New Volunteer Frequently Asked Questions

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Welcome to Distributed Proofreaders! The purpose of these FAQs is to provide answers to common questions that new people joining us at DP have asked. Obviously not all questions can be included here. If you don't find an answer here, you can look in other portions of our DP Wiki or email us at DP Help.

What is Distributed Proofreaders?

Distributed Proofreaders (DP) rescues public domain/out-of-copyright (and frequently out-of-print) books and converts them to "electronic texts" that can be read by people on most computers or e-readers. The books we choose to work on are from all over the world, some classics, some not. Every one of them was interesting enough that someone — or many someones, like you! — invested a great deal of time scanning, checking and double-checking the text and illustrations before sending it out to the world via Project Gutenberg.

It's "Distributed" because the work of proofreading is spread out among our many volunteers: anyone can do as much or as little as they please. This site provides a web-based method of easing the work associated with accurately proofreading and formatting public domain books. Dividing the work into individual pages enables many proofreaders to work on the same book at the same time. This significantly speeds up the proofreading/e-book creation process.

We are a recognized affiliate of Project Gutenberg and were founded in October 2000 to support Project Gutenberg by systematically providing it with e-books.

We have many different types of work a volunteer can do, including scanning books and prepare them for proofreading, proofreading page by page, formatting the pages (marking text that is in italics or bolded, etc.), preparing the final full book, and simply reading the ready-to-be submitted book to make sure that we haven't missed anything.

Here's how it works (for a pictorial representation, please see our General Workflow Diagram):

  1. "Content Providers" provide both the scanned images and text prepared using OCR that are used for page-level comparison so that proofreaders can catch and correct mistakes in the text.
  2. The "Proofreader" (or "proofer") chooses a project to work on, reads through the Project Comments on the associated Project Page, and clicks on the "Start Proofreading" link on that page.
  3. The website shows proofreaders the page image of one page with the OCR text for that image.
  4. Proofreaders read the OCR text and correct it to match the page image. They change any OCR text errors and do some typographical markup according to the Proofreading Guidelines. The site stores each proofread page in our database for the next round. Each book goes through three rounds of proofreading for OCR errors. Each round displays proofing images with their associated text.
  5. Once the book has completed the proofreading rounds, it moves on to the formatting rounds in which things like bold or italic text are marked according to the Formatting Guidelines.
  6. When all the pages in a book have been proofread, a Post-Processor does the finishing work of getting this book ready: combining all the pages into one big file, making sure that all the formatting is consistent, checking one more time for errors, etc.
  7. Often the book is then submitted for Smooth Reading where it may be read through by volunteers who report anything that disrupts the sense or flow of the book.
  8. Finally, the book is submitted to Project Gutenberg and is posted on mirror sites all over the world, freely available for anyone to read and enjoy.

The Distributed Proofreaders Mission Statement

Distributed Proofreaders is dedicated to the preservation of written works that are in the Public Domain in the United States by converting them into high-quality, freely available digital transcriptions. This is accomplished through the efforts of a supportive community of volunteers. Distributed Proofreaders follows the principles of the American Library Association Freedom to Read statement.

What is Project Gutenberg?

Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or e-books. Michael Hart founded Project Gutenberg in 1971. His idea: anything that can be entered into a computer can be reproduced indefinitely. This led to the concept of entering books into computers and sharing these books with the whole world.

The Project Gutenberg philosophy is to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search.

Project Gutenberg e-books are now available in a formats such as html, epub, Kindle, and plain text. Due to U.S. copyright laws, it is legal to do this only with books that are in the public domain in the US. Project Gutenberg is U.S.-based, and is therefore subject to U.S. copyright laws. As a result, many Project Gutenberg are "Classics." No fee or registration is required.

You can read more about the history of Project Gutenberg here. You can also read more about what is done at Project Gutenberg here.

Why do we pick the books that we do?

We work only on books that are in the public domain in the United States. Because Distributed Proofreaders (DP) is based in the United States, we follow U.S. copyright laws. Our sister sites, in other countries, use different criteria. This means that we work mostly on books that were published in 1926 or earlier.

We also try to avoid duplicating books that are already available at Project Gutenberg or that are already in process at Distributed Proofreaders. For example, Content Providers check to ensure that the book is not already available at Project Gutenberg or already being worked on by someone else at Distributed Proofreaders.

Every subject has the right to enter Project Gutenberg, for historic value if nothing else. Moreover, most of the books we work on are 95 years old or older and some views that were common at the time are no longer considered acceptable. Consequently, some of the books being produced by Distributed Proofreaders may contain offensive language, religious criticisms, derogative ethnic comments, racism, offensive stereo-typing, etc. Our Project Managers are advised to ensure that their project comments contain warnings if they believe a book contains such content so that volunteers may opt not to work on them.

