To kick off our blog, editor and writing consultant Alexis Grewan tells us what it means to be a professional editor in a four-part series of posts.
Part one of a four-part series on professionalism.
As editors, we like to think of ourselves as professionals, maybe because we offer a service that we get paid for or maybe because we belong to a professional organisation with an email signature that gives us a status. For other editors, completing a language degree or certificate course (or even a bunch of them) might do the trick. Some will tell you that their professionalism rests on the fact that they’ve worked in the field for an inordinately long time.
But what does it really mean to be a professional editor?
I’m offering a series of posts that pick apart ‘professionalism’ because it deserves a comprehensive explanation. The first post (this one) will look at broad definitions of professionalism and subsequent posts will look at particular aspects of being professional. The context is that of editing and proofreading as members of PEG, but it could extend equally to all language practitioners.
I’m hoping by the end of the series, we’ll have reflected on our own contribution to professionalism and understood that it isn’t a finite concept. You don’t get a certificate for being a professional editor. Working a long time doesn’t mean you are a professional editor. Holding a degree or 10 certificates doesn’t imply you know the practice of being a professional editor. Professionalism is an ongoing lifelong discipline – one that we regulate and control, regardless of formal qualification, experience or the presence of statutory obligations (or lack thereof).
Moving right along …
A very short history of professions
A quick Google search shows that, traditionally, the word profession was associated with the occupations of law, medicine, divinity and, sometimes, the military. Over time, other occupations were included in this definition; members were recognised for their expert skill or knowledge in a specific field and the valuable service they offered society.
To preserve their status in society, such professionals formed professional bodies or groups to promote and protect their respective disciplines. Credibility for each profession was established by laying down minimum standards of training and requirements for ongoing learning. Professional organisations also enforced a value base from which to work: an ethical code.
The span of modern-day professions is wide and varied but it is still generally assumed that professionals meet the following minimum criteria:
- they have specific knowledge and skills that not all members of the public might have;
- they render a paid service for expertise that serves the interests of members of society;
- they adhere to an ethical code that directs professional practice.
In South Africa, we do not yet have statutory requirements in place that set minimum requirements to work as a professional editor (copy editor or proofreader). There are those who maintain that a degree in journalism, English or language should be a prerequisite to practise and there are others who support the completion of only a short course that focusses exclusively on copy-editing or proofreading as a skill. The truth is, in South Africa you can call yourself a copy editor or proofreader without any formal training in the field. At this point our profession is not yet regulated. But this isn’t an excuse for lack of professionalism.
Our status as professional editors in South Africa
The South African Language Practitioners’ Council Act (SALPCA), 2014 (Act No. 8 of 2014) was established, among other reasons, to regulate the training of language practitioners, to control accreditation and registration of language practitioners and to provide for any associated matters. The Act includes these important definitions:
- language profession: work related to such fields as language editing, translation, terminology, lexicography or any other work related to language;
- language practitioner: a paid occupation that involves the work that is done by language practitioners including, but not limited to, translators, interpreters, language planners, terminologists, lexicographers, text editors and any other person conducting language-related work, registered as such under the Act;
- text editor: a person who effects corrections of language and style in written texts or recorded signed texts.
As things stand now, we can claim to be professional editors and proofreaders without meeting any requirements. But that time bomb is ticking and the SALPCA will kick in. Until then, our profession is not regulated and minimum requirements of training have not been enforced. There is no obligation to belong to a professional organisation or to commit to ongoing professional development. But these are external factors. Do we not have an internal need to be taken seriously and to be respected for the work we do?
Our duty as professional editors
Until such time as we are bound to measures that dictate minimum standards of training, registration with a statutory body and adherence to an ethical code, the onus is on each of us working in the field to make sure our profession is represented fairly and understood clearly.
As PEG members, we abide by a code of conduct that is clear about how we should behave and what is expected of us as professional editors. It defines our duties regarding competence, continuing professional development (CPD), professional responsibility, remuneration, professional reputation and appropriate conduct. If you have read and understood this code and apply it to your work, you’re on your way to claiming you’re a professional editor.
Over the next three blog posts, we’ll look more closely at how the PEG Code of Conduct supports the minimum criteria associated with being professional – obtaining specific skills, rendering a paid service for expertise and adhering to an ethical code.