Anyone can proofread, right? Especially with today's technology. Until you do a find-and-replace that globally changes the company president's name from "Gilbert" to "Gastrointestinallbert." I saw that happen on an important pitch that almost went out without a proofread because the internal clients who'd been working on the project for more than a week were trying to save two hours and a few bucks.

Can your team or organization benefit from a proofreader? If you produce anything where words matter--from printed materials and web sites to polished proposals--the answer is probably yes. So how do you find the right proofreader?

One of the first factors is deciding what kind of resource you need. To many people, there's little difference between a proofreader and an editor, or an editor and a writer--except the maybe the price tag--but each serves a different role. Writers, of course, create material. In simple terms, I like to divide proofreaders and editors like this:

  • Proofreaders make it not wrong.
  • Editors make it more right.

If you need someone to look for typos, punctuation, and logic flaws, you're looking for a proofreader. But if you want someone who can make those facts seem less dry, or whip a bunch of bullet points into a few paragraphs, invest in an editor.

Either way, I strongly recommend an interview, preferably face-to-face. Just because someone passes a proofreading test doesn't mean they're the right fit for you and your team, and sometimes the only way to know is live.

We editors can be a persnickety, even prickly, lot. In the past two decades, I've worked with proofreaders and editors who get frustrated (or even angry) when their edits aren't accepted as gospel. I wish I could say it was only a few, but it's more common than you'd think.

These resentful proofreaders are one of the most extreme varieties of a breed of editors and proofreaders that I like to call "inbox editors." They gleefully slash away with their red pens at whatever you put in front of them, often returning the work without eye contact--or, preferably, any human contact.

They may be fantastic at their function, and there is certainly a place for them, but because "inbox editors" tend to work with their heads down, they never get a look at the big picture. A good proofreader catches every mistake, but a great proofreader has his eye on the end result and edits accordingly.

When I interview a proofreader or editor, I typically end by asking "What kind of proofreader/editor are you?" If they ask for explanation, I tell them to interpret the question however they would like. If they take this opportunity to remind me yet again of how accurate or precise they are, I see a red flag. But if they talk about their flexibility, or being a team player, or being happy to tailor their editorial strictness to the needs of the team or the project, I give them a mental check mark.

Flexibility is key--perhaps as important as accuracy--because teams are most likely to successfully use proofreaders when they are viewed as a safety net and a level of security rather than as an impediment or roadblock. This is most likely to happen when a proofreader is as concerned with the big picture as with the tiny details.

The good news is that there are a lot of great proofreaders and editors out there. A talent agency or a little research can often turn up a few good candidates, whether you're trying to fill a full-time need or find someone who can put in a few hours a week reviewing key pieces. Proofreading and editing are roles that lend themselves to freelancing, and many folks are happy to work in the evenings or on weekends.

So, whatever your proofreading or editorial needs, the right resource is out there. Before you go looking, though, I encourage you to spend a little time thinking about what you're looking for.