Part two of a four-part series on professionalism.

The first post in this series defined professionalism and identified three criteria of being professional. This post discusses the first criterion – specific knowledge and skill – within the context of PEG’s Code of Conduct.

What does it mean to have expert skills and knowledge?

This question may have an obvious answer but when you look a little deeper into our profession, you’ll find many of us without formal training as copy editors and proofreaders. How do we know that what we are doing is correct or that how we are doing it is ethical? Can copy-editing really rest on personal interest and self-professed natural aptitude only?

To skill or not to skill?

Text editors and proofreaders in South Africa are introduced to the field of editing in varying ways. Many of us happen upon copy-editing and proofreading by default. Many find themselves in working environments in which they have shown an aptitude or interest for clean copy and they then make a decision to pursue further study. Others have completed language degrees, with or without editing modules. What this means is that people who call themselves editors and proofreaders, and charge for such services, do not necessarily all have the same basic level of skill.

If copy-editing and proofreading is indeed a professional service that benefits others and isn’t something any member of the public can do (criterion 1 of professionalism), then it requires a basic level of training that sets us apart from ordinary members of society. This means that a professional copy editor and proofreader should have completed some formal assessment of their skill.

Formal assessment

Formal assessment of editing skill is a contentious issue and one that raises eyebrows (and tempers). PEG holds its members accountable for producing work of a high standard, accepting work only for which they are competent and committing to ongoing self-improvement to enhance quality of service delivery. PEG offers an extensive webinar programme to not only develop and reinforce skills but also prepare for an accreditation test, thus proving competency through formal assessment.

A career in copy-editing and proofreading is best supported by formal training. Some language degrees contain modules that focus on editing, but not all of us wish to complete an entire degree to begin work as a copy editor. There are many short courses available to those committed to learning the skills needed to be proficient and effective as a copy editor and proofreader. You can readily assume that the longer and more intensive a course of training, the greater the benefit for you in terms of developing skills and knowledge. Proven competency in knowledge and skills should also favour a more positive career trajectory.

Continuing professional development (CPD)

Professional skill and knowledge isn’t a finite concept. Professionalism demands that we are competent in our work and commit to remaining up-to-date with changes in the field. As copy editors, we know language isn’t static. Our skills and knowledge therefore can’t be either.

PEG members abide by a code of conduct in which they commit to high standards of practice but also recognise shortfalls in skill. Members commit to self-improvement and PEG makes this possible through an organised CPD programme.

In our professional capacity as copy editors, CPD should feel obligatory; it is a means to maintaining the competency we demonstrated through formal assessment. Competency affords the privilege of charging for services. And charging for services is one of three criteria of being a professional (and the next post in this series!).

Photo Credits: White board by geralt on Pixabay; assess blocks by Wokandapix on Pixabay; boardroom by Campaign Creators on Unsplash.

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.