What Are the Different Types of Proofreading?

When working as a freelance proofreader, you’ll encounter various documents from all sorts of clients. However, while each document poses its own challenges, there are perhaps four major types of proofreading that will make up your day-to-day workload:

  1. Academic and student proofreading
  2. Business and professional proofreading
  3. Proofreading for creative writers and publishers
  4. Proofreading English as a second language (ESL) writing

In this post, we’ll look at what each of the above typically involves.

Academic and Student Writing

Academic writing typically refers to documents written by researchers and students. Common document types include essays, dissertations, research papers, journal articles, and funding applications.

Generally, academic writing is about presenting arguments to inform or convince the reader. With this in mind, when proofreading academic documents, you should ensure that your client:

  • Achieves a clear, formal writing style
  • Maintains an objective tone throughout (with some exceptions, such as reflective essays, which are by nature more personal)
  • Uses subject-specific and technical terms where appropriate
  • Correctly cites any sources according to the relevant referencing style (e.g., Chicago, APA, MLA, or any of the various in-house citations systems that colleges and universities use)

However, you’ll need to be especially careful about what changes you make and any comments you leave for your client when working on student documents. This is because most academic institutions have strict plagiarism rules for work that is being assessed.

It’s also worth noting that academic writing can vary hugely in complexity! This can depend on:

  1. The topic of the document (e.g., writing in some subject areas can be very technical, so it may require familiarity with the subject matter or technical vocabulary for you to proofread it effectively)
  2. The level of the document (e.g., undergraduate work is usually more accessible than postgraduate writing or professional research)

As a result, it often makes sense to start out proofreading student work if you’re new to academic writing. It also makes sense to start out with subject areas you know well from your own educational or professional background. You can then move on to more complex or unfamiliar documents when you feel ready.

Business and Professional Writing

Business writing refers to any document written in a business or professional context. Your client may be a person or a company. Common types of business writing include:

  • Formal business writing, which tends to have a very corporate tone (often based on the conventions of AP style). It may also overlap with academic writing in terms of checking your client has used an appropriate impersonal tone, needing to check that jargon is used appropriately, and even sometimes reviewing citations and references. Common examples include business plans and reports.
  • Personal professional writing (e.g., CVs, resumes, cover letters) and communications (e.g., emails, memos). This tends to be similar in style to formal business writing, although there is often more flexibility (e.g., using contractions in an email to a colleague would be fine even if it were usually discouraged in a business plan or report).
  • Commercial, marketing, and other branded copy (e.g., newsletters, website content, press releases). This will usually be much more conversational than other business writing, but the style will depend heavily on the client’s brand voice and target audience.

Since the style of these documents can vary significantly, you may need to adapt your proofreading style accordingly. You may also need to check that a piece follows a company style guide or brand voice guidelines. If so, your client should give you access to any relevant documents or offer instructions in the brief they provide.

As with academic writing, proofreading some forms of business writing may require specialist knowledge (e.g., financial reports, technical documentation, legal writing). But the main factors in most cases will be helping to ensure that your client’s writing is error-free and that they communicate their ideas effectively.

Creative Writing

Creative writing can include fiction and non-fiction books, short stories, articles, poems, scripts, and many other documents. As a result, some proofreaders working with creative writing choose to specialize in a single genre or style, such as travel writing or crime fiction.

Proofreading creative writing can be very different from proofreading other types of writing. Key factors in this respect include the following:

  • Creative writing often involves unique conventions for presenting text (e.g., the rules for using dialogue tags and quotation marks). As a result, you will need to make sure you know how the type of creative writing you’re working on is typically presented.
  • An author’s individual voice and style are usually more distinct in creative writing than in business or academic writing. This means you should aim to preserve the author’s voice as much as possible when proofreading a creative piece.
  • Unconventional spelling and grammar are also more common in creative writing, especially in fiction. While you should correct any obvious typos and inconsistencies, remember that non-standard English may be intentional (e.g., to convey a particular dialect in dialogue).
  • Proofreading creative writing may involve balancing the demands of an author (who may be very protective of their writing) and a publisher (who may have other priorities before publication).
  • Publishers may ask you to proofread typeset “proof” texts (either in print or a PDF). Rather than editing such a document directly, like you would in Microsoft Word, this may mean using annotation tools or traditional proofreader’s marks to note issues and suggest corrections.

Working on creative writing can therefore pose unique challenges! It can also be very rewarding. But you may need to put in a bit of extra work to establish yourself in this world, as it is very competitive.

One helpful tip in this respect is to start out working with self-published authors. This is a relatively abundant source of proofreading work. But it will also let you gain a bit more experience before contacting publishers.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Writing

ESL writing isn’t actually distinct from the above types of proofreading. It simply refers to writing by people who do not speak English as a first language. As such, though, ESL documents may pose some unique challenges from a proofreading perspective.

This is because ESL writers may not have as strong a grasp of English as native speakers. And this means that they may struggle to communicate their ideas clearly in writing. Issues you may encounter when working on ESL writing include:

  • Unusual sentence structures that need clarifying
  • Missing or misused articles (e.g., a experiment instead of an experiment)
  • Faulty subject–verb agreement (e.g., the dogs is barking instead of the dogs are barking)
  • Incorrect use of words, particularly incorrect homophone choices

You should also keep in mind that ESL clients may struggle with more complex or technical feedback. Thus, when working with ESL clients, make sure your comments are clear and concise.

Becoming a Proofreader

We hope this introduction to different types of proofreading has been helpful. You can also find some template style sheets for academic, business, and creative writing here.

And if you’d like to learn more about different types of proofreading and how to succeed as a freelance proofreader, you can find specific modules for academic, creative, and business writing in our Becoming A Proofreader course. You can even try it for free!

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