As someone who’s just set up a freelance proofreading business, this is something I’ve been asked more than once. As with most decisions, there are many reasons for my choice of career, and a few ideas that certainly aren’t true!
The most common idea of why I’ve become a proofreader is that I like pointing out other people’s mistakes. While the core skill of proofreading is spotting errors, I don’t take personal pleasure from highlighting them. Everyone makes spelling errors, mis-uses punctuation and makes typos - yes, even proofreaders! What I enjoy is taking someone’s hard work, and using my skills to give it a final polish – no-one thinks that window cleaners like pointing out people’s dirty windows and doors!
There are thousands of proofreaders and copy editors working in the UK, and I’m sure each started in the industry for different reasons. At work I seemed to have a talent for spotting small errors such as double spaces between words, words used out of context and inconsistencies in texts. When reading for pleasure, I found errors jumping out at me, though of course, there could have been far more errors I was simply never aware of. Many times, I was told ‘you should be a proofreader’, but it wasn’t something I ever thought of doing as a career. But gradually, I found myself wondering if this was something I could do full-time? What were the skills and training I would need – did I need a degree in English, or to commit to a long and expensive course? I turned to Google and found out more about proofreading as a profession, and learned that there’s no single route in, nor is there a ‘typical’ proofreader.
My research led me quickly to the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). I spent a long time on the CIEP website (https://www.ciep.uk/ for those who are interested), and researched their various training courses. Throwing caution to the wind, I joined CIEP and signed up to the course ‘Proofreading 1: Introduction’. It was a good decision; I found that I had a decent standard of knowledge, but also learned a great deal – I’d never heard of en dashes and em dashes, much less had any idea of the difference. I worked my way through the course, my knowledge expanded and most importantly I enjoyed it. After a short break I embarked on ‘Proofreading 2: Headway’, a tutor-marked course that goes into much greater depth. I proofread documents on subjects as diverse as RSPB working holidays, medieval heraldry and osteoarthritis. My tutor was forensic and encouraging and again, I felt my knowledge and my confidence increasing. With a sense of optimism, I came up with a name for my business, set up a website and social media presence. So that makes me a proofreader – I’m at the beginning of what I hope will be a rewarding and profitable new career. I’m already considering my next training course (probably plain English) and as every new business does, looking for opportunities. It’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to it!