How to Effectively Edit and Proofread Your Own Work
There are plenty of people out there who will say that you should never edit or proofread your own work. This is true and false. Editing and proofreading your own copy are valuable skills that can help whatever you write become more appealing to editors and others who may buy your work. However, you can also improve your writing skills dramatically when you edit and proofread your own work because you start to see the errors you make, see words that you always misspell, and learn to correct yourself as you write.

So, editing or proofreading your own work is never going to be easy. Most mistakes are not made consciously. We get into the habit of spelling a word a certain way, even if it is wrong. Sometimes we write the way that we would speak, and that way is not always grammatically correct. When we edit or proofread our work, we do not see those errors, so we do not correct them.

Another problem with editing or proofreading your own work is that it is hard to truly read what is on the paper because it is already ingrained in your memory. Rather than reading the print, you are reciting the text from your mind. What you read as being on the paper and what is actually there can be two very different things.

The good news is that there are steps that you can take to effectively edit or proofread your own work. In fact, they do not differ that much from the steps you would take to copyedit and proofread someone else's work. They just take a little more time and a slightly better trained eye.

Eleven Steps to Effectively Copyedit Your Own Work.

The following eleven steps will help you to be a more effective editor when you are editing something that you wrote:

  1. Read your work aloud and read very slowly.
  2. Read the work from front to back, and then back to front to catch errors.
  3. Tape record yourself as you slowly read aloud, and then listen to the recording in small sections. Just listen the first time so that you can hear things that do not sound quite right, such as sentence structure, wording, and phrasing. Then follow along by reading the corresponding text. When you record yourself, make sure you speak slower than normal.
  4. Write down what the work is about, and then create questions about the content as a whole. Make sure your text answers your own questions.
  5. Write down questions at the beginning of each section, and then make sure those questions are answered.
  6. Read your style guide! It will help you catch grammatical errors you might otherwise not catch because they are a habit.
  7. Check and double-check all facts within the work. Even if you think you know something as fact, check it anyway. A copyeditor would second-guess you on a lot of things. Second-guess yourself even more.
  8. Make sure the work flows by making sure your sentence structure's lengths are varied. Take the time to look for this.
  9. Count how many times you use certain words, such as "and." This will help you to achieve a better flow.
  10. Get a dictionary and keep it handy. Every once in a while as you read, pick a word and spot check to make sure it's spelled correctly. It may help you catch an error.
  11. After you have done all you can with it, ask someone else to look it over. It's always best to have an editing partner. Find another writer who will exchange editing with you.

How to Proofread Your Own Work

When you proofread your own work, tape record it as you would when you are editing. Read it from front to back, then back to front paying extra attention to every word as you read.

Check the layout and typeset of your work. It may be hard to even see trapped white space because as you look at the text, you are reading what you've committed to memory rather than the words themselves. You may not actually see what is right in front of you.

Double-check your graphics and captions. Read a bit of text to make sure that the graphics match it, and take the time to actually read the captions. Take it from firsthand experience; it's easy to be so proud that you completed the body of work, that you view it as a perfect masterpiece and nothing less. Your eyes are beaming with pride, not scanning for errors. When you are sure that you have found all the errors, ask someone else to look it over. It is the only way to be 100% sure your work is proofread correctly.

Should You Use a Style Guide?

Definitely! Style guides are something you cannot do without in any type of editing or proofreading. It doesn't matter if you are proofreading or editing your own work or someone else's. Besides, keeping a style guide by your side while you proofread or edit your own work may be even more important, especially if you read through it before you begin. It will help you catch errors and discrepancies that you might never find on your own.

Should You Use a Style Sheet?

Again, definitely. How else are you going to be consistent? Jot down things such as commonly misspelled words within your text. You can even include habits you picked up, such as writing too many long sentences without breaking them up with shorter ones.

Your style sheet will help you be consistent and it will also help improve future writing skills. The reason is this, when you are finished editing or proofreading your work, the style sheet will not only be applicable to that body of work, it will also reveal words that you are in the habit of spelling incorrectly and grammatical errors that you've been making for years. You can learn and improve your writing skills just from your style sheet alone, so definitely use it!

Should You Use Proofreaders' Marks?

That is totally up to you , but it is best if you do. Think of it this way. If you decide to let someone else copyedit or proofread your work, the marks you have used are universal, so it is easy for them to see what you've done. In addition, if you ever copyedit or proofread someone else's work, you'll be in the habit of using marks that they understand. You won't have to explain every little mark you put in their text. Learning how to use proofreaders' marks now will only benefit you later.

