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Am I going about becoming an editor the correct way?

I am about to be attending my first year of college, though I have taken some college classes already to get ahead. After taking an online English class, I decided I want to be an editor. I know editing, like most other things, takes practice to get good at. I've got my college plans all figured out... I think. The main thing I am worried about is if I am going to be prepared enough for a career in editing? I want to edit things like blogs, newspapers, and books. I am already editing online to gain experience. Is there anything else I can do to improve? What all does it take to be an editor? Also, if you have any information about being a technical writer that would be very beneficial too. Thank you for your help! english editorial-writing news-editor technical-writing

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Ana’s Answer

Hi, Hailey. First, it's great that you want to be an editor. The first step as you head into college is to think about how you work backward from your goal (to be employed as an editor) and gain skills that will make you a strong one. I was very similar to you when I started college -- I knew I wanted to eventually be an editor, studied journalism, and had a solid career at several newspapers/websites like the L.A. Times. (Now I work in a different field but the skills are easily transferrable.)

Background that will make you a strong editor:
Writing: To make other people's writing better, you need to be a strong writer yourself. In all of your classes, not just the writing classes, focus on writing great papers and attend professor/TA office hours to get feedback on essays and written exams. Ask what separates a decent writing assignment from an outstanding one and practice as much as you can. Attempt different styles of writing: essays, poems, journals, news stories, even obituaries. Volunteer at the campus newspaper first as a writer -- it's extremely important to learn what it feels like to have your work edited.
People skills: Diplomacy and tact are invaluable when you're an editor. Writing is a very personal act so when someone suggests changes or points out inconsistencies/mistakes the writer may feel like it's a criticism of them rather than their words. Consider taking a leadership position in a volunteer organization so you get practice in a team setting, in making decisions and communicating them, and in resolving conflicts. You can also take steps to explore editing by revising organization documentation.
Practical experience: Let people know you want to be an editor; it's far less common than wanting to be a writer so professors, TAs, academic advisors, etc., will remember and help guide you to opportunities. Also there are different kinds of editors, and people typically choose a professional path and take classes to support that path (journalism for news, English for books, etc.). News editors are very different from book editors so spend your summers or take advantage of programs your college offers to intern at either publications (newspapers, magazines, trade publications), publishing companies or book agents, or agencies that do PR and marketing.

Hope that helps, and good luck!


Lots of good advice from Ana.Get involved with a college publication and use it to hone your writing skills. Ana is correct that you need to start as a writer. Learn to be edited before attempting to edit the work of others. In my 30 years as an editor, my goal was to keep the tone and voice of the writer as much as possible. When you do get the opportunity to edit someone else's work, do it in a collaborative fashion. Rather than make wholesale changes, talk with the writer about why he or she wrote something the way they did. And be open to the possibility that they were right and you were wrong. A final tip: Have the writer make the changes you suggest rather than do it yourself. It's the best way to teach a colleague to be a better writer. Graham (Rusty) Carter Jr.
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Constance’s Answer

It's great to read of your drive to become a writer or editor. Great writing skills, and communication skills in general, are key to success in nearly every profession.
I was a technical writer in a variety of industries for over 20 years, before I shifted to my new profession. Tech writing provided me with a wonderful toolset/foundation that I lean on daily!

Here's a few ideas that may help you on your journey:
Write up some some steps or an explanation for a task that you perform regularly. Write them for an audience that has limited knowledge of the process. Pay attention to how you present the info and to the audience who will be consuming it. Write the process for a different audience, maybe one that is more familiar with the concept. Knowing your audience is very important.
Avoid passive voice. Ensure the user is performing the action. Not only does this reduce the number of words you use, but it makes text easier to read.
Avoid jargon. I'm sure you've heard it 100 times, but it bears repeating.
Remember, just because a subject is dry, the writing doesn't have to be. Let's face it, there are some pretty dry topics out there. A good tech writer can make even the most mundane topic easy to read. Often, I read things out loud to see how they sound.
* Review tech writing samples to see what works for you and what doesn't. Rewrite the samples to make them clearer. Consider this a form of editing and build your skills at reworking someone else's words. Don't forget, there is more than one way to state something clearly.

I know my tips may seem pretty simplistic, but the basics are really important. It's easy to build from a strong foundation. I hope you find them helpful!

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Theresa’s Answer

Hi, Hailey. I loved reading the motivation and passion you have for your future career in editing! My main piece of advice is to volunteer as an editor (or technical writer) somewhere, then use that job on your resume after you graduate. It's helped me so many times in my careers! For example, I used to volunteer for an international volunteer group (I'm sorry, I can't remember the name) where I helped to edit the English text/articles on websites for international non-profit organizations. I also served three years as an IT volunteer in the Peace Corps in Kenya, which helped me gain experience as a writer and software developer. When I returned to the US, I was eventually able to turn that volunteer work into paying positions, including (after a BS degree in Technical Communication) as a Technical Writer. Now I'm working toward a certificate in Data Analysis and will volunteer if I'm unable to find a paying position as a Data Analyst soon after I finish.

Theresa recommends the following next steps:

Volunteer in the career field of your interest.
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Brandye’s Answer

It sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders! First, let's talk about Technical Writing. Depending on the degree you plan on getting, a course or two in Technical Writing may be required. Of course, you could also get a degree (even a Masters!) in Technical Writing if your college offers it.
There are many different types of Technical Writers: Marketing, Scientific, Pharmaceutical, High-Tech, etc. The possibilities are really endless. I would encourage you to intern at a couple of different types of companies during your college career. Consider interning at a start-up! They are super high-energy and teach you to think on your feet. On the flip side, interning at a large organization will teach you process and how to be part of a large team.
(full disclosure - I know nothing about writing or editing for blogs or newspapers!) About editing: while working as a Technical Writer, you'll have lots of opportunity to edit technical documents, white papers, RFPs and the like. I've only worked at one company where we had a dedicated editor, but we peer edited all the time. If you do a quick search of job boards, you'll see that Technical Writers are much more in demand than Editors and many, many of the responsibilities overlap -- double win!
I hope my advise was useful!

Thank you so much for offering your knowledge and advice! I will definitely look further into a career as a technical writer. Hailey B.