What Does a Copy Editor Do and How to Become One?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Any company or business that produces written content digitally or in print requires a copy editor. These professionals work in different industries to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. 

If reading and writing are your passion, you might consider getting a career in copy editing. Learn all about what a copy editor does and how you can become one.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Copy Editor?

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It usually takes four years to be a copy editor while earning a bachelor’s degree. But if you’re only enrolled in an online course, it can only take a few months before you become a freelance copy editor. 

After taking an online editing course, you may take editing tests to measure your knowledge and skills. Make sure you can spot spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes line by line. Then, you’re ready to build your resume and profile on different marketplaces.

Do You Need to Be Certified to Become a Copy Editor?

No, you don’t need a certificate to be a copy editor (or copyeditor). Most online editing courses are not accredited anyway, so your employers won’t look for them. But a certification would be beneficial if you want to showcase your editing skills and knowledge.

Many clients favor copy editors with specialized knowledge in the industry over those who simply know the rules of English without evidence.  

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Is There a Demand for Copy Editors?

There is a massive demand for copy editors, especially concerning online content. Many businesses and companies are shifting online as they build their web presence. They need help editing their captions, blog posts, product descriptions, and webpage text. 

Some businesses offer entry-level jobs for basic copy editing. You can apply for these projects to gain more work experience, although the salary is likely to be low. 

According to Indeed.com, the average copy editor salary per year is $38,627. You can earn as much as $25.87 per hour on a copy editing project.

It takes troubleshooting skills to become a copy editor. If you think you’re made for the career, you can transform this side hustle into a full-time job. In the future, you’ll realize that a career in copy editing could make you financially independent.

What Degrees Do Copy Editors Have?

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Some copy editors have a degree in English, Electronic Media, or Communication, while others have field-specific degrees. There are also many copy editors who didn’t enter college or university as their work experience made them qualified.

You don’t need to get a fancy college degree to become a freelance copy editor. All you have to do is enroll in online courses like Knowadays’s editing programs to gain skills. 

However, if you will be editing for scientific writing or legal documents, you need a background in these disciplines. Law and medicine graduates, for instance, have more chances of getting a job. 

Copy editors are different from editors with administrative jobs like production editors or editorial assistants in writing. These jobs don’t always require you to edit a piece of text line by line while looking for errors. 

How to Become a Copy Editor

These won’t work for everyone, but you can assess your skill level and pick things that work for you.

Pursue a College Degree

Not all potential clients require a bachelor’s or master’s degree among copy editors. Some only want you to acquire writing and copyediting skills through short online courses. 

Others prefer soft skills like time management and excellent communication skills. Some employers also value work experience more than a college degree.

But if you want a career in book editing or medical editing, you might need a degree in English or Communications. When performing academic editing, a degree in the specific field you’re editing would be beneficial.

For example, for news editing, you should have a degree in journalism or broadcast communication. A degree in literature or creative writing also helps if you edit creative writing. 

Other employers accept an associate’s degree or some college subjects in editing fundamentals. You can also mention if you’ve taken literary journalism, public relations, or proofreading subjects in college.

Read and Write Regularly

Constantly reading and writing will help you practice correct spelling and grammar. It also provides opportunities for spotting mistakes in the piece of text so you can practice your copyediting skills.

A good writer finds the editing process more manageable because they already know the language convention. Understanding how a writer works also helps aspiring copy editors achieve their career goals through efficient communication. 

Reading and writing are excellent ways to immerse yourself in the content industry. Learn the changes, updates, and trends in the different writing pieces to know what copy editing techniques you’ll use.

Practice writing so you can give yourself advice on the writing process. As you progress in your copy editing career, you’ll be able to do more helpful edits. 

Consider reading a piece of writing based on the type of content you want to edit. For example, if you’re conducting business editing, you should read a business report, article, or proposal.

Explore Different Specialties

A copyediting career isn’t just about correcting spelling and grammatical errors. There are many editing positions you can undertake in this job, depending on your niche.

It’s always more effective if you focus on a specific genre or type of content once you have a stable job. For example, you can specialize in academic articles if you know academic style guides.

If you work best with technical expressions and concise writing, perhaps editing technical writing is for you. Or, if you enjoy looking for mistakes in novels, you can specialize in fiction editing. 

Freelance editors usually work with diverse types of content because of their several editing projects. Try creating a career map so you can determine the right time to focus on a niche in your career path.

