There are two very different types of proofreading — general proofreading and transcript proofreading. Just because you’re good at one type doesn’t mean you’re automatically good at or qualified to be the other.  So what’s the difference between both and how do you know which one’s right for you?

Listen in to find out what the differences are, how much money you can make, and the pros and cons to general and transcript proofreading.

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Intro: This is The Proofreading Business podcast with Elizabeth Wiegner. For more, visit TheProofreadingBusinessCoach.com

Elizabeth Wiegner: Did you know that there are two types of proofreading? The most common one, the one we think about the most is general proofreading, and that includes proofreading things like books, websites, blog posts, college papers, your mom’s letters. That’s general proofreading.

It’s the one you most think of often because most of us, if we’re going to think of even just a type of proofreading beyond general proofreading is we think of proofreading books. And that makes sense because if there’s things that proofreaders love it’s spelling, grammar, making things look really good, and reading books.

And so of course getting paid to proofread books sounds like a dream job, and it is because you get -- instead of going to Barnes & Noble and buying a book off a shelf, you actually get paid to read the book, proofread it, and make it look amazing for the author. It’s what I started out doing. I actually started out proofreading books and proofreading college papers and expanded from there. So when you think of proofreading, that’s the most common one.

To give you a more succinct way of what general proofreading is, it’s essentially any type of content where the writer has direct control over the words on a page as opposed to something like if you’re reading the speaker notes here for this podcast, that’s what I’m saying.

And if you’re going through and proofreading that, you couldn’t change things up a lot because the point of the podcast notes is for you to read exactly what was said during the podcast. And so you couldn’t change it up a lot, whereas in a book or a blog post or an email, you can change things up a little bit, still fit it within what the author wants to say, but still make them grammatically correct, make everything flow smoothly, not so many starts and stops like you have when you’re speaking, like I am speaking here on a podcast or when you listen to somebody speaking live.

So general proofreading has a lot more structure to it. It very much follows the format of the grammar rules that you learned in high school, maybe if you took some basic English classes inside college. It very much follows if -- you’ve probably heard if you wrote papers in especially college like MLA or Chicago, you make sure that verb tenses are correct, that the subject of verbs agree, that the punctuation follows the style guides like MLA or Chicago. You fix run-on sentences. It’s just -- it’s a very -- when you think of proofreading, that is what general proofreading sums up what you think of.

There is a wide variety of content to read because anything that’s written and goes in front of public eyes needs a proofreader because we’re all humans, and humans make mistakes. I mean, I even say proofreaders need proofreaders. I have paid proofreaders to proofread my courses for me even though I’ve been proofreading since 2006. I know what I’m doing as a proofreader. I still have someone come behind me and proofread what I write because, well, number one, I’m human. And two, our mind just fills in what’s on a page so even you who are really good at grammar and you’re thinking about going into proofreading, you still make mistakes in what you write because, one, human, and two, our brain just -- we know what we want to say on the page, and it doesn’t always end up that way.

Sometimes autocorrect is not our friend. It may be funny, but it’s not always our friend. We just type things that maybe our mind was two or three words ahead of what we were typing. We all make mistakes. And so anything that’s written, goes in front of the public eye, should be proofread.

I mean, I started out as a general proofreader back in 2006, and I have proofread a huge variety of things. I mean, the most common like books and college papers. But one of the most unique and fun projects that I remember working on is a lady actually wanted me to read her Christmas -- her annual Christmas letter that she was sending out to friends and family because she wanted it to be the best letter that she could send out to her family and friends. And I loved that because typically people are like, eh, it’s just family and friends. I’ll just send out whatever. They’ll look over it. But she cared enough to have a really awesome letter, not just the content of it but for it to be error-free too.

And so there is just all kinds of things that you can proofread. I’ve gotten to proofread courses and websites, business owners’ emails. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve loved being a general proofreader, and a lot of people who go into proofreading and enjoy just a huge variety of topics find general proofreading to be exactly what they’re looking for.

And there is another type of proofreading, and as much as I love general proofreading and as much as I enjoyed my career as just being a general proofreader, I -- this is my absolute favorite type of proofreading hands down, and that is transcript proofreading.