In Summary

Copyediting or proofreading your own work will take you more time and effort than someone else's work will, but it can be done. Remember to take your time and to question your own writing even more than another editor or proofreader would. Even though you are saving yourself the expense of hiring a copyeditor or proofreader, it is a good idea to still have someone else look it over when you're finished. Because your work is embedded in your mind, it may not be possible to completely read what's on the paper and catch all errors and discrepancies in the text.
Copyediting and Proofreading as a Career

Working as either a proofreader or a copyeditor can be very lucrative. However, as with any job you're going to have in your life, knowing the standard income involved can serve as a guide and decision-influencing tool for you. It also serves as useful knowledge for you when approaching potential employers or clients. Being educated about the requirements of the job as well as the benefits, such as pay, gives you the ammunition you need to be successful.

Education Requirements

The educational requirements for both proofreaders and copyeditors are generally the same. If you scan your local newspaper or look online for companies seeking proofreaders or copyeditors, you'll notice that most are looking for candidates who possess four-year college degrees, usually in English or Journalism.

Don't be discouraged if you do not have that degree. Don't feel like you absolutely have to obtain it to work as a copyeditor or proofreader either! Listen. Degrees definitely give you a head start in your career. They not only prove that you have the education to do the job, they also prove you have the commitment to follow through on something. That said, while a degree is a foot in the door, it is not always mandatory for you to be a proofreader or copyeditor, even if the "help wanted" ads claim differently.

Here's a fact for you. Nothing takes the place of being able to do the job and do it well. If you have excellent communication skills, can conduct yourself in a professional manner, and are able to prove that you are a high quality proofreader or copyeditor, then you can obtain employment in these two fields, even if you've never spent a day in college. Be warned that it might not be as easy as if you had the degree, but it can be done nonetheless.

Skill Requirements

In addition to knowing how to proofread or copyedit, there are other skills that you must possess before you seek employment as a copyeditor or proofreader.

These skills are as follows:

  • Mastery of the English language (or whatever language is applicable for the job). This should be understood, but if you can't speak the language well, you're not going to be an effective proofreader or copyeditor.
  • Above average spelling skills. If you are bad at spelling, you can't be an effective proofreader or copyeditor. That's just a fact. If you are not an above average speller, however, consider taking a course on spelling or simply start reading the dictionary. You'll be amazed how easily you can turn your spelling skills around!
  • Sentence structure. A part of language skills.
  • Research skills. You must be effective at completing research when you're a copyeditor. Learn your way around your library and Google. It will pay off!
  • Typesetting and page layout for proofreaders.

Throughout the rest of this section, we're going to discuss different career paths that you can take as a proofreader or copyeditor. It's important that you keep in mind that these career paths can also be used as stepping stones for you to work into the proofreading or copyediting job that you actually want.

Freelancing as a Copyeditor or Proofreader

Freelancing may also be called working for yourself or owning your own company. Since this is most people's dream, you should know right now that working as a proofreader or copyeditor is an excellent way to make that dream come true.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Proofreading and Copyediting course?

In addition, freelancing as a proofreader or copyeditor is an excellent way to bypass that required degree if you don't have it. The only thing that can replace the mandatory degree in a potential employer's eyes is actual experience . Freelancing to build a portfolio can possibly get you the job you want a few years down the road when you can prove your abilities to employers. Just remember, not all companies are going to let you substitute experience for education, but a good percentage will if you present yourself professionally and have a stellar portfolio and great references.

As a freelancer, a company or private person will hire you to do work for them on a contract basis. The contract may be written out in very specific terms, it may be generalized as in an e-mail, or it may be a verbal agreement. However, you must remember this. You are not an employee; you are an independent contractor. This means that you are responsible for your own taxes, insurance, and more. You do not get any benefits or guarantee of future work outside of the terms of the contract.

Who Will Hire You

Some companies routinely hire freelancers to ease the workload on their employees, while other companies depend on freelancers to do all of their proofreading or copyediting. On the other hand, private people also are constantly seeking out proofreaders and copyeditors.

These types of people include, but are not limited to:

  • College students.
  • Other self-employed people.
  • Other proofreaders and copyeditors who wish to outsource their work.

In short, all types of companies and many individuals seek out the expertise of a copyeditor or proofreader at one time or another. It's not hard to find work, even just starting out, once you learn where to look.

You don't have to quit your day job or devote a lot of time to proofreading or copyediting to start freelancing. Better yet, you don't have to spend countless hours looking for work or worry about not having enough experience to get a job. This is the age of the Internet. The Internet makes it easy and affordable for you to start working as a proofreader or copyeditor.

Many websites in existence specialize in matching up employers and proofreaders or copyeditors for freelance work. They are your best bet for finding work when you don't have the education requirements or experience to obtain a job (yet) as a proofreader or copyeditor. These sites post jobs for employers who are looking for proofreaders or editors.

Freelancers like you can visit these sites as often as you like and bid on the different jobs. Some sites allow you to create a profile to advertise your services also. If an employer likes your bid (including price) and believes in your capability to do the job efficiently and well, they will then hire you.

