How to find a good proofreader (and avoid the bad ones!)

I am often followed on Twitter by editors, proofreaders, and companies that offer these services. Sometimes I follow them back, sometimes I don’t, depending on the individual profile.

Today I was followed by a company whose bio claims they offer the ‘best online editing and proofreading services’. Their tweets seemed to be answering many interesting questions, and they quoted what looked like erudite articles. I clicked on their website, which also looked smart and well-produced. Next, I went to their ‘Services’ tab and read a small section selected at random―and guess what? I found at least 7 errors. Yes, that’s right, 7. I didn’t read any further.

Printer's error

Would you like to see what I found? Here is a section, in italics, from their website. My remarks are in bold in brackets:

‘Proofreading aims to correct all errors in grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling in a manuscript. If you wish to see whether the final version of your document contains any minor errors, you need a proofreading service, no (they mean ‘not’) an editing service.

Editing necessitate (an ‘s’ is needed here) more of an extra effort from an editor than does a proofreading service.

Editing will mostly make some fundamental changes to improve the standard of the academic writing of the document. As a consequence of this fact, editors will sometimes re-write (‘rewrite’ needs no hyphen) some parts of your document. This is especially important, since an editing service aims to guarantee that the purposes of the document are met.

glam proofreader

Editing services will also check whether the document has any grammatical, spelling, or punctuation mistakes to make sure the document is error-free. Thus, an editor will correct all errors in in (repetition of the word ‘in’) grammar, typography, punctuation, syntax, and spelling in a manuscript. 

In this sense, and (they mean ‘an’) editing service covers the proofreading service as well. However, strictly speaking, proofreading of your document is the last stage before it is delivered to you. Therefore, even if the editor has corrected many of the errors that a proofreader would correct, the document must still pass through this last stage—proofreading. Whether your document is a dissertation or a masters (should be ‘master’s’) thesis or a term document or business document, to make it shine, we mostly advice (should be ‘advise’) our clients to opt for the editing service instead of the mere proofreading.’

Leaving aside the occasional superfluous or missing definite and indefinite articles, and tautology, this is hardly a good advertisement for their services!

angry reader

So – how do you find a proofreader, when there are so many to choose from on social media, and you really want to feel comfortable about paying money to someone you don’t know?

  • Ask for recommendations from writers with whom you’ve interacted, and who seem to be people of sound judgement
  • Contact the proofreaders and ask if they will correct a short sample free of charge, so that you can see how they work, and if you like it. Any proofreader worth their salt will do this
  • Ask for references – these should be from people whom you can actually contact, not just random quotes (such as ‘Very pleased’ – A. Smith, Birmingham)!
  • If you’re considering whether or not to employ a particular proofreader, you could always look at the ‘Look Inside’ pages of a book they’ve worked on, on Amazon. It’ll give you an idea of what they do

One last point – I recently worked with a client who had self-published her book, after running it through Grammarly. She then received quite a few reviews saying that there were many punctuation and grammar errors. So she ran it through Grammarly again, checking for (her words) ‘run-on sentences, punctuation, spelling errors’. Result – more negative reviews. She decided to give the book to me for proofreading. I made over 1,000 corrections. I would not recommend that anyone rely on Grammarly!

Happy writing!

happy author 4


16 thoughts on “How to find a good proofreader (and avoid the bad ones!)

  1. Hello Julia. Reading that, my guess is that it was written by someone whose first language is not English (they leave out ‘the’ before one word where it should be, and the necessitate, needing an ‘s’, also sounds like they’re more comfortable with another language). Nevertheless, if you offer to proofread in a language, you should be proficient in it. I went to a talk on editing/proofreading recently, where the girl said it’s perfectly acceptable for people to ask for 50% up front! She was a member of the Society of Proofreaders, who in my opinion are a bunch of opinionated petty-minded bores.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, that’s them told, eh, Geoff! I’ve never been to a meeting of the SfEP, and would have liked to join, but for the fact that they charge increasingly large sums for one to progress through their ranks. Now, I know that a fee must be charged for admin and marking an exam, of course it must, but the more I read, the more it smacked of paying to be able to say that you were a member. Didn’t feel right, somehow.
    And yes, as I said, the passage was missing some definite and indefinite articles, definitely sounded as if it was written by someone for whom English wasn’t their first language.
    If anyone asks me outright, I’ll tell them the name of the company.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Julia. Years ago I joined the Sfep, hoping it might be a way to get proofreading work (it wasn’t). One member was nice and chatty and friendly, but all his promises of easy to find work were nonsense. I went to one meeting and found them to be awful, petty-minded bores, who all argued with each other. Best avoided, and it sounds as if they’re now greedy too.


    • Years ago I joined the Sfep in the hope of getting work. One member was very nice and chatty, saying how they could get me work easily. Total rubbish, but he was a nice friendly man. Then I went to one meeting and they all seemed to be barking mad, arguing with each other, weird and petty minded.


      • My view is this – I can pass any exam they care to throw at me, and am happy to pay an admin fee, but when I see people advertising in their Twitter bios that they are at the top of the ladder in membership of this organisation, I just think, yes, they paid to be there.


  3. I can’t believe it, Julia. They should be quite ashamed of their poor quality work. Imagine the number of errors they’d make if trusted with a completed novel…


  4. I know! Honestly, that’s the only part of the website that I read. It looks good at first glance, they’ve obviously taken a lot of trouble with it. The thing is, someone whose grammar and punctuation isn’t that good could easily be taken in by them and pay them a lot of money.


  5. Hi Julia,
    Great article. Okay I’m really curious. You said in one of your replies above that if anyone asked you’d tell them the name of the company outright, so I’m asking. What company was it?
    Thank you. 🙂


  6. It’s so scary how people can set up as ‘profressionals’ so easily.
    I’ve followed you for some time on Twitter and would certainly approach you first if I ever get to that finished point 🖌🖌


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