Now, transcript proofreading – it’s the most unique type of proofreading, and in fact, most people haven’t even heard of it. If you are listening to the podcast because you follow me on Instagram, then you’ve most likely heard about transcript proofreading because that’s the biggest one that I talk about.

But if this is your first time to have met me and it’s through this podcast, then you may be like, what the heck is transcript proofreading? I didn’t even know that was a thing. I was totally on board with what you were talking about with general proofreading. But what is transcript proofreading?

So transcript proofreading is proofreading for court reporters, and court reporters are those -- they are amazing humans. They are the people that sit in front of a courtroom, and they have their machine, and they sit there and type during the whole court proceeding. That is a court reporter, and what they’re doing is they’re making a verbatim record of everything that’s being said in the courtroom.

They will take down any type of legal proceeding, so it can be in front of a judge. It can be in front of a jury, or it can also be in private depositions that happen before a case even gets to trial where it’s just the witness and the attorneys talking about what happened in a case to prepare for a trial or prepare for a settlement down the road.

And so court reporters are called guardians of the record because their job is to provide a verbatim record of what’s happening because it’s so important in legal proceedings for that legal decision at the end that the judge is going to come down and decide on or the jury is, or the settlement between the two parties, what they come to.

It’s important that everything is written down exactly as said so that there is a completely accurate and truthful record so that those decisions can be properly made down the road whether it’s through a settlement or wherever it is.

And so when those transcripts are produced by the court reporter, they need to be proofread before they’re sent off to a client just like in general proofreading when you have a book. Before a book is published and put out in the libraries or in Barnes & Noble or wherever you’re going to pick it up at, it needs to be proofread for errors.

It’s the same way with transcripts. The biggest difference though is general proofreading, you have a lot more flexibility to make sure, like I mentioned, subject and verbs agree or that the style -- the common style guides like Chicago are followed, that the verb tenses are correct, fixing run-on sentences, all those things.

In transcript proofreading, you can’t do that because it’s the verbatim spoken word, and I say verbatim spoken word a lot because that’s what separates transcript proofreading from general proofreading and what makes it such a unique and very challenging type of proofreading, but it also makes it extremely profitable as well.

So when you’re proofreading transcripts, you can’t change everything and make it grammatically perfect because how people speak is not perfect. I mean, just -- if you were reading the show notes for this podcast, you can see how I have a lot of starts and stops and run-on sentences, and I change directions on how I talk, and my grammar isn’t perfect.

You put people in a situation like a courtroom or in some type of legal proceeding, and they’re typically -- especially witnesses who aren’t used to being in the legal world -- they’re very nervous. And so they’re especially going to say sentences that don’t make sense or words that aren’t necessarily words.

And then you have some people that talk very quickly, and the court reporters, they’re trained to write very, very quickly. But if somebody is talking way too fast or if it’s a lot going on, then the court reporters can drop words just like you can drop words when you’re typing and writing things just from what’s in your head, let alone listening to somebody.

It’s the same thing with court reporters. Sometimes words get dropped or the wrong word gets put in, and so your job as a transcript proofreader is to go back through and make sure that the transcript is consistent, that it’s punctuated properly, that there aren’t any misspellings, that there aren’t dropped words, that if they’re -- mark things for the court reporter to go back and double check if something doesn’t make sense. It’s a very unique type of proofreading because you can’t change anything.

So most people who love grammar and love to have everything perfect, when they get to transcript proofreading, they kind of hit the brakes, and they’re like, what is going on right now? Because I want to make this perfect, but I can’t because it’s the spoken word, and I have to leave it alone. My job is to make it readable and not make it perfect.

And so that’s where the challenge comes in with transcript proofreading, and it’s also one of the reasons why I love transcript proofreading so much is it’s a very unique type of proofreading that takes a certain kind of -- a special kind of skill to do. It’s a special kind of challenge that you don’t get when you have general proofreading and you can make everything perfect.

And another reason that I really love transcript proofreading is you get to be involved in the legal world. You get the behind-the-scenes view. Like if you’ve ever had jury duty and you’ve sat in, you’ve seen the courtroom proceedings, but you didn’t see the depositions that happened beforehand as they’re preparing the witnesses and getting information.

