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Professional Editorial Standards: A. The Fundamentals of Editing

A. The Fundamentals of Editing

Professional editors perform a variety of tasks, from managing an entire publishing process to performing only a specific part of it. Regardless of the extent of their involvement, all editors need to have a broad understanding of various processes and their role within them. 

In their work, professional editors should

  • demonstrate initiative and flexibility
  • be able to adapt to the needs of the project and the specific work environment
  • communicate clearly and tactfully
  • respect the opinions of others

Before undertaking a project, professional editors should ensure that they have the skills, training, and experience necessary to complete the work. Editors should continue to improve and upgrade their knowledge and skills throughout their careers.

The Fundamentals of Editing encompass, in general terms, the knowledge (A1 through A6) a professional editor must be equipped with to complete the tasks stated here as fundamental practices of editing (A7 through A12).

For example, in areas such as design and production (A6), the editor may not always have a hands-on role but still needs to know and understand the basic principles and tools to do a proper edit. However, other areas of the editor's knowledge, such as knowing how the scope of a project affects the edit (A3) and knowing the legal and ethical requirements in publishing (A5), may lead directly to the editor's intervention—that is, to applying skills and practices such as revising for style (A8) and flagging copyright violations (A9). These areas of knowledge, therefore, have direct counterparts in some of the practices listed in the second part of this section.

A professional editor meets the following standards.


A1  Know the publishing process

Know that editors are part of a larger publishing process, whether for print or electronic media. Understand the stages of the process and the roles of the other team members so that the editing work complements the work of the other team members.

A1.1  Understand the stages of a project, the typical roles and responsibilities of a production team, and the editor's place in the publishing process.

A1.2  Understand the generally recognized stages of the editorial process and be aware that they may overlap or unfold differently during a given project.

A1.3  Know the terminology commonly used in editing and publishing.

A1.4  Understand the different types of publications and media and the implications these have for editing and production choices.

A2  Know the importance of the audience and the purpose of the material

Be aware of how the audience and purpose of the material affect the editing and production choices. At every stage, look ahead to the final product.

A3  Know how the scope of a project affects the editorial process

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

A4  Know the medium

Know the conventional parts of different types of publications and understand their purposes and their usual order or placement (e.g., parts of a book, newsletter, government or corporate report, website, or other electronic publication).

A5  Know the legal and ethical requirements pertaining to publishing

Understand that an editor is part of a process with legal and ethical dimensions.

A5.1  Understand the legal dimensions of the publishing process, including the fundamental concepts of copyright (e.g., ownership of works, public domain, licensing, moral rights), plagiarism, libel, obscenity, privacy protection, and related matters.

A5.2  Understand the ethical dimensions of the publishing process (e.g., the need to address biased, non-inclusive, and offensive material and the need to respect confidentiality and privacy).

A5.3  Understand the editor's roles and responsibilities in these parts of the process and know the importance of addressing any related issues that arise at any stage in the edit.

A5.4  Know when permissions are required.

A6  Know the basic elements of the design and production processes

Be aware of the role an editor plays in the design and production processes and understand the basic principles, conventions, terminology, and tools of that process.

A6.1  Understand how design can be used to convey meaning and to improve readability and accessibility in print and electronic media.

A6.2  Understand how textual elements and the interrelationship between text, format, and design can affect readability and accessibility in print and electronic media.

A6.3  Understand the conventions for displaying tables, figures, graphs, maps, and other visual elements.

A6.4  As the task requires, recognize typographical characteristics, including typographical measures (e.g., pixels, points), text alignment (e.g., indentation, justification), spacing (e.g., letter and line spacing), and typeface (e.g., serif, sans serif, weight, x-height, ascender,  descender).

A6.5  As the task requires, be familiar with software commonly used for design, formatting, electronic publishing, and web authoring (e.g., Acrobat, InDesign, LaTeX).

A6.6  As the task requires, be familiar with common visual elements, such as the main graphic formats (e.g., EPS, JPEG, TIFF, PNG) and types of images (e.g., icons, photographs, video excerpts, illustrations).


A7  Set and maintain a realistic schedule

Set realistic schedules and meet deadlines, whether working, for example, as an editor who sets and maintains a project schedule, as a staff editor who handles one part of a larger schedule, or as a freelance editor who balances the deadlines of various clients.

A8  Define and apply the appropriate editorial intervention

Bearing in mind the scope of the project and the editor's authority, assess the quality of the material and determine the editorial intervention that is appropriate.

A8.1  Determine the extent of the edit to be applied: the stage or stages (structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, proofreading) and the level of edit (heavy, light). Use editorial judgment when deciding whether to intervene, leave as is, query, change, or recommend a change.

A8.2  Having determined the extent of the edit, recognize what needs to be changed and edit according to established editing conventions and style, as well as any organizational editorial practices and standards (e.g., controlled language specifications). 

A8.3  Ensure that the format is appropriate for the material to best meet the needs of the intended audience, purpose, and medium.

A8.4  Consider the implications of time, cost, production processes, and the intended audience and purpose when suggesting changes. At the earliest opportunity, flag problems that may affect the schedule or budget.

A9  Identify and address legal and ethical problems

Bearing in mind the legal and ethical dimensions of the publishing process, at the earliest possible opportunity, address any related issues that arise.

A9.1  Identify and either resolve or flag possible instances of legal problems (e.g., copyright infringement, plagiarism, libel, obscenity, privacy violations) or ethical problems (e.g., breaches of the requirements for confidentiality and privacy).

A9.2  Identify and either remove, amend, flag, or document potentially biased, non-inclusive, and offensive material (e.g., racist, sexist, culturally stereotyped assumptions or content).

A10  Use common editing resources

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

A10.1  Use current electronic technology, software, and systems for working with and sharing materials with authors, clients, or team members.

A10.2  Maintain competency in software and software features relevant to editing (e.g., finding and replacing items, marking revisions, and checking consistency, spelling, and language level).

A10.3  Know where to find and how to use current, reliable reference works such as style guides, dictionaries, and databases.

A11  Ensure edits are clearly communicated so that they can be properly applied and captured in the production process

Communicate edits clearly. Manage files and documents methodically.

A11.1  Ensure everyone on the team is aware of the appropriate level of intervention for the edit. 

A11.2  Clearly mark and convey changes, suggestions, and directions orally or in writing (e.g., electronic or paper markup, margin notes, emails, assessments).

A11.3  Communicate clearly and tactfully with team members at all stages.

A11.4  As the task requires, 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.

A11.5  To the extent possible, verify that requested changes have been made correctly and ensure that material approved in preceding stages has not been changed unintentionally.

A12  Introduce no new errors

Make all changes without altering intended meaning or introducing errors.