5 Must-Have Attributes of a Good Proofreader

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What Makes a Good Proofreader?

Proofreader friend: (noun) the member of a group always charged with proofreading everyone else’s work; almost daily this person hears, “Hey, can you just proofread this real quick?”

Everyone has that friend or colleague who is the go-to proofreader. You know the type: can spot a comma error before even reading the e-mail, sends a paper back with at least eighty “suggestions” for revision. Most of these expert proofreaders blessed with the gift of an eye for error have a particular set of skills that allow them to become that friend. 

Although these skills are honed and practiced over many years, almost anyone can work to acquire them over time. If you consider yourself a “bad” or “lazy” editor, you probably don’t have (or don't realize you have) the attributes of an effective and efficient proofreader. Proofreader friends and proofreading services exist for this reason: not everyone is wired to be a proofreader.

A whole field of employment is centered and dependent upon people being “bad” proofreaders. When looking for a proofreader, or trying to shape oneself into a better—or even professional—proofreader, the following skills are a must!

#1. Knowledge of English grammar and structure rules. 

This might seem obvious, but as any English speaker knows, the language has a plethora of rules to follow for proper writing and speaking, with each rule having several exceptions (i before e, except after c, etc.). A proofreader need not be an English Ph.D. to know all of these rules, though; this person typically did, however, pay attention in elementary and intermediate school English language arts lessons.

People learn and practice basic rules of English grammar and structure over time; it is very difficult to take a crash course in this subject. Most proofreaders have a knack or innate ability to spot errors and fix them. Not only this, though, proofreaders also are able to explain what exactly the error is, what the proper rule is, and how to fix it. One may be able to write properly on his or her own, but that does not necessarily make one a good proofreader.

#2. Avid readers and writers. 

One will scarce find a proofreader who does not read and write regularly—and write with precision. This is why English majors tend to have more efficient editing skills: they read and write for four or more years. But which is more important? Suffice it to say that not all writers are good proofreaders (which is why they hire editors and proofreaders).

Reading and Proofreading
Good proofreaders are frequently also avid readers.

Professional proofreaders read more than they write on a day-to-day basis, as that is their only job: to read what others have written and find errors. The key to honing proofreading skills is exposure to the language. This constant exposure to and practice of English will hone anyone’s grammar usage quite quickly!

#3. Detail-oriented and a passion for accuracy. 

To find every minute error in any document requires a great deal of attention to detail. When editing a document, every word, every sentence, must be read carefully and usually more than once. The proofreader also pays attention to details in all aspects of life, not just writing. Proofreaders are all too often perfectionists with a nonnegotiable need and desire for accuracy. This person easily finds and corrects the slightest mistake or error.

#4. Patience, patience, and more patience. 

To scour over a paper—especially a longer one like a dissertation or even a book—takes the patience of a saint. Rushing through a revision will almost always lead to errors missed, typographical mistakes, and possibly even more mistakes than when you started from adding in new information.

Proofreading Patience
Proofreading requires a huge amount of patience.

Patience is especially important when proofreading a paper with several, repeated errors. To avoid frustration and borderline agony, the proofreader must be able to carry on despite frequent run-on sentences and comma splices. So when the proofreading friend takes what seems like an eternity to edit a paper, now you know why. 

#5. Deep familiarity with style guides. 

MLA, APA, Chicago Manual style—who has time to memorize all of these?! The expert proofreader is able to spot and correct errors in at least two different styles. These style guides are lengthy, sometimes similar, and easily confused for one another. Not to the proofreader, though—these guidelines are stored in the memory bank, available for usage at any time. 


As is obvious, proofreaders are much more than just the grammar police; proofreading takes patience, passion, and knowledge of many different areas. Proofreaders must know how to explain an error and make suggestions for revision. They have to be able to sit with a document for long periods of time without agitation or frustration.

Patience and attention to detail are the main reasons why more people are not proofreaders: they have the grammar skills, and maybe even know about style guides, but do not possess the other skills. When looking for a proofreader, look for these skills in the person. If you have all of these skills, why not use them to make a bit of extra cash?

Post by Online English Editor.  

Online English Editor provides editing and proofreading services to academics, students and professionals.