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An editor by many other names: What does an editor actually do?


By Abby Egerter

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone who had recently started working as a production editor. I congratulated her on her new in-house position and then paused for a moment before asking what she actually did.

Oh, she said, it’s really just copy editing.

And that, my friends, is one of the reasons I’m not surprised that many people don’t know that “editor” is actually a broad, vague term that covers a wide array of editorial tasks. There are developmental editors, substantive editors, and stylistic editors; there are copy editors, production editors, and proofreaders; there are also content editors and editors-in-chief.

Some editors specialize in only one type of editing; others will gladly handle jobs that range across a spectrum of editing tasks. Still others may not even edit in the usual sense: editors-in-chief are actually managers; content editors (sometimes referred to as senior editors) may be in charging of selecting or writing content rather than revising it. Additionally, an editor who is given one title may actually do a significant amount of work that is best described under another title, as is the case with my aforementioned colleague.

If all this has you scratching your head, take comfort in knowing that your confusion is (unfortunately) quite normal. Allow me to clarify some common editing roles.