In summary, Distributed Proofreaders follows the principles of the American Library Association Freedom to Read statement and works with whatever books people provide to us that we legally can. For more information about our policy, please refer to the Distributed Proofreaders Mission Statement in this document.

If you have a book that you would like to see done and it is copyright cleared, we may be able to do it. Please see the Content Providers forum for more details.

How can I help?

Registering as a Volunteer

Registered volunteers may contribute to Distributed Proofreaders in several ways, beginning with entry-level proofreading and "Smooth Reading" pre-released e-books to check for errors.

As volunteers gain experience and familiarity with the site and workflow, additional options open up: post-processing (preparing the proofread and formatted text for Project Gutenberg), content providing, project management, or even software development. All members of the community are encouraged to discuss these and many other topics in the forums.

If you haven't already registered as a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer, it's easy to do.

Once you've confirmed your registration by e-mail, you'll receive an introductory e-mail with basic instructions on how to log in and use the site. Then, you're ready to sign in and start learning to proofread or visit the smooth reading page to pick an e-book to read! Wherever you go, you'll find lots of information to help you get started. Please try our Walkthrough for a preview of the steps involved when proofreading on this site.

There is no commitment expected on this site beyond the understanding that you do your best at what ever you do. Spend as much or as little time as you like. We encourage you to proofread at least a page a day and/or smooth read a book as often as your time allows, but it's entirely up to you.


Distributed Proofreaders is supported exclusively by donations and all work is done by volunteers. To donate or read about donating, please visit the Distributed Proofreaders Foundation Information for Donors page.

Work for New Volunteers


How Do I Start Proofreading?

Each project (book) on the site goes through multiple proofreading rounds. When you first start, you will be working only on books in the first round (P1). Other rounds will become available as you gain experience and time on site.

To start out as a proofreader, go to the P1 Round Page. You simply pick a project and start proofreading. For detailed instructions on the steps to take when starting to proofread, please consult the Start Proofreading Section of the DP Welcome E-mail.

You can proofread any book that catches your interest, but we initially recommend projects marked BEGINNERS ONLY for languages with which you are proficient. These books are given close attention by experienced proofreaders who will send you personal feedback.

For more detail, please read the Beginning Proofreaders' FAQs.

As You Gain Experience

As you gain experience, you may want to change your Proofreading Preferences to make your work easier. There are many settings you can change such as font size and typeface. DP Sans Mono, for example, is a DP-created font that assists with distinguishing between similar characters and is readily available without installing anything onto your computer.

Please just do the best you can. And don't worry about making mistakes -- we all realize that it takes time and practice to learn to proofread well and the pages you do will go through several more proofing rounds so any errors you make will be found and corrected down the line. You'll find that you learn quickly and make fewer mistakes over time. And please don't hesitate to ask for feedback via dp-feedback.

I think I messed something up (did something wrong), how can I fix it?

Don't panic. We all make mistakes. If you think you made a mistake on the last few pages of a particular project, go back to the Project Page and click on the "Just my pages" link to bring up the pages you proofread for that project. If the page is still within the round, you can click on it to make corrections to your proofreading of that page.

You can also leave a note in the Project discussion topic for that book (reached from the opening page where you started proofreading -- click on "Discuss this Project"). Give the number of the page you were on (if you remember) and what you did. This lets the second round proofreader or the post-processor fix it if it was not correct.

Remember that all your proofread pages will be proofread again in the 'second round' of proofreading. Few mistakes make it by both proofreaders undetected! So just do your best and don't worry. (Second-round proofreading is limited to more experienced proofreaders.)

What Do I Work on Next?

After BEGINNERS ONLY material, you might try projects marked EASY, but again, don't be afraid to try anything that interests you. If you find yourself uncomfortable with working on a particular page, you can always press the "Return Page to Round" button and let someone else tackle it.

How do I know if I'm doing OK?

If you work on a BEGINNERS ONLY project, you'll receive personal feedback. For other projects, you will generally not get feedback, but you can always request feedback by contacting dp-feedback. For detailed information about what to include in you request, please read the DP-feedback page.

And if I have questions?

For general questions, please refer to the Proofreading Guidelines.

If you have a question about a specific page/project, you should first check the Project Comments in case it is answered there. Then you should check the project's forum thread by following the link labelled "Discuss this project" on the Project Page. Each project has its own discussion thread. Within the discussion thread you can see what other volunteers have observed or encountered with that project. If that doesn't answer your question, you can post a question or message there via the "Reply" button.

Smooth Reading

If you want to read a full book, you can also try Smooth Reading. Once post-processors have finished preparing a project, they often submit it to Smooth Reading, giving Smooth Readers a chance to preview the book and help find additional errors that need to be fixed before it's finally uploaded to Project Gutenberg.