And sometimes you don’t always hear the sidebars of what happens between the attorneys and the judge up there. When you’re a transcript proofreader, you often get those inside transcripts, or you get to read the depositions, so you get a behind-the-scenes look at the legal world.

And I love everything crime, legal-related. I mean, I love watching my true crime shows, my not-true-crime shows like SVU. I love reading mysteries, Nancy Drew. I read Nancy Drew, tons of them, when I was little. Now, I love John Grisham and Agatha Christie. Anything legal, true crime, I am obsessed with it. And so getting to paid legal transcripts, it’s a dream come true. I absolutely love doing it.

Now, just because transcript proofreading isn’t the most common type of proofreading, isn’t the one that most people hear of or think of when they think of proofreading doesn’t mean that it’s not a successful type of proofreading or one that you can’t make money off of.

So speaking of money, let’s talk about how much you can make as a general proofreader and how much you can make as a transcript proofreader.

Now, these are going to be very general ideas of what you can make because one of the things that I absolutely love about proofreading is it’s flexible. You are your own boss. You set your own schedule. You decide what clients you want to work with and how many hours you want to work. So you aren’t tied to your desk like you are in a 9-to-5 where you have to work 40 hours a week.

With proofreading, you set the amount of time you want to work, and therefore, how much you make a month can really vary. And it depends too on whether you’re a general proofreader or a transcript proofreader, and then even inside general proofreading and transcript proofreading, there’s variabilities depending on the type of clients and your turnaround time and all of that kind of detail.

And I go into those inside my courses very specifically so that you know exactly how to set your rates, and you aren’t wondering how am I supposed to do this. So these are just some general estimates, and I put that caveat in before so you don’t go in saying I am going to make exactly this much as a proofreader. This can just give you a good range.

So with general proofreading, let’s say you were to proofread one average-sized fiction book. You can make between $4- and $500 just for that one book. Now, like I said, there’s a lot of variabilities that go into that. Some make quite a bit less than that, but that’s a good average for -- a decent average. But that’s an average that you could make on a book.

Obviously, shorter pieces of content will be less, but you can fit more short proofreading jobs into a month than you could multiple books in a month, so it can really even out. So that -- some general proofreaders make $50, $100 a month when they’re just getting started, or they don’t market a whole lot, or they only have a couple small projects, or they just need an extra $100, and that’s it for the month.

And some make a few thousand depending on if they have consistent clients or they get a lot of big projects in the door. It all depends on how much you want to proofread and how smart and proactive you are with your marketing.

The one thing with general proofreading is that you do tend to have to market more as a general proofreader than you do with transcript proofreading because your jobs, a lot of times, like if you think about it, authors aren’t churning out books every couple weeks, right? You proofread a book, and then you have to wait for them to publish a new book, and so because you don’t want to wait around on that, then you go find other authors to work with.

There are ways to get more consistent clients with general proofreading, but for example, like if you’re going to focus on the most common type of proofreading, book proofreading, you’re going to be spending more time marketing and less time working. And so your income is lower as a general proofreader.

That’s not always the case. I do know general proofreaders who make a few thousand a month, which is awesome with their consistent clients. It just depends.

So with transcript proofreading, same thing. I can’t give you concrete numbers even though -- I mean, I’ve done general proofreading for years. I’ve done transcript proofreading for years, and even with that, I just can’t give you concrete because everybody is different. But it comes down once again to your schedule and how much you want to work, which that kind of flexibility is awesome.

So as a busy proofreader where you’re consistently working full time, you can make up to $4- and $5,000 a month proofreading transcripts. And as a part-time proofreader, it just depends on how much time you want to work. You can make a couple hundred dollars a month all the way up to $2,000 or more part time.

With court reporter clients, like even just with a couple a month, you could make over $1,000 consistently as a proofreader. Even with just a couple court reporters, you can make over $1,000 a month, and that’s just with two clients and part-time work. I mean, think about how much you can do with an extra $1,000 a month where you’re just proofreading a little bit during the week. And you’re getting to proofread stuff that you’re really excited about. So if you like true crime like I do, I mean, it’s perfect.

So obviously there’s a little bit of a difference in income between general proofreading and transcript proofreading, but beyond that, there are some pros and cons with both of them. And to be fair and upfront to you, it’s good for you to know what those are so that, as you’re thinking about going into proofreading, what one makes sense for you.

