There was a recent tweet asserting that training from a renowned organisation was intrinsic to becoming a consummate proofreader or copy-editor. I agree that many folk who think they are professionals in this field due to a university education are not a good fit, but I do not agree that accredited training is integral to being a superlative copy-editor or proofreader.
Off the top of my head, I know seven people who are scarily poor at spelling, grammar and punctuation. They ‘decided’ to become copy-editors after university because they ‘see spelling mistakes’: they equate a tertiary education in their chosen specialism with an entitlement to becoming an editorial professional.
I was headhunted by a global publishing company and undertook its notoriously gruelling copy-editing test.
- I have had no accredited training from any organisation.
- I passed that ultra-tough exam under the time limit; few pass it at all.
- Another copy-editor who had trained with a popular UK copy-editing and proofreading organisation failed the test.
I was a member of that same organisation for one year. Regular emails arrived listing potential proofreading and copy-editing jobs. I didn’t have to pass any tests whatever to join the group. I find it worrying that one of the biggest organisation in the UK accepts members without an entry test or without viewing examples of past work. I feel sure people looking for editorial help are unaware of this fact.
When you work on manuscripts daily for a variety of publishing companies, corporate institutions and academic organisations, each with its unique style guide, you are immersed in training every day. Hell, remembering that one company uses per cent while another prefers percent is a skill all of its own.
And working within an editorial department, liaising with typesetters, cartographers, managing editors and picture editors, seeing the process from start to finish, is something training cannot hope to emulate.
Undertaking a short course is not in the same league.
Another example of the failure of this training – in my opinion – was the qualified member who had, for example, failed to notice ‘sort help’ in the text. The manuscript was littered with tense inconsistencies and misspellings.
I know this because the authors were horrified by his copy-editing and asked the company for whom the report was written to recommend another copy-editor to go over the book again.
Here’s what those authors had to say after I’d completed the project:
“Thank you again for doing such a fantastic job on the copy-editing.”
Aimée Watson, Going Global Content and Communications Manager,
Education and Society, British Council
“…And thank you from Tim and me too. You really have done a wonderful job.”
Dr Mary Stiasny, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) and Chief Executive,
University of London International Programmes
Tim Gore, Director, Global Networks and Communities
for the University of London International Programmes
One well-respected worldwide organisation has a raft of errors in its blurb promoting its copy-editing and proofreading services.
I also follow copy-editors and proofreaders on social-media channels who quietly work away, day in, day out, who have had no professional training. These people have great testimonials and are a credit to their profession. They are naturally good with language: they have a ‘feel’ for words. They are instinctively punctilious. They read obsessively and forensically.
My advice to companies and organisations trying to find a professional copy-editor or proofreader is to look at the person’s experience. Have they worked on a range of publications? Can they produce testimonials? Do they have examples of past work and how they changed a poorly written or error-prone manuscript into a thing of beauty?
I should mention I have been a freelance proofreader and copy-editor for 39 years.
The most important traits of my job are an enquiring mind, a ridiculous attention to detail, and a natural love of words, language and order (order is really important). Excessive reading helps too.
I should also mention I am hopeless at any other profession, and that includes typing: my keyboard skills are shocking.