By Berna Ozunal
What is editing?
Earlier, I talked about some pretty basic things editors should keep in mind when preparing a resumé. Let’s talk about something more interesting and more important this time. I think, as editors, we can agree that what editors do is not fully understood— particularly by people who need editors. From the different types of editing (e.g., copy editing, structural editing), different types of editors (e.g., production, technical), different specialty and niche areas (e.g., academic, graphic novels), and different components of editing (e.g., indexing, fact-checking), there is a perpetual fog patch that obscures our profession.
So let’s talk about what makes an editor an editor.
As with all disciplines, there are professionals, and there’s everybody else. But it’s harder for people to make that distinction in editing. I think it’s because when people edit their own writing, it typically involves checking for typos and other such peccadilloes, and they think that’s all paid editors do—not true. People also think an aptitude for language is all it takes. That is, if someone is “nitpicky” when it comes to grammar or a “word nerd,” ta-da, that person is qualified to edit—also not true. Having a high degree of literacy or having a degree in English, linguistics, philosophy—these are all excellent foundations. But what makes an editor a true editor? I think, very simply, it is being dedicated to editing, taking the discipline seriously, working full-time at it, and always building your knowledge (this includes unlearning, which is equally important). And with resumés, this is where the problem lies. But, first:
What editors do
The tasks that editors perform are diverse and intricate, but generally speaking, here are some of the things editors do: They rid language of jargon, platitudes, biases, and ambiguities. They resolve errors pertaining to diction, usage, semantics, grammar (syntax), legality (e.g., plagiarism, misleading statements, potentially libelous or legally contentious statements), consistency, tone, flow, organization, and structure. They are curious and questioning, applying critical thinking to everything they do. They are creative thinkers too—how else do you turn swamp water into Evian? Also under the purview of the editor is accuracy—sequential, factual, and mathematical. Editors ensure compliance with internal and external style guides, which advise on everything from typography to localization. Other things that editors look for that might not be so obvious—anthropomorphisms, bad juxtapositions, errors in logic (e.g., paradoxes, non sequiturs), double entendres… . Editors act as intermediaries between the author and the audience, and they must tactfully and skillfully balance the interests of both. Equally important, editors must know when not to interfere and must not impose their own ideas and voice onto the material. They must exercise discretion and preserve the writer’s voice, intent, and meaning. And this is just a quick peep through the fog. In short, editors make others look good, and they do it graciously and invisibly for the most part.
OK, maybe you’re thinking, so what does this have to do with my resumé? Here’s the thing: If you are applying for an editor position, do you think it’s a good idea to add other “related” titles, as I’ve often seen, to your resumé? For example, “editor/social media expert/blogger/strategist”? To me, this indicates the applicant does not fully appreciate what an editor does, and just by doing this, it dilutes the value of an editor and helps perpetuate the idea that editors don’t offer much value. In other words, either you are an editor, or you aren’t. I’ve seen it enough times to know that too many people do this.
If someone is hiring an editor, I think it’s fair to assume they want an editor. Everything that is on your resumé must point to editing. If you want to apply to an editing position and don’t have much experience, it’s important to emphasize all the editing you’ve done and to try and tie other jobs to editing. For example, if you were a cashier, write about how nothing escaped your notice, from pricing discrepancies to furtive lime heists. Editing boils down to problem solving, and there are lots of opportunities to demonstrate this ability no matter what kind of work you’ve done.
You should also try and build up your editing experience. You can volunteer for the Editors Toronto blog or other Editors Canada publications. If you have done other things linked to editing, do not add them to your title, but highlight the editing aspects of those experiences. Applicants with too many areas of expertise are not appealing in the same way a menu with too many options is not appealing—it’s trying to be too many things, so you know nothing is going to be very good. As Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
The editor/writer combo
Now, there are other fields where the opposite is true, where they want one person to perform the functions of many. I do not believe that editing is one of those fields. However, because of the fog patch mentioned earlier, if people are looking for writers, or other types of language and media professionals, having “editor” tacked on to your title is perceived as beneficial, because you are then able to look after your own typos. But, if you are an editor and a writer, never mention you are a writer when applying for editing positions. This is a bad idea for obvious reasons. The person looking at your resumé will worry about overzealousness when rewriting, or perhaps that you really want to be a writer and the editing thing is just a convenient segue into that. Don’t forget: if there is any ambiguity about what you do or where you want to go, it is going to work against you.
I hope I have been able to provide some insight into the work editors do and how valuable it is. And I hope I have shown that when it comes to finding work as an editor, either you are an editor or you are not. In subsequent entries in this four-part series, I would like to write specifically about the language and structure of a resumé.
Berna Ozunal is a senior editor specializing in advertising, design, business, and corporate communications.
This article was copy edited by Afara Kimkeran.