Websites like these are great when you're first starting out because usually no experience is required to be able to get an assignment. You should be able to land your first assignment quickly if you stay active in your pursuit of an assignment. Getting work requires consistency and persistence, not a lot of time.

What You Should Expect

When dealing with these websites, there are a few things you can expect that almost all of them will have in common.

You can expect:

  • To pay a membership fee. These fees may be charged monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or annually, but usually are under $200 per year. While this may sound like a lot of money right now, you'll earn it back and make profit if you're good at what you do.
  • Complete invoicing and payment solutions. The great thing about most of these sites is that they give you the tools you need to invoice your clients and collect payment.
  • To pay a fee per project. Since these sites offer you the ability to find work, complete the work, then to invoice and collect payment through them, they also charge an invoicing fee per project. This comes out of the money you make from each project, so you never have to worry about paying it up front. It's just important that you know that this is standard.
  • Escrow. The majority of these sites offer escrow services so that you can rest assured that you'll be paid for the job you'll do.
  • Reliable payment methods. Once the client pays you through the site, how will you get your money from the site to your bank account? Some websites offer direct deposit, check by mail, or transfer to PayPal. Some charge for the different payment methods as well.
What You Can Gain
  • To be able to reasonably obtain freelancing jobs regardless of experience. Needless to say, experience pays. When you don't have experience or not a lot of it, you can always find work by working for less money. Some employers are looking for a low price and high quality. In fact, many online employers today SEEK out exactly that. This is to your benefit. While you may work for less than fair market price in the beginning, the experience you're gaining is worth the temporary pay cut.
  • To bid on the jobs you want. A high percentage of these sites will require that you place a bid and write a proposal for the jobs that you're interested in. You'll bid on the price that you'll do the job for and also write a proposal to introduce yourself to the employer. Some offer blind bids, where other freelancers can't see your bid, and others allow everyone to view all bids for a job. Either way, this allows you to charge a price that you're comfortable with and to market yourself to the employer. The perfect time to show off your skills is when you write that proposal. You're a proofreader or copyeditor, so make sure it's perfect.
  • Experience. Let's say it again because it's important. The more experience you have, the more you can charge as a freelancer.
  • Steady work. If you do a good job for an employer, they might ask you to do more work for them. If you build up a solid customer base, you may no longer need these types of websites anymore, or you might only use them to make up for slow times with your regular customers.
  • References. If you ever want to obtain employment with a company or with another freelance employer, these references will help you. References let a potential employer know that you can do the job well. That's all they want.
Top Sites to Find Freelance Work

There are literally thousands of sites that will offer to help you find freelance work. Some of those sites are more effective than others. In addition, the quality of employers and pay varies with different sites. There are some sites whose employers will only want to pay a maximum of $20 regardless of the project scope or time involved; there are others that will pay closer to fair market value regardless of your experience.

Of course, once you build a small portfolio and can prove your skills, you can also seek out work on Craigslist and other sites, as well as distribute your resume to potential clients.

Pay for Freelance Proofreaders

It's critical that you remember the pay scales listed below are for experienced proofreaders. The amount of money you can get for comparable work with little or no experience may be less than what is listed. On the flipside, you may make a lot more, even with no experience. The glory of getting jobs online with freelance sites is that some employers may only need one page proofread. The better freelancing sites have minimum invoice amounts that you'll have to charge, regardless of fair market price.

Below is a table that provides a guide for how much you should charge for freelancing as a proofreader. The information was taken from Writers Market 2008.


Per hour: $25 high; $18 low; $20 average

Magazines and trade journals

Per hour: $75 high; $20 low; $34 average

Book publishing

Per hour: $75 high; $15 low; $30 average

Book publishing

Per page: $5 high; $2 low; $3.09 average

Pay for Freelance Copyeditors

It's critical that you remember the pay scales listed below are for experienced copyeditors. The amount of money you can get for comparable work with little or no experience may be less than what is listed. On the flipside, you may make a lot more, even with no experience. The glory of getting jobs online with freelance sites is that some employers may only need one page edited. The better freelancing sites have minimum invoice amounts that you'll have to charge, regardless of fair market price.

Below is a table that provides a guide for how much you should charge for freelancing as a copyeditor. The information was taken from Writers Market 2008.


Per hour: $35 high; $25 low; $30 average

Magazines and trade journals

Per hour: $75 high; $25 low; $40 average

Book publishing

Per hour: $75 high; $20 low; $34 average

Book publishing

Per page: $6 high; $1 low; $4.10 average

Working for a Company as a Proofreader or Copyeditor

Most companies require a four-year college degree, usually in English or Journalism. However, some companies will accept a solid track record of experience and success in place of education. Make sure that you build a solid portfolio of past work and references when working toward a position with any company.