Posted on

6 Things I Learned My First Year as a Professional Editor

Professional Editor

The past two years have been crazy for me. One minute I was a student, drowning in papers and dealing with stress-induced insomnia by ingesting large amounts of coffee (not my wisest choice), and the next I was employed as a professional editor. There I was, a recent graduate. Not only did I have an answer to the “So, what will you do now?” question, but I even had an answer that was related to my English major—you know, the one that everyone had been informing me for four years would be entirely useless upon graduation.

It felt good to silence the naysayers, and it felt even better to be gainfully employed and finally take a break from learning. Because there’s never anything new to learn with a new job—right?

Wrong, of course, completely and utterly wrong. There were tons of things to learn! Even though I’ve been working as a professional editor for nearly two years, I’m still learning new things every day. I’d like to share some of my best editing tips with you, aspiring editor, so that you may accelerate your own learning process a bit.

Editing Tip #1: Being a writer does not make you an editor, and being an editor does not make you a writer.

This is less of an editing tip and more of a reminder that editing is a very specific skill. If you’re considering pursuing a career as a professional editor, you need to be honest with yourself about what your capabilities really are. Maybe you got great marks in all your English classes, or you read three books a week. Perhaps you’ve written and even published your own work. All that is great, but it doesn’t mean you’re destined to become a professional editor.

To be an editor, you need a firm grasp of English grammar, but you also need to know how to correct others’ mistakes without eliminating their own voice. You need to be able to do this nicely. It may sound simple, but it’s rather difficult when you actually try. Some people are just plain bad at editing. Conversely, not all editors are writers. Plenty of them hate writing their own documents and prefer to polish existing writing. Remember, editing and writing are two very different skills. Though they are related, they do not necessarily always go together.

Editing Tip #2: If there’s one thing you should strive for above all else, it’s consistency.

Of course, you want to be consistently correct, not consistently incorrect. One of your most important skills as a professional editor, the one that sets you apart from non-editors, will be your ability to spot inconsistencies. This specific type of attention to detail will help you catch errors others would miss, making it extremely important. When you’re working as an editor, if you find yourself stumped about how to solve a certain problem (like, say, a formatting or style issue), the odds are pretty good that choosing to correct the error consistently will be an adequate solution.

Editing Tip #3: Be nice.

EditingCamp You might think that this one is a given, but trust me, you would be wrong. Lots of aspiring professional editors have a great deal of knowledge, and they find themselves bursting at the seams wanting to share this knowledge with clients. That’s good, but your focus as an editor should really be on correcting errors and helping clients improve their work rather than on explaining to them exactly what they did wrong. For one thing, the explanation is likely to go over their heads, and for another, you just sound like a snob when you lord your knowledge over someone else. Provide useful feedback, and be nice when correcting mistakes. Don’t be the reason that we editors have a bad rap; if you want to be part of the editing club, you have to try not to perpetuate the myths.

Editing Tip #4: With that being said, know the rules, and know them well.

Even though you’re not going to break out your correlative conjunction knowledge every time you have to correct a related comma error, you should still know what a correlative conjunction is. Studying the many nuances of English grammar will make you a better editor. If you haven’t already, consider reading a book, taking a course, or otherwise brushing up on the more complex rules of grammar. This way, when you come across a tricky clause, you’ll know exactly why and how you need to fix it.

Editing Tip #5: Google should be your best friend.

Being smart isn’t about having knowledge—it’s about knowing how to find and use the knowledge you need. The same goes for being a professional editor. Sure, you should have a good grasp of grammar rules and conventions, but you are going to encounter much that you don’t know. When that happens, your good friend Google can help. Whether you’re looking up the proper spelling of a medical term or doing basic fact-checking for a history paper, the Internet can be an inexhaustible resource to help you finish each project to the highest standard.

Editing Tip #6: Don’t skip the second pass.

If you’re considering a career in editing, you’re likely a perfectionist. All the good ones are. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but listen—even the most anal people make mistakes. Editors are no exception, which is why one of the best things a professional editor can do is to make sure to leave enough time to complete a second pass. Ideally, you should take a break between completing your first pass and starting your second one. Depending on how much time you have and how long the project is, consider going for a walk, taking a nap, or working on something else for a while. If you don’t complete a second pass, you’ll be sure to miss very obvious errors.


There you have it: six editing tips from my first year as a professional editor. If you’re an amateur editor yourself, I hope you took something useful from this post. If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in this challenging but rewarding field, I hope I’ve helped you make your decision.

Image source: Vladimir Kudinov/