with an audience, whether it’s an academic paper, a job application, an online article, or a print flyer. Depending on your skills and budget, you can choose to proofread the text yourself or to hire a professional.

Proofreading example

In the publishing industry, proofreaders usually check a printed “proof copy” of the text and mark corrections using specialized proofreading marks. In other fields, though, professional proofreaders often work with digital texts and make corrections directly using the track changes feature in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

Proofreading vs editing

Editing and proofreading are different steps in the process of revising a text. Editing can involve major changes to content, structure and language, but proofreading focuses only on minor errors and inconsistencies.

Often a text will go through several stages of editing before it is proofread. The table below shows some common steps in the editing process.

The four stages of editing and proofreading
Type of editingWhat it involves
Step 1: Content editingRevising an early draft of a text, often making significant changes to the content and moving, adding or deleting entire sections (also known as developmental or substantive editing).
Step 2: Line editingRevising the use of language to communicate your story, ideas, or arguments as effectively as possible.

This might involve changing words, phrases and sentences and restructuring paragraphs to improve the flow of the text.

Step 3: Copy editingPolishing individual sentences to ensure correct grammar, clear syntax, and stylistic consistency, often following the rules of a specific style guide (such as APA or MLA).

Copy editors don’t change the content of a text, but if a sentence or paragraph is ambiguous or awkward, they can work with the author to improve it.

Step 4: ProofreadingCarefully checking for any remaining errors, such as misspelled words, misplaced punctuation, and stylistic inconsistencies.

In print publishing, proofreaders are also responsible for checking the formatting (e.g. page numbers and line spacing).

Do I need to go through every stage?

It depends on the type and length of text. You don’t need to strictly follow the division of tasks shown above, but a good piece of writing will nearly always go through a similar process of revising, editing and proofreading.

In the traditional publishing process, the stages are clearly divided, with different professionals responsible for each revision. A separate proofread of the final print version is necessary, especially because new typographical errors can be introduced during production.

However, in texts that don’t need to be formatted for mass printing, there is often more overlap between the steps. Some editorial services combine copy editing and proofreading into a single stage (sometimes called proof-editing), where grammar, syntax and style are addressed at the same time as minor spelling and punctuation errors.

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Proofreading tips and tricks

Basic proofreading skills are important for anyone who writes. For everyday texts, such as business reports, blogs, or college papers, there are some techniques you can use to proofread efficiently and effectively before sharing your work.

Edit your writing first

Before you get to the final stage of proofreading, make sure you’ve thoroughly revised and edited your work. There’s no point spending time fixing minor errors if you might later remove whole sections or rewrite paragraphs. Only proofread once you’ve got a completed final draft that you’re happy with.

Take a break from the text

When you’ve been reading and rereading the same words for hours or days, it becomes much harder to notice mistakes. Before proofreading, set your work aside for a while so that you can look at it with fresh eyes.

Ideally you should wait at least a day or two before final proofreading, but if you’re on a tight deadline, even a half hour break can help.

Proofread a printout

Seeing your words on a printed page is another useful strategy for noticing things that might have escaped your attention on the screen. If the final version will be printed, this is also a good chance to check your formatting is correct and consistent on the page.

Use digital shortcuts

While reading from print can help you spot errors, word processing software can help you fix them efficiently. Most obviously, run a spell check – but don’t rely on the computer to catch every mistake.

If you notice that you’ve repeatedly misspelled a particular word, inconsistently capitalized a term, or switched between UK and US English, you can use the Find and Replace function to fix the same mistake throughout the document.

Be careful, though, and don’t use “replace all”. Click through and check every replacement to avoid accidentally adding more errors!

Learn from your mistakes

Pay attention to the errors that keep recurring in the text. This can help you avoid them in future.

Knowing what to look out for is the most challenging part of proofreading. You’ll probably notice obvious typos, but subtle mistakes in grammar and punctuation can be harder to recognize. The table below shows some of the most common errors to look out for.

What to watch out for when proofreading
Spelling and word choice confusions
Misplaced punctuation
Stylistic inconsistency
Formatting issues
  • Incorrect formatting of quotations and citations
  • Inconsistent paragraph indentation and spacing
  • Missing or misplaced page numbers, headers and footers

Choosing a proofreading service

If you lack confidence in your written English, or if you just want to ensure you haven’t missed anything in an important document, you might want to consider using a professional proofreading service.

There are two main options: you can hire a freelance proofreader, or you can send your document to a proofreading and editing company. There are various things to consider when choosing a service.

Do you only need proofreading or also editing?

It’s important to have a clear idea of how much work your text requires. People often think they only need proofreading when, in reality, the text would benefit from some level of editing as well.

If you send a proofreader a document full of grammar mistakes, confusing sentences, and difficult-to-follow paragraphs, they might decline the job or recommend a different service.

Many freelancers and companies offer both editing and proofreading, either separately (with separate pricing) or combined into one service. Make sure you understand exactly what kind of changes are included. Will the editor only correct minor errors, or will they also comment on awkward phrasings and structural issues?

Should the proofreader be specialized in your type of document?

Many different types of documents require proofreading: from literary novels to technical reports, from PhD dissertations to promotional flyers. The best choice of service is usually one that’s specialized in your type of document.

