In the first post in this series, we defined professionalism and identified three criteria of being a professional editor. We discussed specific knowledge and skill in the second post and remuneration in the third. In this final post, we’ll look at an ethical code of practice as central to professionalism. We will see that PEG’s Code of Conduct reinforces the organisation’s commitment to professionalism within our industry.

Knowing what is right and what is wrong


Yes or no?

  • I can charge what I want.
  • I can run my business in the way I choose.
  • I don’t need to have formal training in this field.
  • I can decide the terms of my service.
  • My terms of service don’t need to be the same for every client.
  • I can share my work with whomever I wish.
  • My clients don’t need to know how I get the work done.
  • I don’t need to pay tax.
  • If I can secure the client by offering a reduced rate, that’s okay.
  • I can let clients know why my services are better than those of a colleague.

Ethics in a nutshell

Ethics is about knowing what is right and what it is wrong. It can be the difference between knowing what you can do and knowing what you should do. Ethics affect individuals, groups and society. Sound ethical behaviour relies on a number of individual character strengths:

  • good judgement and decision-making;
  • integrity (doing what you say you will do);
  • respect for others;
  • trustworthiness (people can rely on you);
  • care (you are invested in what you do and what others need).

Ethics in our work as copy editors rests on knowing the value of our services. We need to be able to recognise what is okay and what is not. Before making decisions, we should think through the consequences of those decisions. As professional editors, we need to behave in a manner that aligns with our Code of Conduct – this is a professional duty and responsibility.

It’s all about boundaries

The problem of an unregulated profession with varying degrees of training (if any at all) is that little focus is placed on ethics and what this means for professional editors. As a result, many behave unethically, even in small ways, but without any awareness of doing so. Through formal training, membership of professional organisations and networking with colleagues you can learn what it means to behave ethically.

PEG’s Code of Conduct offers an excellent base that directs professional behaviour. But professional behaviour requires more than a list of what we can and can’t do. It requires a personal awareness and conscious choice about how we want to act, what we want others to perceive in us and what role we choose to play in public understanding about our profession. We may have a code that guides us but, ultimately, we control how we behave and how ethical our behaviour is.


It’s your choice

PEG’s Code of Conduct provides guidelines about competence, continuing professional development (CPD), professional responsibility, remuneration, professional reputation and appropriate conduct.

It is our duty to make sure we understand what these guidelines mean in our work. We control what we do and don’t do, what we will accept and what we won’t, with whom we will engage and with whom we won’t. We commit to this code because we know what it means to be professional and we understand that to be taken seriously, we need to be serious.

You make the call:

  • Do I have the skill to complete this work?
  • Do I need to improve on what I know and how I work?
  • Can I separate what I believe from what I’m editing?
  • Can I refrain from imposing my style on that of the author?
  • Do I give my client’s work to a colleague to complete without the client knowing?
  • Are my terms of service delivery, including time frames and payment, clear?
  • Are my rates in keeping with professional practice?
  • Do I have a baseline rate or is each task a new calculation?
  • Do I have business tools in place that define professional service delivery, such as formal quotations, contracts of service, invoices?
  • Do I honour my terms of service delivery?
  • Do I communicate with colleagues in a cordial and supportive manner?
  • How do I contribute to upholding the status and integrity of the profession?

Professionalism is not to be taken lightly. It requires commitment from each practising individual within the context of organised professional platforms. Professionalism is not only about a title or job description – it requires skills and knowledge, CPD and rendering paid services. Our services should make it clear, through remuneration and formal business procedures, that we do have expertise that not every member of society possesses and that we can charge for this because we are constituted as a profession with an ethical code to which we abide.

Photo Credits: Word cloud by 905513 on Pixabay; arrows by geralt on Pixabay; sign by royharryman on Pixabay.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About Alexis Grewan

As an editor and writing consultant, Alexis Grewan values accuracy and upholds high standards of editing and writing practice. She is ethical, vigilant, disciplined and reliable. She is also a collaborator with a flexible style of communicating – a generally proactive engager on every level. Clean copy, on time, makes sense to Alexis.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.