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As a new proofreader, you’re not going to know the answer to every grammar, punctuation, or style issue you come across. You will need to do research and consult many different sources. To help you find the answers as quickly as possible, you’ll need some reference books.
It might feel hard to justify spending money on resources at this stage because you’re not making money yet, but these resources are an investment. They’re not just useful for new proofreaders; you’ll continue to use these resources for your entire career.
Here are the essential resources for proofreaders that I recommend.
Style guides/Style manuals
A style guide/manual is a set of standards for the writing, formatting, and design of a piece of content. The aim of using a style guide or manual is to create consistency within a document or across multiple documents.
Which manual you choose to follow depends on the type of writing (e.g., academic, journalistic, fiction, etc.) and where your client’s audience is based (e.g., American English, British English, etc.).
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition is one of the most used style guides in North America. Whether you need to know how to treat numbers, when to italicize certain terms, how to use hyphens, em dashes, and en dashes, how to format dialogue, when to capitalize a term, or when to use an ellipsis and how to format it, the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) has the answer! The book is approximately $45 or you can sign up for the yearly online subscription for $39.
PRO TIP: You might be able to get free access to CMOS through your library account or college.
The Associated Press Stylebook (AP style) is the style guide used for news or journalistic writing. Like CMOS, the AP Stylebook will help you apply the AP’s rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and word and numeral usage.
If your client’s audience is based in a country that uses British English, then you may wish to familiarize yourself with New Hart’s Rules.
Editing Canadian English is a useful resource if your client’s audience is based in Canada.
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition: My go-to dictionary for American English spelling queries. When I’m working from home, I use the hard copy version. But when I’m out and about the free online version does the job. You can also subscribe and get access to Merriam-Webster Unabridged for $4.95 a month.
Punctuation & grammar books
The best punctuation book, period by June Casagrande: My favorite resource for punctuation queries. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. She explains everything in a detailed but clear manner. The comma section is particularly useful.
Practical Grammar by Maxine Ruvinsky: I used this book at the very beginning of my career as a proofreader to brush up on grammar rules. I LOVED it! Each chapter has exercises to help you apply the rules you’ve just learned. This practice helped me understand the rules better and remember them.
Find the Errors! by Nancy Lobb: Although this book is for students, I think it’s useful to help you brush up on the rules. It focuses on helping you find errors in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, and style.
If you want to add Copyediting to your skill set, The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn is an excellent resource to help you fine tune your skills. It includes exercises and answer keys at the end of each chapter as well as detailed explanations. The newest edition has just been in released in May 2019 so it’s bang up to date. You can also purchase a workbook as a combo or separately.
If you’re looking for a grammar guide that’s a little less stuffy but still full of useful information, check out Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, Random House’s copy chief.
I recommend reading Louise Harnby’s books Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. Her books are for new entrants in the editing field and give a very detailed breakdown of what should go into your business plan and how you can market your proofreading business. I found them extremely useful when I was started out, and I still refer back to them.
If the thought of starting a work-from-home business scares you, check out Work at Home by Caitlin Pyle. Caitlin started proofreading from home after getting brutally fired from her office job. After successfully running her business for several years, she started teaching others how to start their own proofreading businesses through her Proofread Anywhere courses.
Her book Work at Home isn’t strictly about proofreading. It’s about getting into the right mindset to start a business and overcoming the self-doubt and obstacles that stop you from being successful. And it includes a 30-day launch plan so you can start your business with a bang.
Best of all, she’s running a promotion where the book is FREE, all you have to pay is the shipping!
It’s not necessary to buy all of these style guides, dictionaries, and grammar books straight away. To begin with, choose the ones that cover the dialect and type of writing your ideal client uses. You can build up your resource library as time goes on (and as the money starts coming in!).
Continuous learning is a huge part of creating a successful proofreading or editing business. Language changes over time, and it’s our job to keep up with these changes.
Are there any other reference books for proofreaders that you’ve found helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
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