General proofreading vs. transcript proofreading: What’s the difference and which one’s right for me?

FAQs, General proofreading, Proofreading, Transcript proofreading

What’s the difference between general proofreading and transcript proofreading and how do you know which one’s right for you?  You know you love to read and that you find typos and grammar errors everywhere — and you’re super excited about the idea of making money with those skills! But what kind of proofreading can you do? And how do you know what’s the perfect fit for you so you can start making money doing something you love to do? If you’ve been wondering about those questions, this post is for you! The two types of proofreading are general proofreading and transcript proofreading. There are some big differences between them, but let’s start with some of the similarities they have.

Similarities between general proofreading and transcript proofreading

Both general and transcript proofreading focus on the final stage of the project. The project has gone through the writing phase and the editing phase before it gets into the hands of a proofreader. By this point, the proofreader is the final set of eyes to catch all the errors that snuck through during writing and editing. Both general and transcript proofreading involve extensive reading, finding and fixing typos, doing research, and making money. Both general and transcript proofreading require skilled proofreaders to do an excellent job for their clients. (You can read about the 9 non-negotiable skills general and transcript proofreaders must have here.) Both focus on typos, dropped/wrong words, punctuation, and formatting.

Both are very flexible in that you can proofread whenever and wherever you want. As a freelance general or transcript proofreader, you are in control of your schedule! You pick how much you want to work, what hours and days you want to work, and what clients you want to work with. Proof late at night, early in the morning, over your lunch break, after the kids go to bed — you pick because you’re the boss. Location doesn’t matter either! Because proofreading jobs are sent digitally, as long as you have access to internet, you can work wherever you want — your recliner, your backyard, the school pick-up line, an RV, a plane, a beach, or even traveling the world. You are in control of your life as a proofreader.

That’s where the similarities end. Now let’s dive into the differences between general proofreading and transcript proofreading and see which one is right for you.

What is general proofreading?

General proofreading is proofreading books, social media posts, websites, blog posts, courses, college papers, and more. Essentially it’s proofreading any type of content where the writer has direct control over the words on the page (as opposed to the verbatim spoken word). It’s the most common type of proofreading and typically what you think of when you think of proofreading. In fact, most people’s first thought of proofreading is books. However, anything that’s written needs a proofreader because writers are human…and humans make mistakes. Therefore, the type of content general proofreaders can proofread is almost limitless! General proofreading closely follows the formal grammar rules we learned in school and makes everything grammatically correct. That means making sure subjects and verbs agree, punctuation follows a style guide like MLA or Chicago, verb tenses are correct, and there are no run-on sentences. General proofreaders check for formatting issues, typos, wrong words, missing words, and proper punctuation. They also follow their clients’ preferences (if a client likes the Oxford comma, etc.).

What is transcript proofreading?

Transcript proofreading is the most unique type of proofreading. In fact, most people haven’t even heard of it! It has gotten especially popular in the previous decade and excellent transcript proofreaders are in high demand. Transcript proofreading is proofreading specifically for court reporters so you get a behind-the-scenes look at the legal world and read witness testimony. Court reporters (CRs) have a very special, very important job of taking down legal proceedings. That includes in court in front of a judge and also in private depositions that happen before a case even gets to trial. (You can read more about court reporters and what they do here.) Transcript proofreading is the most advanced type of proofreading because you’re working with the verbatim spoken word and can’t change the testimony. The focus is on fixing typos, dropped and wrong words, punctuation for readability, and making sure everything is consistent. Because it’s the spoken word and it has to stay exactly as the speakers said it, the grammar is far from perfect. If you think of how many times we start and stop when we talk, how we change thoughts, use the wrong words, or have improper grammar, you can tell proofreading the spoken word is going to be much different than general proofreading with its more polished writing.

How much can you make as a general proofreader?

Because there is such a huge range of projects you can proofread, it’s impossible to say exactly how much you can make as a general proofreader. The Editorial Freelance Association (EFA) has a rate chart with the standard rates they recommend for different types of general proofreading that can give you an idea of price ranges. Keep in mind EFA’s rates don’t take into account the different ways you can charge a client, the sliding scale based on word count, if you have consistent clients, etc. (I cover how to set your rates inside my general proofreading training so you don’t have to stress over how to figure it all out!) As an example, let’s say you proof a couple average-sized fiction books. You could make $400-500ish a book (depending on your rates, sliding scale, etc.). Shorter pieces of content will obviously be less, but you can fit more short proofreading jobs into a month than you can longer jobs. Some general proofreaders make $100/month and some make a few thousand — it all depends on how much you want to proofread, how smart and proactive you are with your marketing, and how many and what type of clients you work with.

How much can you make as a transcript proofreader?