While proofreaders and copy editors generally don’t need expert knowledge of the text’s content, the process will be smoother if your proofreader is familiar with the rules and conventions of the genre you’re working in.

How much does proofreading cost?

The cost of proofreading varies widely. The price depends partly on the proofreader’s location and level of experience, the type and length of text, and the turnaround time. Rates are usually calculated per word or per hour. If the service also focuses on formatting, it may be priced per page.

Proofreading rates by word count

Proofreading and editing companies tend to have a set per-word rate with different prices based on the turnaround time. On average, you can expect to pay $0.01–$0.05 per word (or around $2–4 per page), but services that include editing as well as proofreading will cost more. You can usually check in advance exactly how much it will cost you.

Proofreading hourly rates

Many freelancers charge an hourly rate, which means the price will vary based on the quality and complexity of the document. Hourly rates can be anywhere between $20 and $50 per hour. Be sure to discuss the pricing and get a quote in advance – you might not realize just how long it will take to thoroughly proofread your text.

How long does proofreading take?

You should try to leave plenty of time for editing and proofreading, but if you have a hard deadline, it’s important to find a service that can deliver on time.

Most companies offer various choices of deadline, but it’s best to plan a minimum of 24 hours for proofreading. The price will generally be lower if you can wait longer to have your document returned.

For very long documents, it might not be possible to complete the job in 24 hours, especially if you also need editing services. For combined proofreading and copy editing, you can expect an experienced editor to complete around 10,000–15,000 words in a single day.

How can you check the quality and reliability of the service?

Like everything on the internet, the quality of proofreading services varies widely. Do your research before you choose one. There are a few things you can check:

  • Online reviews: are they rated on independent review sites (e.g. Trustpilot) or freelancer platforms (e.g. Upwork)?
  • Qualifications: do they have professional training and experience? If you’re using a company, how do they select and train proofreaders?
  • Customer service: are they easily contactable and responsive to inquiries?
  • Complaints policy: what happens if you’re not happy with the job? Can you get a refund or a second edit?
Choosing a proofreading service
TypeAdvantagesDisadvantages
Automated proofreaders
  • Free or relatively cheap
  • Instant proofreading
  • Unreliable for catching all mistakes
  • Risk of introducing new errors if not used carefully
Freelance proofreaders
  • You can choose exactly who you work with
  • You can discuss and negotiate the job directly
  • No quality control
  • Often longer turnaround times
  • The price and deadline may not be fixed in advance
Proofreading companies
  • Upfront pricing (usually by word count)
  • Fast turnaround and guaranteed deadlines
  • Standardized training and quality control
  • Services are usually fixed and non-negotiable
  • Often no direct contact with the proofreader

Scribbr offers proofreading services for academic and study-related documents, including essays, papers, theses, dissertations, reports, and proposals.

The basic service combines proofreading and copy editing at a rate of $0.014 per word. You can choose between a 24-hour, 3-day, or 7-day turnaround time.

Scribbr is rated 9.8 on Trustpilot, with 1,542 reviews so far.

Frequently asked questions about proofreading

What is the difference between proofreading and editing?

Editing and proofreading are different steps in the process of revising a text.

Editing comes first, and can involve major changes to content, structure and language. The first stages of editing are often done by authors themselves, while a professional editor makes the final improvements to grammar and style (for example, by improving sentence structure and word choice).

Proofreading is the final stage of checking a text before it is published or shared. It focuses on correcting minor errors and inconsistencies (for example, in punctuation and capitalization). Proofreaders often also check for formatting issues, especially in print publishing.

How can I get better at proofreading?

Whether you're publishing a blog, submitting a research paper, or even just writing an important email, there are a few techniques you can use to make sure it's error-free:

  • Take a break: Set your work aside for at least a few hours so that you can look at it with fresh eyes.
  • Proofread a printout: Staring at a screen for too long can cause fatigue – sit down with a pen and paper to check the final version.
  • Use digital shortcuts: Take note of any recurring mistakes (for example, misspelling a particular word, switching between US and UK English, or inconsistently capitalizing a term), and use Find and Replace to fix it throughout the document.

If you want to be confident that an important text is error-free, it might be worth choosing a professional proofreading service instead.

How much does professional proofreading cost?

The cost of proofreading depends on the type and length of text, the turnaround time, and the level of services required. Most proofreading companies charge per word or page, while freelancers sometimes charge an hourly rate.

For proofreading alone, which involves only basic corrections of typos and formatting mistakes, you might pay as little as $0.01 per word, but in many cases, your text will also require some level of editing, which costs slightly more.

It's often possible to purchase combined proofreading and editing services and calculate the price in advance based on your requirements.

What qualifications do you need to become a proofreader?

There are many different routes to becoming a professional proofreader or editor. The necessary qualifications depend on the field – to be an academic or scientific proofreader, for example, you will need at least a university degree in a relevant subject.

For most proofreading jobs, experience and demonstrated skills are more important than specific qualifications. Often your skills will be tested as part of the application process.

To learn practical proofreading skills, you can choose to take a course with a professional organization such as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Alternatively, you can apply to companies that offer specialized on-the-job training programmes, such as the Scribbr Academy.

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Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

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