Do editors need to be certified?
That’s a question that keeps popping up in online editors and writers groups. As you can imagine, there’s no consensus on this matter. Some argue that obtaining certification from a respected school or professional organization is an invaluable asset for an editor. Certification demonstrates that you’ve successfully completed a course of study and can provide clients with a higher level of editing proficiency than someone who hasn’t been certified. Others, including many who have worked as an editor (copy, line, developmental), argue that although certification is beneficial and may give you an edge over other editors, it’s not necessary to be a competent and successful editor. And for many, the high cost of many editorial certification programs is a barrier.
As someone who works as a freelance editor, I can draw on my experience regarding this issue.
But first, we need to specify what we mean by certificates and certification. They actually are two different types of credentials. According to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a certificate requires you to complete a training or education program and achieve its learning outcomes. Colleges, universities, government agencies, employers, and trade organizations offer certificates in editing. However, you don’t have to demonstrate ongoing competence or renew the certificate. For certification, a professional standard-setting body will assess your competence according to that profession’s specific criteria. A certification program grants the certification when you demonstrate that you meet the competence criteria. Unlike someone who attains a certificate, the certification recipient must renew the certification through continued assessment and competence demonstration.
It’s much more time consuming and expensive to receive certification than obtain a certificate in editing. I have one of the latter, from Poynter News Organization/American Copy Editors Society (ACES). I successfully completed the editing course and met its learning outcomes. It’s nice to have this credit on my resume and promotional materials. But I’ve found that my previous work experience has been a much greater asset to my editing career. Before I retired from full-time employment to become a freelancer, I had decades of experience in journalism, corporate communications, and, public health. This background gave me wider subject matter expertise than if I’d gone straight from a university or professional certification program into editing.
For example, one of my editing clients is a public health organization focused on disease and injury prevention. The organization produces social marketing campaigns and various educational curricula. Having worked in public health, I had a familiarity with this material, the concepts and messaging techniques, that proved invaluable in working with the organization. I didn’t need certification to be successful at this work, and frankly, not for any of my other editing projects, whether they be nonfiction books, academic articles and essays, or in-house communications.
Certification can be good for an editor’s career; I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing it. But I’ve found it unnecessary. For me, a combination of profession-specific skills — a thorough grounding in the different kinds of editing and a solid grasp of grammar, syntax, and the mechanics of language — have been more important. Those things, and life experience that no course or program can provide.