There is a wide range of people who call themselves editors, and it’s tough to know who’s right for your project. There are no standards for editors, and there is certainly no single way for editors to become competent at what they do. Some people say they’ve always been strong in English writing, and enjoy editing other people’s work, but that’s not enough to call yourself an editor. As with any skilled profession, competence as an editor comes from the combination of three elements: knowledge, skill, and practice.
There are several ways to learn how to edit. Some people pursue formal training, through a university program (e.g., the Publishing Program at Ryerson University) or a college program (e.g., the Editing Program at George Brown College); both allow students to take individual courses or the full certificate. Others take workshops, such as those offered through the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC). Still others choose to learn through self-study; EAC sells a series of books called Meeting Professional Editorial Standards as well as certification study guides in all the areas of editing that provide excellent self-study/self-test learning tools.
To some extent, skill refers to the “knack” or “natural talent” of editing—not everyone is cut out for this type of work. To take that skill to a level where it can be exchange for a fee, the skill needs to be married with knowledge and then honed through practice.
Knowing how to edit is a far cry from being competent at it. Experience is essential, and most editors build that experience on the job. They may work in-house at a publisher, magazine, or newspaper; at an organization that does its own promotional or technical writing; or in a government position. Other editors work freelance, with a variety of clients, such as individual authors, small businesses, corporations, publishers, and so on. Freelance editors might work on any type of documents, including promotional material, novel manuscripts, university papers, magazines, newspapers, textbooks, and so on.