Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

7 Essential Qualities You Need To Become A Professional Editor

There’s more content being written than ever before. In coffee shops, offices, and even kitchens, professionals and amateurs alike are busy hammering out copy — for websites, for printed publications, or for their own works

And if any given piece of content is going to stand a chance against all of that competition, it needs to be carefully edited.

Due to this, it’s a fairly good time for someone to aspire to a professional editing position, especially given how much worry there’s been about the collapse of traditional media. If you can develop the skills, there will always be work for you, whether online or offline, and whether working as an independent freelancer through a site like Upwork or for a larger company.

But if you’re to pursue those skills and enter this profession, you need to first possess (or cultivate) certain qualities. Let’s look at 7 that are absolutely essential:


Your workload as a professional editor won’t be static, which means you’ll have quiet times, but you’ll also have periods during which deadlines pile up and you have to knuckle down and get through work as quickly as possible without letting standards slip. That means working efficiently: never spending 10 minutes doing something that could be done in 1. Efficiency in editing is about forming strong impressions of writer intent and rapidly spotting patterns, allowing you to get the bulk of your editing for a piece done in one fell swoop.


You need to have a real passion for editing, because it isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s involved, particular, rigorous, and time-consuming. You need to be passionate about the perfect phrasing, the communication of rich ideas, and the satisfaction of rooting out every last typo. If you’re not, then your professional standards are unlikely to hold up. Consider that you’ll be working in isolation much of the time — when you’re on your last paragraph of the day, and you doubt that anyone will notice a mistake, you need the drive to excel.


Of course, passion isn’t much use for building a career if it isn’t bolstered with dedication. Passion waxes and wanes. You might feel completely engaged with your job one minute, then tired and frustrated the next. There are also going to be things about your job that you’re not passionate about: for instance, slowly trudging through a new client’s style guide, or handling unwarranted pushback on your punctuation choices.


When the passion runs dry, and your dedication is at its lowest ebb, one thing alone can keep you working effectively, and that thing is pedantry. A great editor doesn’t just want to make text clearer — they’re incensed by non-sequiturs, subject/verb disagreements, and the common conflation of homophones. When they see mistakes, they simply must correct them. This can go too far, naturally, but provided it’s tempered somewhat (more on that next), it’s invaluable.


When editing a piece, an editor must never forget that they’re at risk of mercilessly chopping up passages that mean a lot to the writer just as they are. That isn’t to say that those passages should be left as they are: instead, the editor must demonstrate empathy, assuming the writer’s perspective to whatever extent they can. That way, they can try to preserve the writer’s spirit. They must also extend that empathy to the prospective reader. Operations like the book editing service at Jericho Writers deal with countless formats and writing types, and ultimately have to figure out how best to carry across writer visions in reader-friendly ways.


No one knows every last intricacy of the English language alone, and even if you were able to compile a comprehensive awareness of its entire history, it would become outdated almost immediately. Language is an ever-shifting thing, after all — new constructions spring into existence, old ones fall out of favor, and you need to roll with the punches (adaptability is something that employers prize). Pedantry, then, must be balanced with humility. Remember that you don’t have all the answers, and always be willing to listen to counterarguments (particularly from writers).


There will be arguments at times, that much you can be sure about. You’ll find yourself in the tricky position of disagreeing with the writer whose work you’re editing and the manager whose final approval you’ll need to wrap up the edit. You’ll also inevitably make mistakes from time to time — you’ll miss a typo, or erroneously “correct” something that didn’t need correcting — and when that happens, you’ll need to simply admit it instead of trying to dodge it. If you want the relative freedom of being a professional editor with minimal oversight, you need to prove that you can be trusted with it, and that’s all about showing integrity.

How many of these 7 essential qualities do you currently possess? The more you can already bring to the table, the better positioned you are to start working towards a career in the editing field — as long as you make a commitment, you can develop the rest.