Just like with general proofreading, I can’t give specific numbers for what you will make in a month or a year because there are a lot of variabilities. Transcript proofreaders are paid per page and there are industry-standard rates that are different depending on turnaround time and technicality. The amount you make can vary per court reporter every month as every court reporter has a different amount of work they can send you and different turnaround times they’ll need. Some court reporters are extra busy and can consistently send you work multiple times a week, while other court reporters may only send you work a couple times a month. It ultimately comes down to your schedule and how much you want to work (The flexibility is amazing!). As a busy proofreader, you can make up to $4-5,000 a month. As a part-time proofer, you can bring in anywhere from a couple hundred to $2,000+ a month. Even just a couple court reporter clients a month can net you a thousand or more a month! You can read more specifics on how much a transcript proofreader can make here.

Pros and cons of general proofreading

Pros

  • Lots of content variety: There’s an almost endless amount of content you can proof!
  • Shorter training time: Even though general proofreading covers a wide range of content, the training time is less intense and shorter than transcript proofreading. That’s because general proofreading focuses on making everything grammatically correct, and as we already are familiar with proper grammar and are used to naturally catching errors as we read, you will need to primarily focus on brushing up on your grammar skills, learning the most common software, and then learning how to set up and manage your business and how to go get clients.
  • Lower cost to get started: Because training is shorter and less intense, the training also costs less.

Cons: 

  • Typically involves ongoing marketing: General proofreaders can spend a fair amount of time trying to find clients rather than working with them. That’s because a lot of writers/business owners have one-off jobs and then they’re either done or they have a large gap before they’ll need a proofreader again (for example, authors aren’t churning out books every week — their projects take time). This isn’t the case with all clients — people who are always blogging or writing social media posts have consistent work! With the variety of clients available in general proofreading, there’s also a wide variety of need for proofreading and you may find yourself marketing some months more than proofreading.
  • Time spent educating your potential clients: Many (not all!) writers/business owners either aren’t aware of proofreaders or don’t immediately understand the need for them. Therefore, you may have to spend time showing potential clients how important your role is as a proofreader. For us proofreaders who see errors all the time, it’s obvious to us why writers/business owners need us — but that’s not always the case with some potential clients. It takes a little more patience and gentle education on our part to help bring awareness to writers/business owners about how we can help them uplevel their writing.
  • Typically has lower income options: While there are standard rates for general proofreading (as the EFA rate chart indicates), a lot of proofreaders find that general proofing clients don’t want to pay the going rates and tend to haggle on pricing quite a bit. Of course, the amount of income you can make as a proofreader is up to you and how you market yourself and how you approach pricing. Overall, this is a common complaint among general proofreaders that you should be aware of and expect (I do help you overcome these problems in my training though!).

Pros and cons of transcript proofreading

Pros

  • Consistent work: As long as there are legal proceedings, there will be court reporters. And as long as court reporters are working, they will need proofreaders for all the transcripts they turn in to their clients. Some court reporters write several days a week — that’s a lot of transcripts to proofread! With many attorneys now using Zoom to conduct legal proceedings, they can fit more appointments in. That means more work for court reporters — which means more work for you!
  • Less marketing: Because of the consistent work, you don’t have to market as often. Once you have the clients built up that you want to work with, you don’t need to market. You can get into a routine of proofing and go!
  • Higher overall income potential: Because of the consistent work and less time you have to spend marketing, you can spend more time proofreading which means more income for you. And because of a standard rate range and court reporters being familiar with proofreaders, you’re far less likely to haggle over payment terms.
  • Fun clients: Court reporters know how valuable their proofreaders are so you don’t have to spend a lot of time convincing them you’re needed, and they’re very appreciative of you and the work you do to make their lives easier.

Cons: 

  • Longer and more rigorous training: Because transcript proofreading is a very niche, very unique type of proofreading, training takes longer. Court reporters have extremely high expectations of their proofreaders. Transcript proofreading requires an understanding of legal terms and the court reporting world, understanding grammar specific to the spoken word, and plenty of practice on real transcripts before starting a business and getting clients. It takes time and diligence.
  • Higher starting cost: Because training is longer, extremely specific, and more intense, the training costs more. (The good news is with the higher, more consistent earning potential, you can make back the training cost over and over again in the months and years ahead.)
  • The spoken word is tricky to proofread: No one speaks perfect grammar, and especially when people are under a lot of stress (which they often are in legal proceedings) or are tired after talking for hours, the grammar and sentence structure in transcripts are all over the place. It takes quite a bit of practice to get used to leaving the improper grammar as is and to focus on making it readable rather than perfect.