Smooth Reading is a bit like proofreading except that Smooth Readers are not required to compare the text with the scanned images of the book's pages. Instead, they read the e-text as they would read it "for pleasure," just being on the look-out for possible errors in the text. The Smooth Reading FAQs may be helpful if you're interested in this.

Other Roles for Experienced Volunteers

Once you have experience volunteering at Distributed Proofreaders, you may want to investigate other ways you can help such as:

For information on the access requirements for these and other roles, please read our Access Requirements section.

We also welcome volunteers with technical skills such as PHP, mySQL, and JavaScript to assist with software development. If you have those skills please contact the General Manager.

How can I keep track of the e-texts I've worked on?

If you wish to be notified when a project reaches a certain stage, the section of any project page below the Project Comments labeled "Event Subscriptions" allows you to sign up to receive an email notification for several different stages, including when it gets posted to Project Gutenberg.

How can I get copies of other Project Gutenberg texts?

You can go to Project Gutenberg's online catalog and get copies of any e-text in the library, including the ones prepared through Distributed Proofreaders.

Communicating with other DPers

Please ensure that all your communication within Distributed Proofreaders adheres to our Code of Conduct. We are a community of volunteers working together to preserve public domain works and it is important that we maintain an atmosphere of respectful teamwork and camaraderie.

Our Jargon

Any online (or offline) community will develop its own jargon over time: DP is no exception. So the newcomer is presented with mysterious terms and acronyms such as OCR, foofing, scanno, PM, etc. Never fear, we've put together jargon guides so you can work out what on earth we're talking about.


Volunteers often join other members of our community in our forums to discuss proofreading, smooth reading, and many other topics (and even to play games or participate in general discussions about common interests). Each book we work on has an associated discussion area (which you can reach from the "Discuss this project" or "Start a discussion about this project" link on the Project Comments page) in which questions can be posted and answered.

You may set certain forum topics or threads to alert you via e-mail if there is a new posting. Your posts on our discussion forums will be viewable by other volunteers. Certain clearly-designated forums are also viewable by unregistered guests to the forums. By means of the forums' "User Control Panel," you may set up your "Board preferences" regarding forum settings such as timezone, board style, and how you should be notified.

Our forums are a friendly and supportive part of Distributed Proofreaders. Please adhere to our Code of Conduct in your postings there. Because political discussions upset some volunteers, please limit such discussions to the Politics thread in the Everything Else (except DP) area of the forums.


Our forum-based teams are a way for DPers to organize their efforts and to socialize. We have several types of teams: some specialize in proofreading and formatting advice, some help volunteers coordinate work at DP, some are devoted to helping volunteers working together on projects in non-English languages, and some simply relate to special interests such as knitting and music. For a full list of available teams, please see our Teams List.


E-mail messages are also used for communication within DP, but not very often (you won't get SPAMmed by DP!). For further details, please read the Distributed Proofreaders Privacy Policy. Some examples are:

  • You will get a Welcome email soon after you register at DP.
  • When you post a message in a DP Forum, you will get a message when someone else posts another message in that Forum (you can turn this off if you want).
  • You may request a notification email as a book passes various points in the DP process (like getting an email when a book you worked on is done and posted on Project Gutenberg).
  • You will get an email notification with election information if you are eligible to vote in the annual election of Trustees for our Board of Trustees.

The Private Message

A Private Message (also PM, Personal Message) is an e-mail sent from one Distributed Proofreaders volunteer to another, using the same software as is used for the DP forum.

Check your DP Inbox here.

Certification of Volunteer Work

If you require certification of your volunteer work at Distributed Proofreaders, please first read this document.

How do I change my Distributed Proofreaders password?

To change your Distributed Proofreaders password, go to your User Preferences and click on the "Reset Password" link.

Technical Problems

Almost all browser-related problems (not being able to log in, not seeing the proofreading page, not getting a fresh page to proofread after you have proofread your first page) can be solved by verifying that your computer is set with the correct date and time and that your browser options are set the following way:

  • Cookies accepted/on
  • JavaScript enabled

Also, if in your Preferences, "Launch in New Window" is set to "Yes," then you must ensure that your browser does not block pop-up windows.

Setting these options correctly solves most problems accessing or using the site. For specific examples of setting these options for various browsers, please read the latest information at Browser Problems. If you are concerned with security, it is possible to set your browser to allow cookies, JavaScript and pop-up windows for the Distributed Proofreaders site while leaving these features disabled for other sites.

Distributed Proofreaders Official Sites

In addition to the main Distributed Proofreader site, DP operates:

Use of Distributed Proofreaders name in other contexts are not official or specifically approved by DP.

Useful Links

To comment or request edits to this page, please contact lhamilton or wfarrell.

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