What does a proofreader do?

photo of woman looking on computer

What does a proofreader do?


To a layman the term ‘proofreading’ usually suggests the exercise of reading through the proofs of a publication or document to check the spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Proofs can be a read through line by line, either against a copy-edited typescript if there is one, or blind (or cold) without reference to any other copy. Proofreading traditionally was checking printed paper copy but increasingly proofreading is completed (digitally) on screen and files returned by email.

But there is so much more involved in proofreading. The proofreader will normally:

  • ensure consistent styles of spelling, punctuation, hyphenation and capitalization are followed
  • check page numbers are consecutive
  • check page running headlines and footlines are correct
  • ensure table and figure captions are relevant and match text references to them
  • check or insert page cross-references in the text and table of contents
  • watch for poor end-of-line word breaks that might cause confusion or offence, e.g. ther-apist (not the-rapist) and ana-lyst (not anal-yst)
  • check footnotes or endnotes to the text
  • check works cited in text to the references or bibliography section
  • eliminate or alert author to ‘widows’ (short last line of a paragraph at the top of a page) and ‘orphans’ (short first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page)
  • watch for inconsistent style and layout or material that may have been omitted
  • raise queries with the author, such as missing references or instances of cited references at the end of the document or book that do not match those in the text for spelling of authors’ names, date of publication, etc.
  • collate author’s answers to queries and late corrections where engaged to do so.

However, the proofreader does not handle the following as part of the proofread:

  • copy-editing
  • copyright permissions
  • indexing (but the proofreader may be asked to proofread the index as opposed to compiling it)
  • literary appraisal or criticism
  • page design and layout
  • rewriting.

The proofreader is usually the last line of defence to check your document or publication for accuracy and consistency before publishing or circulation. Do not waste the opportunity.