So with general proofreading, some pros around that is you obviously have a ton of content variety with general proofreading. So because it’s anything except the verbatim spoken word of transcripts, I mean, you’re not really limited at all as a general proofreader on what you can proofread. I mean, even if your specialty was books, then you have all these different types of books. Like some people specialize in just science fiction or just mysteries or just nonfiction or even medical fiction -- or medical fiction -- or medical writing.

I mean, you can get really specific on the type of books that you’ll read and not to mention just all the other types of proofreading. Some have a real heart for working with college students or even just entrance essays for college students. Some love to work with English-as-a-second-language writers. Others -- I mean, there’s just -- you can proofread courses for people. There’s poetry proofreaders. It would be impossible for me to list them all off right now, but there are a lot of different varieties that you can proofread for.

Learning how to be a general proofreader requires shorter training time because even though general proofreading covers a wide range of content, the training time is less intense and shorter than transcript proofreading because general proofreading focuses on making everything grammatically correct.

And because we’re already naturally good at correcting errors, and we’re used to working within the normal grammar rules that we know as opposed to with the verbatim spoken word, it’s much easier to get into the flow of proofreading and fixing -- mainly, you just need to brush up on your grammar skills, learn the most common software that you’ll proofread in, and then it’s just a matter of getting your business set up, learning how to manage it, and then going out and finding clients.

And then with general proofreading, it’s a lower cost to get started. Because training is shorter and less intense, the training costs less as well. And so it’s just much easier and much faster to get into general proofreading.

Now, there are some cons around general proofreading as well. I kind of touched on one of them briefly already, which is typically general proofreading involves more ongoing marketing. So a lot of general proofreaders, where they get stuck is they find that they’re constantly going back and having to market again to find new clients because they did a one-time job, like I mentioned the Christmas letter that I read. That’s clearly a one-time job. She might come back to me the next Christmas to have me proofread her letter, but I’m going to be waiting until Christmas again.

So it’s more a one-off. Or books -- the author writes once, but then it’s going to be a little bit before they write again. And so it can take a little bit or a lotta bit more marketing, and most people would rather spend more time proofreading than spend their time marketing.

Now, this isn’t the case with all clients. There are people who are always blogging or writing social media posts or sending emails who have consistent work, but typically with general proofreading, there is more marketing throughout your career as a general proofreader.

Another con would be the time spent educating your potential clients, and that’s because a lot -- not all of them -- but a lot of writers and business owners either aren’t aware of proofreaders, or they don’t immediately understand the need for having a proofreader. They often think, oh, I’ll just run it through Grammarly, or I can do it myself, or I sent it to my best friend, or people just overlook those errors. We know they don’t, but that’s what they say to themselves.

And so a lot of times, part of marketing is not only just finding clients but also educating your potential clients by helping them understand how much they need a proofreader. And it can take a little more patience and education on the part of the proofreader to help bring awareness to writers and business owners that a proofreader is needed.

And then the final con is typically, not always because I don’t want to paint a broad brush across it, but it typically has lower income options. Most proofreaders find that general proofreading clients don’t want to pay the going rate for proofreaders, and so while, yes, you can make $4- to $500 on a general fiction that you’re proofreading, a lot of times the author is really going to try to haggle with you and talk you down on the price because, I mean, that’s expensive for them, especially if they’re self-publishers.

And so not only are you having to convince them that they need a proofreader but then to actually want to pay your going rates. And so typically there’s lower income or a lot more haggling around prices. Now, of course, the amount of income you make -- it’s up to you and how much you want to work, how do you set your rates. And it’s also largely set on how you market yourself and how you approach your pricing that can really help so that when you name your pricing, your client -- your potential client isn’t going to sit there and haggle with you on it.

Now, with transcript proofreading, of course there’s some pros, and as much as I love transcript proofreading, there are some cons as well. So some pros with transcript proofreading are you have consistent work, and so as long as there are legal proceedings, there are going to be court reporters. And as long as court reporters are working, they’re going to need proofreaders. And so you have just a steady stream of work coming in.

