Posted by: wordsmithsuk | April 6, 2010

The role of the proofreader

Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process. The proofreader’s job is to read a proof copy of a text and detect and mark up any errors or queries regarding grammar, spelling, punctuation, style or accuracy. Proofreading may be done either against an original document or ‘blind’ (ie without checking against another source).

In an ideal world, you should proofread only after all content revisions are completed. It is the copyeditor’s job to make sure that the structure and content of the document are as good as they can be. However, things are seldom so clear-cut in reality, and editorial changes are sometimes made right up until the last stage before printing.

Although proofreading and copy editing are two separate processes, each with its own objectives and responsibilities,  there is often considerable overlap between the roles. Where this is the case, it is essential for people to know whether they are proofreading or copy editing at each particular stage. It’s important to understand that both tasks cannot be done effectively at the same time.

Here are some of the main skills and techniques that proofreaders require to do their work. Proofreaders need to:

  • Scrutinise documents in minute detail in order to identify errors
  • Identify the common proof errors that are often missed by writers and editors
  • Use a structured proofreading process to ensure error-free copy
  • Mark up copy using the classic proofreading correction marks
  • Proofread long documents patiently and without losing concentration
  • Spot and correct mistakes in grammar and punctuation
  • Spot and correct errors in capitalisation and hyphenation
  • Recognise a wide range of words and identify when they are used or spelled wrongly
  • Use agreed (or house) style rules to ensure consistency
  • Judge when to change something and when to leave it as it is
  • Query decisively and effectively when there may be an ambiguity in the text.

Do you have any tips or techniques for effective proofreading? What are your proofreading horror stories?

Look back here for more posts on the role of the proofreader and how to proofread.

Our audio book ‘Effective Business Writing for Success’ has helped many people to develop their skills in both proofreading and writing. It is fun, easy to use and not at all expensive! Look at our website for more information.



  1. Excellent summary of the responsibilities of a proofreader! For a daily dose of writing (and proofreading) errors made by the writers and editors working for Internet giant Yahoo!, check out Terribly Write. — Laura (at

    • Hi Laura

      Thanks for your comment on the proofreading post. And thanks too for the link to your blog. Here are some very valuable examples of what can happen if writers don’t take care.

  2. Very good suggestions for proofreading. I would add only the advantage of reading copy out loud (it doesn’t have to be in stentorian tones) and very slowly. Otherwise, it’s too easy to misread ANY for AND or vice versa, along with similar confusions.

  3. Thanks Judi for this great suggestion.

    I do list this approach on my other post about proofreading
    – but have never actually done it myself when proofreading!

    I will check your blog which looks very interesting.

  4. I am new story writer and want to published my books. In this regard please suggest me how I should proceed.

  5. It’s tough getting your work published. Do you have a blog? – that’s the easiest place to start! Then there’s lots of good advice on the net – for example

    Good luck – enjoy your writing and don’t give up!

  6. What is an example of a “structured proofreading process?”

  7. Good work

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