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So you think you can proofread?

Posted on 20th May 2011

As a follow up to a previous blog about advice for people who are thinking of becoming a proofreader, I now have the perfect response for future queries, courtesy of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). If you are seriously thinking about becoming a proofreader or copy editor, check out their article below and give the test a try...

So you think you can proofread?

Many people think proofreading is a bit like stuffing envelopes: anyone can do it. Spot the odd typo here, add a comma there, and that's it. But is proofreading really that simple?

To demonstrate what's actually involved, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) has created a short proofreading test. This is available on the SfEP website, and anyone can try it out. The aim is to enable individuals to test their skills and aptitude, whether they're thinking of becoming a proofreader or are just curious to know how they would fare.

The exercise was designed by Gerard Hill, the SfEP's mentoring and tests director. He says: 'A lot of people are attracted to the idea of earning a living as a proofreader. It seems appealing particularly if you enjoy reading and we've all seen the adverts suggesting that vast amounts of money can be earned doing this type of work. Of course, the reality is often very different.

"Many people are surprised at how detailed and demanding the work is, and not everyone has what it takes to do it well. There are lots of things you need to learn, through training and mentoring, to make you more reliable and efficient, but you also need a natural aptitude and a well-stocked brain. And most professional proofreaders will tell you that it's very difficult to make your fortune by following this career."

The SfEP test is multiple-choice and based on a piece of text specially written for the purpose. It is divided into sections; in each section you can delete, insert, substitute or query text, choosing from a short list of options at the foot of the page. At the end of the test you can find out how you did, and then you can either try again or see exactly what you got right or wrong.

Gerard says:"This is quite a basic test. In real life, most proofreaders deal with many more issues, such as images, tables, headings, breaks, footnotes, endnotes, reference lists, and foreign languages, to name but a few. And this test is just one page. Proofreaders have to maintain their standard of work over many pages sometimes many hundreds and they're working against the clock and the calendar."

Written by Kate Haigh.