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Proofreader Job Description, Career as a Proofreader, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school plus training

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Have you ever noticed that books and magazines have few, if any, mistakes? It isn't by luck. It is the job of proofreaders to catch mistakes before anything is printed and distributed to the public. Proofreaders are involved at several stages in the process of turning manuscript into printed pages. Usually all the text and graphics for any newspaper, magazine, or book project are reviewed several times by proofreaders who work for publishers.

Once a manuscript, sometimes called "copy," is produced, proofreaders read through it to find mistakes before the job is typeset. Typesetters provide "proofs"—usually referred to as "galleys"—of the manuscript as it appears after it has been set. It is the proofreader's responsibility to reads the galleys line for line against the original copy in order to catch "typos," or typographical errors. In addition, the proofreader checks that the typesetter or desktop publisher has used the same type sizes, fonts, and spacing as marked on the copy so that each page looks the way the page designer planned it. Using special marks that are standard and used throughout the printing and publishing industries, proofreaders also find and correct errors in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization at the galley stage.

Copies of the proofs are sometimes given to authors, editors, and others who read them for accuracy and for any further revisions. Everyone's corrections and changes are marked on a "master set" of proofs, which may also be checked by the designer. This set is returned to the typesetter for corrections, which are then checked by proofreaders again. Photos, charts, tables, and page numbers must also be checked for accuracy and proper placement before the final pages are printed.

Education and Training Requirements

Proofreaders should have a high school education or the equivalent and be good at spelling, punctuation, grammar, and mathematics. Proofreading calls for slow and careful reading. Sometimes publishers require proofreaders who are familiar with a technical language, such as medical terms or a foreign language, to work on a specific job. Generally, however, proofreaders are trained on the job.

Applicants for a proofreading job often have to take an aptitude test. This test covers their knowledge of spelling, grammar, and punctuation and their skill in finding errors. Candidates should learn the proofreader's symbols before taking the test. These symbols can be found in the back of a dictionary or in any good style manual. Proofreaders must have good eyesight, even if they must wear glasses.

Getting the Job

Prospective proofreaders can apply directly to a local newspaper, magazine, publishing house, print shop, or typesetting firm for employment. Many proofreaders belong to unions, but they usually need to have some experience before joining one.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement depends on experience, education, and the location of the job. Proofreaders who work for a publisher may advance into other jobs such as copy editor or production assistant. In the typesetting and printing business, technology is rapidly changing the proofreader's role. With new methods of typesetting and printing, proofreaders have a variety of duties in addition to reading the copy. A typesetter's proofreader, for instance, may also operate a machine to make corrections. The duties depend on the size of the business and how modern it is.

Technological changes have been occurring throughout the publishing industry at a rapid pace, and now most computer programs can identify typographical and grammatical errors. Because no machine has completely replaced people who find errors in both copy and style, there will always be a need for proofreaders. Despite this fact, the Occupation Information Network predicts that job opportunities for proofreaders will decline through the year 2014.

Working Conditions

Proofreaders generally work forty hours a week, but those covered by union contracts may work between thirty-five and thirty-eight hours a week. Sometimes proofreaders work on weekends and at night when they have to finish rush jobs. All union proofreaders are paid time and a half or double time for extra hours.

Proofreaders typically work in pleasant, air-conditioned offices. They often read for many hours at a time and may suffer from eyestrain. Proofreaders with other duties have greater variety in their work. Freelance proofreaders, who work on a job-by-job basis, can set their own hours.

Where to Go for More Information

Communications Workers of America
501 Third St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2797
(202) 434-1100

Editorial Freelancers Association
71 W. 23rd St., Ste. 1910
New York, NY 10010-4181
(866) 929-5400

Earnings and Benefits

Skilled union proofreaders earn between $12 and $25 per hour. According to the Occupational Employment Statistics survey of May 2004, the median annual salary for a proofreader was $25,220. Experienced proofreaders earn more. Those who work night shifts earn higher wages than day workers. Union benefits include health insurance, paid vacations, and pension plans. Benefits for nonunion workers vary with the employer. Freelancers must provide their own benefits.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts