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.
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.
|Type of editing||What it involves|
|Step 1: Content editing||Revising 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 editing||Revising 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 editing||Polishing 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: Proofreading||Carefully 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.
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.
|Spelling and word choice confusions|
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?
Recommended proofreading service
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 9.9 on Trustpilot, with 1.401 reviews so far.