Proof-reading is one of those editorial jobs that you can definitely do yourself if you know what to do. That doesn’t mean it is an easy job for you to do yourself, but it is possible.

Sometimes, publishing consultants suggest that you can use proof-reading as a substitute for editing, however, proof-reading is not editing and you will need to check with your proof-reader before you assume they will do the job of an editor while being hired (not to mention paid) as a proof-reader.

What is proof-reading?

Proof-reading is a detailed check of the text after it has been edited, formatted or designed. The proof-reader can do a number of jobs depending on the format of the book.

If the book is for print or PDF, the proof-reader will check that the there are no spelling mistakes, that the style set by the editor has been applied throughout, that the headings are consistent in terms of capitalisation and that headings and other text styles are consistent in terms of font size and style. List styles will also be checked to avoid, for example, one bullet list having full-stops at the end of each line and another not.

proofreading marks

The proof-reader will also ‘fit’ the text to the page, ensuring that half-lines or single words do not run over from one page to

another. They may also edit to remove single words at the end of paragraphs.

Proof-readers and editors use a special set of short-hand marks that are understood by everyone in the publishing industry. They have been developed for speed, brevity and clarity. You don’t need to use them all but some are worth learning as most pages are tight on space and the coding marks make it possible to record changes in an organised and neat way. If the book is to be published on Kindle or in another electronic format, the proof-reader will mainly check for text errors and style consistency with headings and other text formatting, such as bullet or numbered lists. Clearly, there is no point ‘fitting’ for electronic eBook reading devices as font sizes set by the owner of the device will affect how the text looks on the ‘page’.

How can you proof-read your own text?

If you want to proof-read your own text, you can do so very simply. The easiest way to ensure you do not miss any mistakes is to use an opaque ruler or slip of paper to isolate the copy so you only read one line at a time.

If you do this, it prevents your eye from jumping ahead and keeps your focus on specific words. The other trick you can use is to read the text backwards, however, while you may spot spelling errors this way, you may not notice if the wrong word has been used, for example a plural of a word rather than the singular (e.g. He had several meal that day’ rather than ‘He had several meals that day’) or if the wrong word has been use, the most common example of this is ‘you’ instead of ‘your’ or using the incorrect ‘their’, ‘there’ or ‘they’re’.

Proof-reading can be done relatively quickly, but you may need to take regular breaks (every 30-60 minutes) so that you stay alert and don’t get bored and therefore miss errors!

If you have an editorial style sheet (a style sheet records decisions made by the editor such as how dates are written, what kind of endings are used i.e. -ise or -ize, and how names are spelled or capitalised etc.) you can easily check for mistakes.


The best way to proof-read a book is to do it in a short period of time – in one or two days, if possible – as this will ensure that you remember what happened at the beginning of the book when you get to the end!

Reasons for hiring a proof-reader

If you don’t want to proof-read your own book – and there are good reasons not to – you should find it a relatively inexpensive and fast editorial job to get done. The main advantage of getting someone else to proof-read your book is that they will spot errors that you don’t.

If you have read your book repeatedly in the process of revising it, and if you haven’t had it copy-edited, there will be errors that you simply won’t see because you have read the book too often. As a rule, if you write something, you need to get someone else to check it because you are too close to your own work to see the errors you have made.

My advice is that even if you do not choose to hire a copy-editor (although I recommend that you do) that you definitely hire a proof-reader. It will be worth the investment.

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Deborah Taylor
Deborah Taylor

Hi, I'm Deborah Taylor and I'm a publishing consultant and book-writing mentor. I work with established business owners who want to share their message by writing a book but are struggling to get started (or finished). I help them write, publish and launch a stand-out, attention-grabbing book that will raise their profile, reach more of their ideal clients and grow their business. I am a trained editor with over 15 years' publishing experience with major blue-chip UK publishing companies such as Hodder & Stoughton, BBC Books, Cassell and Pearson. I have produced books on every subject under the sun and with professinals and experts from a wide range of professions, from chefs and gardeners to life coaches and career consultants. I would love to help you write a book you love and that will raise your profile, attract new clients and bring you exciting new business opportunities.