Case Study: Proofreader - Katie

What do you do?

I check manuscripts and documents for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, style, consistency and layout. I use a variety of resources including the computer, email, internet, dictionaries and a thesaurus.

What is your background?

After A levels, I studied a degree in French and Italian, which included modules in linguistics and phonetics. I've always enjoyed languages and found Latin particularly useful. After university, I did a correspondence course in proofreading and editorial skills. And I've done editorial work ever since.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

I think it's important to have the ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time. You need patience, accuracy, stamina and good communication skills in order to liaise with the customer. And to keep motivated, it's essential to have an interest in language and a commitment to perfection.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

The skills that I use would transfer well to all careers in publishing and the media. Some proofreaders combine their skills with those of an editor, in a publishing house or in journalism, for example.

What changes will there be in the future?

I think that the growth of the internet, and in particular, online web editing, has meant that there's been an increasing amount of information being generated. So, there's going to be a need for proofreaders, especially those with computer and internet literacy.

In the future, I believe proofreaders will have to offer flexibility in terms of proofreading documents online and on disk, as well as the more traditional paper-marking approach.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

In my job, it's probably working to deadlines and sometimes focusing on material which may be rather mundane. It can be fairly solitary work and it requires a fair amount of dedication and, at times, hibernation from the outside world.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

It can be difficult to enter this job unless you're really committed. You can gain contract work, you can work freelance, or you can work in-house for publishers.

What do you like about your job?

I really enjoy 'polishing' a document - identifying the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors and making a complete document out of one that has errors in.

I think it's satisfying to research around the article by making phone calls and emails as necessary and using resources like the internet and dictionaries.

And, I particularly enjoy being master of my own trade, offering a specialised service and skill.

What do you dislike about your job?

Working to deadlines can be challenging and time consuming, and there's no real guarantee that the subject matter will be interesting and stimulating.

What are your ambitions?

My ambitions are to expand my client base, perhaps integrating my French and Italian linguistic skills, and incorporating some editorship within these languages.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

It's very important to have a good general background and an interest in how language works. A love of books, contrary to popular belief, is not essential since a good proofreader is more concerned with the mechanics of language. To be widely read, however, is a bonus and there are opportunities to specialise in particular fields like medicine and biology.

It can be solitary work, so it's important to enjoy working on your own initiative and without supervision.

And if you're planning on going freelance, it's very useful to be commercially minded.

A day in the life

9:00 am - 10:00 am

Initial examination of proofreading task - highlighting gross grammatical and spelling anomalies, and drafting a checklist of points to consider for style and layout, including specific requests and guidelines issued by the author.

10:00 am - 10:15 am

Break - check email and answerphone for messages.

10:15 am - 12:15 pm

Proofread document, checking spellings, grammar, punctuation, style and consistency.

12:15 pm - 1:15 pm

Have lunch and take a walk to get some fresh air and rest my eyes.

1:15 pm - 3:15 pm

Continue with proofreading.

3:15 pm - 3:45 pm

Break - check email and answerphone. Respond as required.

3:45 pm - 5:30 pm

More proofreading. Contact author with queries and to feed back progress. Plan work for the next day.

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