Now, there are some court reporters who write less than other court reporters, and so -- which is perfect because if you’re looking for a very part-time income, you’re obviously not going to want a proofreader that needs hundreds of pages proofed every single week, right?

So there is consistent work though so that you don’t have to constantly find yourself going out and marketing all the time. Once you have your clients, your consistent court reporter clients, built up, you have the work that you need every month, and it’s so nice to be able to just sit back and focus on proofreading instead of going out and finding clients every time you get done with a job. And to follow up with that, you have less marketing just because you’re going to get consistent work and consistent clients.

Overall, the income potential is much higher for transcript proofreading because you have consistent work, and you’re not spending as much time marketing. You’re spending more time actually proofreading. And especially -- I mean, like I said, there’s a lot that goes into the rates around setting your rates with proofreading.

But court reporters, they’re familiar with the standard rates that go into proofreading their transcripts. They are familiar with working with proofreaders. They -- transcript proofreading has really grown in popularity over the last decade or so, and so a lot of court reporters, they get out of school, and they’re like, I need a proofreader. Or court reporters who have been doing it for awhile are like, I would really like to not be proofing, reading through my own work again. I need a proofreader. So you spend a lot less time convincing court reporters that they need you and more work coming in so a higher income potential.

And you just have fun clients to work with. I mean, court reporters -- not only do they give you really awesome stuff to read if you’re into the legal world, they’re also very appreciative of you. They understand how valuable their proofreaders are and what a big difference they make in their lives. And so they appreciate you, and it feels so good to work with somebody that appreciates you.

Now, there are some cons about transcript proofreading, not many, but these cons are what separate the transcript proofreaders from the general proofreaders, so it’s important to know them as well.

So one con about transcript proofreading is that it involves longer and more rigorous training than general proofreading. And that’s because transcript proofreading is very niche, and it’s a very unique type of proofreading, so you’re proofreading the spoken word. Court reporters use different reference manuals than general proofreaders use. It’s a different approach to proofreading where you’re not making everything perfect as you’re used to. You’re making it perfect per the spoken-word standard, and that can really -- especially if you’ve had a general proofreading background or you go in with preconceived notions of what proofreading is supposed to be, it can be really difficult to get used to.

And so because of all the differences around it, and most people aren’t used to the spoken word and proofreading it, the training is a lot longer. Court reporters also expect their proofreaders to be highly trained and experienced. They will not work with general proofreaders.

And so because court reporters expect their proofreaders to know what they’re doing when they come to work with them and to have experience and, like I’ve said multiple times, the spoken word is just tricky to proofread.

And a lot of people who want to go in and fix everything really struggle with leaving the spoken word as is, which goes back to why the longer training and more involved training is so important so that you can get used to it, so that by the time you start working with clients and you get a transcript from them, you know what you’re doing, and you’re not going to go correct everything that shouldn’t be corrected because it’s the spoken word.

So those aren’t very many cons to go with transcript proofreading, but they’re so unique to transcript proofreading that it’s important to know them, both for general and transcript proofreading so that you can know which one is a good fit for you. You may be thinking, okay, I knew I wanted to be a proofreader, but now I’m thinking there’s two types, and I’ve got to figure out which one I’m going to be -- which one I’m going to love to start my business with.

So how, Elizabeth, am I supposed to pick between the two? So if you just don’t like the legal world, it doesn’t interest you, true crime is like, whatever, or you think proofreading the spoken word and not being able to fix everything and make it perfect -- that does not sound fun to me. I’d much rather make everything exactly by the book. Then, you’re going to love general proofreading. Transcript proofreading is not going to be a good fit for you, and you should definitely go the general proofreading route.

Or if you have your heart set on proofreading books or you really like working with course creators or college students, then definitely go the general proofreading route because you already know that’s something that you really, really enjoy.

I actually started out as a general proofreader, and I love doing general proofreading work. I really enjoyed a lot of the clients that I worked with. And so I know that if you decide to go into general proofreading, you’re going to enjoy it. It’s not something that’s like it’s a second-best kind of proofreading. It holds its own. It’s just general proofreading and transcript proofreading are two very different types, and it’s just a matter of finding which one works for you.

