5 Top Tips for New Freelance Proofreaders

If you’re just starting out in the world of proofreading and editing, what do you need to know? And what should you expect? In this post, we offer five top tips for new freelance proofreaders.

1. Focus on the Brief

A clear brief is key for any proofreading or editing job, especially for newer freelancers. Things you will want to know before you start work on a document include:

  • Is your client using a specific style guide or referencing system? If not, do they have any stylistic requirements otherwise (e.g., British or American English)?
  • Is it just the text that needs proofreading? Or will there be images, charts, or formatting that they need you to check as well?
  • What is the deadline for the document? Is it realistic given the workload?
  • How much will the work pay? And how will you be paid (e.g., if it is a longer document or a series of documents, will you invoice for each part or wait until the job is finished)?

You will want to establish all of these before starting a job. If you are working for an agency, such as our partner company Proofed, they will usually have a system to handle this. But if you are an independent freelancer, you will need to agree these things with the client.

2. Create a Checklist

Proofreading can involve several stages, particularly with longer or complex documents, so it often helps to have a checklist of jobs to tick off. This may include:

  • Reviewing the materials before you start work (i.e., whether you have all the files you need and you’ve fully established a clear brief for the job).
  • Checking the overall structure and flow of the document.
  • Making sure headings are clear and consistent.
  • Correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors or inconsistencies.
  • Addressing any stylistic, tonal, or vocabulary issues.
  • If relevant, ensuring that citations and reference are correct.
  • Looking for issues with charts, tables, or images.
  • Checking formatting (e.g., consistent page numbering, list styles, line spacing).
  • Making sure that URLs in the document work.
  • The final review and spellcheck.

The exact list will depend on the job at hand, and it is up to you whether you tackle each job individually or do a few at a time. But it is important to have a list of tasks you can check to ensure you don’t miss anything before returning the document.

3. Communicate Effectively

When proofreading, you may not have all the answers all the time. For instance, if a client uses a word in an unfamiliar way, you might not be sure whether they’re using it correctly.

Sometimes, you’ll be able to find the answer by searching online. In other cases, though, you will need to ask the client to clarify their meaning or check their word choice.

This is fine! Queries and comments are part of proofreading. But if you do ask your client any questions after you start working, make sure to communicate effectively. This means:

  • Checking for a solution before contacting your client.
  • Explaining the issue you’ve identified as clearly as possible.
  • Grouping queries together (i.e., sending a list of questions once you’ve finished a pass on the document rather than emailing every time you have a problem).

If there is something that you need to address before you can continue work, it is fine to contact your client – or the agency you are working for – straight away. But, ideally, you will have established any essential information in the brief (see point one above!).

4. Be Patient!

For new freelance proofreaders, patience is always a virtue. It may be that work is harder to come by when you start out. Or you may earn less than you expected on certain jobs (e.g., if you are charging per word and you underestimate how long a document will take).

But practice will pay off in the end! Agencies like Proofed offer a brilliant way to gain experience on a range of document types. And the more you proofread, the more efficient you will become, boosting your earning per hour without compromising on quality.

As you learn more, you may also be able to specialize in certain types of proofreading (e.g., working on academic writing or self-published fiction). And once you have a reputation for good work in a particular area, you should find it easier to find new and repeat clients.

5. Keep Learning

Finally, to continue the sentiment of the previous point, remember that proofreading is always a learning process. Even experienced proofreaders have to adapt as they encounter new things, whether that is a revision to a familiar style guide or a new software package.

For new proofreaders, every job is a learning opportunity. At Proofed, the admin team provides feedback on your work to help you improve. And as an individual freelancer, you can learn from client feedback and comments, building your knowledge with each document.

Of course, as a proofreader, you may have a perfectionist streak, so being told you could have done something better may sting. But learning from each job is how every proofreader gets better at what they do, so even negative feedback should be embraced.

And if you ever want to branch out into a new type of proofreading, or simply polish your core skills a little, don’t forget that Knowadays is always here to help you learn!

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Join the Conversation

Lynda says:
August 26, 2020 at 9:28PM
as a person with a desire to get into this profession, this article was very helpful.
Iphy says:
August 9, 2022 at 7:39AM
Thanks a bunch! A very helpful article.
Ipsita Beuria says:
November 3, 2022 at 8:40AM
Hi, I need freelancing proofreading job.
    Knowadays says:
    November 3, 2022 at 2:01PM
    Hi Ipsita! You might find this blog post useful: https://knowadays.com/blog/how-to-find-proofreading-jobs-online/. Also, anyone who passes our Becoming A Proofreader course with a mark of 80% or higher is guaranteed work with our partner company, Proofed: https://knowadays.com/guaranteed-work/. Hope that helps!

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