Professional Editorial Standards: A. The Fundamentals of Editing

Professional editors perform a variety of tasks, from managing an entire editing process to performing only a specific part of it. Regardless of the extent of their involvement, all editors need to broadly understand the various editing, production and distribution processes and the editor’s role within them.

The Fundamentals of Editing specify the knowledge, skills and practices a professional editor must use to complete the work.

Before undertaking a project or task, editors should ensure that they have the skills, training and experience necessary to complete the work. There are also general skills that are not specific to a project, such as how to communicate effectively with everyone involved in the editing project or task.

A1      Editorial teams

If you are working with other editors, you are expected to do the following:

A1.1       Effectively manage and resolve disagreements in editorial judgment.

A1.2       Understand the collaborative nature of editorial work and receive the input and editorial judgment of everyone on the team graciously.

A1.3       Be careful not to undo the work of the editors who came before you in the process and do not do the work of those who come later.

A1.4       Support your own choices when asked (for example, refer to style guides, project goals, best practices, user feedback, current references).

A2      Editorial intervention and scope

As an editor, you must be aware of the scope of the project, the budget available, the level of edit required, the time available and other scheduling constraints.

Ask questions if these details are not clear. Sometimes the level of edit requested is not the level of edit required. Negotiate and clarify the scope before starting work.

A2.1       Understand how editing is influenced by the scope of a project: what the project is (its audience, medium and purpose); the level of editorial intervention requested or required; the time, budget and other resources available; the roles and responsibilities of the key players in the project; and the lines of authority.

A2.2       Set and maintain realistic schedules and meet deadlines.

A2.3       Recognize what needs to be changed and edited according to established editing conventions and style, as well as any organizational editorial practices and standards (e.g., a house style guide). Make or suggest changes to satisfy plain language practices and conscious language conventions as required.

A2.4       Consider the implications of time, cost, production processes and the intended audience, medium and purpose when suggesting changes. At the earliest opportunity, flag problems that may affect the schedule or budget.

A2.5       Make all changes while staying within the scope of the project and the stage of editing, and working to maintain a consistent voice, tone and register without altering the intended meaning.

A2.6       Where applicable and feasible, flag elements of language and style that may be considered harmful or offensive to specific segments of the intended audience and suggest alternatives.

A3      Editorial stages

As an editor, you are expected to know your responsibilities at each stage of editing.

A3.1       Know the core roles within the editorial process:

  1. Managing editor: This role can vary greatly from one project to another. The managing editor plans and manages the development of the project. Bearing in mind the scope of the project, they assess the quality of the material and determine the editorial intervention that is appropriate. They determine the extent of the edit to be applied. This role can also be called acquisitions editor, developmental editor or project editor.
  2. Structural editor: Structural editing is assessing and shaping the overall organization and content of the material to optimize it for the intended audience, medium and purpose.
  3. Stylistic editor: Stylistic editing clarifies meaning, ensures coherence and flow at the paragraph and sentence level and refines the language.
  4. Copy editor: Copy editing corrects spelling, usage, grammar, and punctuation, and maintains consistency within the text.
  5. Proofreader: Proofreading checks all elements of the content and formatting for correctness, completeness and adherence to the style guide.

A3.2       Know that the editorial stages as defined in these Standards can often do the following:

  1. Overlap or unfold differently (e.g., proofreading only, combined structural and stylistic editing).
  2. Be described and understood differently (e.g., content editing, line editing).
  3. Include other types of editing not described in these Standards (e.g., beta reading, triage editing, peer review).

A3.3       Verify that all necessary edits have been applied at each preceding stage and that new problems have not been introduced.

A4      Working with design and production

Be aware of your role in content creation, editing, design and production processes. Be aware of the basic principles, practices, conventions, terminology and tools used to accomplish each task.

A4.1       Understand how design can be used to convey meaning and improve readability and accessibility in print and other media.

A4.2       Understand how textual elements and the interrelationship between text, design and format can affect readability and accessibility in print and other media.

A4.3       Understand the conventions for displaying tables, figures, graphs, maps and other visual elements that convey meaning.

A4.4       Understand common visual elements and types of audio- visual media.

A4.5       Understand and flag issues related to typography and formatting, such as typographical measures (e.g., pixels, points), text alignment (e.g., indentation, justification), spacing (e.g., letter and line spacing) and typeface (e.g., serif, x-height).

A4.6       As the task requires, understand and use proofreader’s marks on paper.

A4.7       As the task requires, know the software used for design, formatting, electronic publishing and online content creation.

A5      Editorial processes

Understand current editorial processes and how they fit within larger production processes.

A5.1       Be prepared to work in alternative workflows.

A5.2       Understand the requirements of each task and project.

A5.3       Understand and use the terminology employed in editorial and production work.

A5.4       Know the essential requirements and conventions of different types of material (e.g., books, apps, periodicals, websites, reports).

A5.5       Take initiative in collaborative editorial processes. Always flag potential issues as you see them.

