Proofreading your writing: When to call in the professionals

As an EFL learner it is normal to expect that you will make some grammar and punctuation mistakes in your writing. One of the most effective ways to reduce or eliminate these flaws is to have your writing proofread and edited either by yourself, a friend or a professional. Whilst using the services of a professional proofreader is usually the most effective option, in many cases it is not the most pragmatic or feasible one.

This article seeks to discuss when it is most appropriate to call in the professionals and what to look for in such services. It also provides guidance on cheaper (or free) alternatives when this is not an option for you.

Emails, letters and applications

It may seem impractical and/or unaffordable to pay for a professional to review all of your emails, letters and applications. That said, at times some correspondence can be of critical importance to you, and in those situations it may be wise to get outside help with your proofreading needs.

One particularly relevant situation is when applying for jobs. It is critically important that the English writing in any correspondence you have with a potential employer, whether it is your CV/resume or simply a short email confirming an interview, is completely free of errors. Failure to do this will be of serious detriment to your application.

Practical tip: As an alternative to a professional service, or in situations where this may seem excessive, you can find feedback to shorter pieces of text by posting them on English language forums, but don’t forget to return the favour where possible!

Term papers, essays and assignments

A good time to employ a professional proofreader is when you need a term paper, essay or assignment reviewed, particularly if it is graded. Whilst most universities in the US/UK do not penalise EFL students for smaller grammar and punctuation mistakes, the overall impression of the writing to the reader evaluating it may be damaged.

Practical tip: You may not need a professional editor if you can find fellow students and offer to proofread their papers in exchange for them doing the same to yours. Just make sure you can rely on anyone you agree to do this exchange with and that they respect any deadlines you have.

Dissertations and Theses

For a student there is perhaps no better time to consider hiring a professional than to have a dissertation or thesis reviewed. Not only do these typically represent a large portion of the overall grade for a course, but they are also usually very significant in size.

Such a large document can be difficult for its writer to accurately proofread or for a non-professional to manage. Furthermore, tutors are often unwilling to make grammar and punctuation corrections due to the amount of time this would involve.

Practical tip: Ask you dissertation/thesis tutor for a recommended proofreading service. Often they will be able to point you in the direction of one that is suited to your needs.

What to consider when choosing a professional proofreading service

When you have decided that you would like to employ the services of a professional proofreading company or freelance individual, there are several key factors that you should consider.

There are thousands of online proofreading services on the internet and choosing one can appear a confusing and somewhat daunting task. Evaluate the options based on the following criteria and you should have no difficulty finding a great match to your specific needs.


In any purchase you make, cost is always going to be a factor. The price for proofreading service on the internet can vary greatly, though most fall in the range of $14-35 USD per thousand words of text.

The cheapest is usually not the best, and professional services and proofreading is no exception to this. You must consider what you can afford and what you feel comfortable paying. Ultimately, you are paying for the time of a highly qualified professional and the more you pay, the longer time they will be able to invest in proofreading your writing and providing feedback.

Practical tip: Check for a list of proofreading services and do your research; read reviews to see if previous customers found them to be good value.

Qualifications and technical experience

It is critically important that the proofreading professional you select has the right qualifications and experience suited to the specific needs of your writing. 

Consider whether you require a subject specialist to review your writing. For example, if you require a biology manuscript to be proof-read it would be wise to hire an editor with a scientific background. If it is a marketing paper, an editor with knowledge of business and management would be optimal, and so forth.

Darren Donnelly, Scientific Editor for Cambridge Proofreading stresses the importance of matching the writer’s requirements and the editor’s skillset. “If your writing is of a technical nature it is wise to find an editor familiar with the subject to ensure that their amendments are accurate and relevant”, he advises.

Practical tip: Make sure you ask questions to find out the relevant experience and qualifications of the specific individual who is being asked to review your writing.

Finally, if in doubt, ask for a sample: A great way to figure out if an editor is a good fit to your needs is to request a short sample. This would typically be between 300-1,000 words and many companies will provide this for a small fee or even for free.

Charlotte Beckham is a freelance proofreader for and enjoys writing articles on English grammar and punctuation.