Now, you don’t have to be a general proofreader before you become a transcript proofreader. Some of my students and grads were former general proofreaders, but I’ve often found that a lot of people who come in with the notion that they already know what they’re doing, especially if they were a general proofreader, they have a lot harder time getting used to transcript proofreading because of all the differences.

So you don’t need the training. You don’t have to go -- need the training first of a general proofreader because you go into transcript proofreading, so don’t let that hold you back being like, okay, I’m going to go into general proofreading first so that I can eventually get into transcript proofreading. Go into general proofreading if the legal world doesn’t interest you or if you just have -- you really want to focus on a specific type of proofreading, and it’s not transcript proofreading.

And how to know transcript proofreading is right for you, well, it would be just the opposite. If the legal world just fascinates you, you love true crime, and you’d love to have that behind-the-scenes look of what goes on in our legal system, then you are going to find transcript proofreading fascinating.

Like I said, it does take a lot more training, and you have to be really focused and dedicated to it to make it work. But if you are willing to put in the work and you’re willing to learn and come at it with an open mind, willing to put in the time and the effort and the energy into it, then transcript proofreading will pay off massively with the clients that you can get and the enjoyment that you’ll have and the work that you can get in proofreading transcripts.

Now, general proofreading may have jumped out at you as like, this is what I want to do. I’ve always wanted to proofread sci-fi books. Or transcript proofreading may have jumped out at you as like, I love the legal world. That is definitely what I have been looking for as the career I’ve never heard of, but now I want to do it.

And so if one or the other is reaching out to you, you won’t make a wrong decision either way. They’re both amazing. You can both work with amazing clients, make great money, have the flexible schedule to work when and where you want in both transcript and general proofreading.

The important thing is to -- if you know you want to do one or the other, then get started on them. Get the training that you need, get your business set up, and then start working with clients. Sitting here and thinking about it is just going to put off you being able to be the proofreader that you want to be even further down the line. You’re going to be excited if you get started now, and you’ll be that much farther ahead next week, next month, even next year as you’re working with clients and loving having a proofreading side hustle.

And if you’re kind of -- still have everything up in the air and you’re like, both sound really fun; I’m just not sure. Then check out my free workshop on being a transcript proofreader. It’s called Is Transcript Proofreading the Right Money-Making Business for Me? It’s less than an hour, and it goes into more detail on transcript proofreading and how to know if it’s a good fit for you. Because it’s so unique, I want to make sure that you know that it is a good fit.

And if you still have questions when you’re done watching the workshop, you can always email me, and I’m more than happy to talk to you about transcript proofreading and helping you make the right decision.

The most important thing is that you take action on either general proofreading or transcript proofreading. If they jumped out -- one or the other jumped out at you and you have your interest piqued, whether you want to learn more about transcript proofreading or you know exactly what you want to do, the important thing is to get started because when you know you want something, use that energy and that motivation and that momentum to keep that ball rolling because what happens to a lot of people is they have the idea in their mind. They think it sounds really exciting. It may be a check off every single box that they’re wanting in a side hustle to make more money.

But they keep rehashing it over in their minds and saying maybe someday down the road. Maybe someday I’ll do it. And then that someday never comes. Or they’re still thinking about it six months down the road, and they finally jump in and get started.

Now, no time is too late to get started. I would much rather have you get started six months down the road than to never get started. And if you know this is what you want to do and you’re excited about it, then do it now. There’s no use sitting here, debating and thinking about it, and then six months down the road looking back and thinking, wow, if I had just started after I had heard that podcast, then I would be that -- I could be done with my training and already working with clients by now. What am I doing?

So do your future self a favor, and if one sounds exciting for you, then go jump in. I have done proofreading for nearly 20 years, and I have loved it. I have learned so much, worked with so many amazing people, made so much money as a transcript proofreader and as a general proofreader on my own terms. And if that sounds exciting to you, then it’s time to jump in and get started now.

Of course, if you have any questions whatsoever about general proofreading, transcript proofreading, you can contact me over on Instagram or on my website. I’m always happy to talk to anybody thinking about proofreading.

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Meet Elizabeth

Elizabeth Wiegner is a work-from-home proofreader and business coach who teaches other readers and typo fixers how to build a life of freedom as a proofreader. Her energy, love, and personalized support are second to none in the proofreading world.