A5.6       Be flexible in collaborative editorial processes (e.g., defer to subject matter experts on content, allow for legal review).

A5.7       Know how to use editing tools for electronic markup and how to use editing functions in word-processing programs.

A5.8       Maintain appropriate document control and versioning to ensure the correct document and version are being marked up and submitted. If required, keep copies of successive versions, identify who has made the changes and take steps to ensure that all parties are using the current version of a document. Ensure that material approved in preceding stages has not been changed unintentionally.

A6      Audience considerations

Be aware of the audience’s needs and how they will affect the editing and production choices. At every stage, look ahead to the final product.

A6.1       Consider the needs and accessibility requirements of the audience, optimizing language, presentation and readability.

A6.2       Know how to structure the material so that the audience can easily access the information they need (e.g., use clear and short headings, present information in chronological order, build on information previously learned), ensuring the organization of the information is clear to the intended audience (e.g., the information most relevant to the audience is easily accessible).

A6.3       If the audience for your document will find the content difficult to read or unfamiliar, apply plain language principles.

A7      Legal considerations

A7.1       Understand the legal dimensions of editing, and identify and either resolve or flag possible legal issues (e.g., copyright infringement, plagiarism, defamation, obscenity, privacy violations). Know when to suggest seeking legal counsel.

A7.2       Know the basics of copyright legislation and how it affects all content producers. Look up specific provisions if necessary.

A7.3       Know when permission is required (e.g., to reproduce an image or copyrighted text) and when consent is required (e.g., to use a person’s name or image).

A7.4       Know how to properly cite material.

A8      Ethical responsibilities

A8.1       Edit to ensure the content is not misleading, false or otherwise lacking in integrity.

A8.2       Understand the ethical dimensions of editing (e.g., the need to address biased, non-inclusive and offensive material; the need to respect confidentiality and privacy).

A8.3       Avoid conflicts of interest by not using your relationships with any of your professional associates to profit financially or professionally without explicit approval.

A9      Conscious language

A9.1       Know the history and evolution of the language being used. The use of certain terms and phrases may be inadvertently harmful.

A9.2       Know who is excluded from the material because of factors such as age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, migration status, socioeconomic status, place of residence, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

A9.3       Identify and either remove, amend, flag or document potentially biased, non-inclusive and offensive material (e.g., culturally stereotyped assumptions or content).

A10      Accessibility

A10.1       Ensure the intended readers can understand the language in the document.

A10.2       Be aware of any government or industry accessibility requirements for the kind of document you are working on.

A10.3       Know how to check that the document the audience will see is accessible (note that making it accessible is outside of your scope as an editor).

A10.4       Know the accessibility limitations of the software that is being used to prepare the document (e.g., the capability of built-in software to closed-caption video presentations).

A10.5       Be familiar with accessibility-related resources, such as the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for online content.

A10.6       Understand how to compose and edit alt text – a short written description of visual elements like illustrations and tables. As the task requires, rework the alt text to make multimedia and other non-textual elements more accessible to people who use screen readers or Braille devices.

A11      Editing resources for spelling, usage, grammar and fact checking

As an editor, you should be aware of the various issues and options for language usage and know the available editorial resources and how to use them. Editing resources include dictionaries, manuals, databases, software applications, style guides and other reference materials that are often used in the trade. This list is not exhaustive, but it is intended to give you an understanding of what resources are commonly used to complete editorial work.

A11.1       Use common editing resources, including software and reference materials relevant to editing, competently and efficiently.

A11.2       Use current technology, software and systems for working with and sharing materials with authors, clients and team members.

A11.3       Maintain competency in software and software features relevant to editing (e.g., finding and replacing items, marking revisions and checking consistency).

A11.4       Know how to create and maintain a style sheet, and how and when it is used.

A12      Communication

Communication with your team members in the production and editorial processes is critical to achieving the intended result. It includes written and verbal communication of editorial feedback, such as markups, queries and memos, and discussing, justifying and negotiating changes.

A12.1       When working on screen, use an agreed-on system for tracking and showing edits (e.g., Track Changes, PDF markup tools). When working on paper, use standard proofreading marks unless another system has been agreed on.

A12.2       Use judgment about when to query and when to resolve problems without consultation. Do as much work as you can to minimize queries to reviewers.

A12.3       When writing queries, memos and author letters, ensure they are clear, tactful, succinct and actionable. If applicable, offer your best solutions.

A12.4       Clearly and diplomatically, request clarification of meaning and intent, explain changes as appropriate and propose or negotiate significant editorial changes.

A13      Not introducing errors

As an editor, you are expected to have a strong knowledge of grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage.

A13.1       Make all changes without altering the intended meaning or introducing errors, such as errors in fact, style or formatting.

A14      Ongoing professional development

As a professional editor, you should practise continual learning and ongoing professional development.

A14.1       Expand your knowledge and skills through continual learning (e.g., reading, taking courses, volunteering, attending webinars and conferences, listening to podcasts, participating in online groups and discussions).

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