How to know if general proofreading is right for you

General proofreading is a great fit for you if you are super particular about making everything perfect. If bad grammar bugs you and you have to make every sentence flow properly and match grammar reference manuals, then you will feel at home as a general proofreader. Unlike transcript proofreading, general proofreading is a lot more particular about following the grammar rules you’re accustomed to and you have a lot more leeway to make writing perfect. (Of course, keeping in mind that if a writer has their preferences for fudging on grammar rules a bit, you always follow what your client wants, not what you want.) General proofreading is also a good fit for you if you like to read a lot of different content styles; you are attached to working with one particular type of writing (books, websites, etc.); or you aren’t sure what type of content you want to proof yet but you do know you want to be a proofreader.

How to know if transcript proofreading is right for you

Transcript proofreading is a great fit for you if can roll with improper grammar and instead focus on making a document readable. It’s also a great fit if you’re flexible with working with punctuation preferences that vary widely among your court reporter clients. You should have a sharp eye for catching dropped, duplicated, or wrong words; typos; and catching very fine details like a date mentioned on one page is different 20 pages later. While this is important for general proofreaders too, this is especially essential for transcript proofreaders. And while general proofreaders should also be good at research to look up rules and terms they aren’t familiar with, transcript proofreaders must be able to take the initiative to look up terminology they don’t know. There will be a lot of words and phrases in testimony you’ve never heard of before that you have to know if it’s spelled correctly or if it’s the properly used word, and you will need to use your resources to check. Transcript proofreading is also a good fit for you if the legal word fascinates you and you love all things mystery and crime. When you’re reading the depositions leading up to trials or legal rulings, you’re getting an inside look that most people never get, and it is fascinating — if that’s your cup of tea!

How to get started as a general proofreader

As a general proofreader, you should know

  • How to proofread: This includes what resources to use, how to do research, how to use a variety of proofreading tools, and how to work with client preferences.
  • How to set up and manage your business: This includes setting your rates, creating contracts, how to invoice, the proofreading process from start to finish, keeping your business organized, and keeping track of your jobs.
  • How to get and keep your clients: This includes how to market yourself and go get clients in a non-spammy way and how to keep your clients happy so they refer you and, if possible, keep coming back.

I cover all of this — and more! — inside my step-by-step general proofreading guides! They have everything you need to know to start, grow, and manage your general proofreading business. If general proofreading sounds like the perfect fit for you, tap here to get your general proofreading business started now. (You can customize the guides based on where you’re at in your proofreading journey too!)

How to get started as a transcript proofreader

Getting started as a transcript proofreader doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, practice, and diligence (and it’s so worth it!).

  • Understand what court reporters do, the different types of transcripts, and legal terminology: One of the biggest mistakes I see inexperienced proofreaders make when they start marketing to get clients is their misunderstanding of what court reporters do and what transcripts are and what their role as transcript proofreaders are. It’s important to understand the world you’re going to be working in.
  • Learn grammar rules specific to the spoken word: There’s a lot of bad grammar in transcripts, so instead of focusing on formal grammar rules, you’ll focus more on how to punctuate bad grammar to make it readable.
  • Learn how to use proofreading software: You should know how to use the software you’ll be working in so it’s second nature to you by the time you start working with clients.
  • Get practice: Because transcript proofreading is so different than general proofreading and court reporters have very high standards for their proofreaders, you must have experience before you start working with court reporters. You can’t practice on your clients. (I have 3100+ pages of real transcripts for you to practice and get experience with inside my training!)
  • Learn how to set up and manage your business. This includes setting your rates, creating a special resume, onboarding new clients, understanding the proofing process from start to finish, keeping track of jobs, how to balance your workload, etc.
  • Learn how to get and keep clients: Marketing doesn’t have to feel icky and spammy. You can connect with clients in ways that feel genuine. (Plus once you know how to proofread, I’ll show you how and where to get court reporters as clients!)

While this is a lot to learn, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. With my step-by-step training, it’s very doable — and fun! My in-depth course Learn How to Be a Transcript Proofreader is specifically designed to teach you exactly what you need to know to proofread transcripts for court reporters, manage your business, and how to get clients. If transcript proofreading sounds like the perfect for you, tap here to enroll in Learn How to Be a Transcript Proofreader!

About Elizabeth, The Proofreading Business Coach

My life word is freedom. I don’t like being told how to run my life, especially by strangers. It’s why I’m my own boss, and it’s why I help others learn how to be their own boss as proofreaders too. Since 2006, I’ve made thousands and thousands of dollars as a proofreader. But there’s nothing special about me. YOU can do the same thing too. I’ve gone through courses, googled (a ton…), masterminded with proofreading and marketing geniuses, experimented with different proofing methods…and made a lot of mistakes through trial and error. As The Proofreading Business Coach, I’ve taken what I’ve learned and put it right at your fingertips! Now, instead of starting at square one, you can skip the years of trial and error and dive right into what will work for you.

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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.