Learn Various House Style Guides

Don’t be a desperate editor who starts looking for a job after understanding basic grammar rules and the most common errors. Having a thorough understanding of the different style guides is great, too. 

A style guide includes different standards and guidelines for a piece of text in terms of formatting and writing. For example, it will help you decide whether to use an em dash or parentheses. It also guides you on when you should use the Oxford Comma. 

Style guides also set the rules for citing your sources. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style requires writers and copyeditors to add footnotes for references. 

These simple details can help you produce a nice article and make your writing look more professional. It also keeps your tone and technique consistent between pieces of text, which is essential for companies with several writers.

Many online editor courses will give you an idea about the different style guides. You’ll learn about AP, MLA, APA, and Chicago. 

Build a Portfolio Through Freelance

Every freelance copy editor should keep an editing portfolio demonstrating their complex and basic skills. You can display the different types of editing you do to show your flexibility, or you can focus only on specific types of editing.

For instance, if you’re applying as an academic copyeditor, you should only include your academic writing edits. Make sure to show your editing process to prove that you’re a professional copyeditor. 

Include screenshots of your edits on Microsoft Word with the Track Changes feature on. Another way to exhibit your work is by showing a before and after of the writing. You can also explain your skills and standards of copy editing to guarantee your career progression.

Every webpage on your online portfolio shows your work’s quality and professionalism. Make sure there are elements of persuasion to increase your chances of securing that job.

Gain Certifications

Certifications will give you plenty of opportunities for a copyediting job because they show your professional associations with different companies. Certificates also prove you’ve gained enough professional skills after completing an editing course.

An introductory online editing course covers how to spot the following mistakes when copy editing:

  • Typographical errors.
  • Spelling mistakes.
  • Grammar mistakes.
  • Punctuation errors.
  • Factual errors.
  • Referencing errors. 

But the best editing course also teaches you how to land your first copy editing job. Some will teach you how to create a resume, set up a resume, or generate your rates when editing.

These online editing courses are preferably accredited by continuing professional development (CPD). But it’s also OK to take a simple editing course that CPD does not recognize. If you prefer traditional courses, check your campus career center for workshops.

Consider signing up for a professional association if you’re getting an official certificate. You may join the Society for Editing or Editorial Freelancers Association. These organizations produce workshops and training for members who want to enhance their editing skills. 

Build a Polished Resume

Aside from getting a certificate in proofreading, you should also document your editing experience and skills in a polished resume. You may include your previous job as a deputy editor or editorial assistant. Even an entry-level job experience can be part of your resume.

Make sure each work experience is relevant to your future career choice. There’s no need to highlight your previous job as a web designer if you’re applying for an editing job. But you can list relevant short-term projects like a freelance writing project.

You should also have a list of your professional and common skills. Share that you’re an expert in the AP style or that you have practical communication skills. It also helps to state your familiarity with online editors that use artificial intelligence. 

Market Yourself

The biggest mistake that could hinder you from getting a career in copyediting is your inability to market yourself. It doesn’t matter how killer you are at spotting a bunch of errors. You won’t get a job if you don’t know how to demonstrate or communicate these skills.

Many editing courses don’t just teach classes on grammar. They also discuss how to build your portfolio, set up a profile on Reedsy and Upwork, or build a resume. These are some client retention strategies you can practice to increase your chances of getting a job.

Reach out to organizations that produce the same type of content you edit. You are more likely to have an agreement with clients that align with your niche. Try getting experience proofreading if the client needs a proofreader instead of a copy editor. 

It also helps to look for websites with several writing and editing errors. Show them an editing sample of their post or article, and let them know how you can help with their online presence. 

If you want to be a copy editor for newspapers or magazines, show how you can uphold spelling, grammar, and style in print. Tell them about your techniques and what else you can bring to the table. 

Complete Editing Tests

Many copy editing jobs ask you to get a high grade on an editing test to pass the application. This part of the job-seeking phase is essential, especially for up-and-coming copyeditors who don’t have enough work experience.

Most editing tests ask you to analyze a style guide and use it on the text. Others include multiple-choice quizzes where you select the correct sentence. These assessments will determine if you’re fit for the job or not, so be careful about your answers.

Find Copy Editing Jobs

Now you’ve passed tests, earned certificates, and built a portfolio. You’re ready to establish authority with clients. Be a beloved copy editor on different online marketplaces like Reedsy and Indeed. Freelancing sites like Upwork and Freelancer also have many job postings.

Make sure to continue building your portfolio and resume in case you want a career shift in the future. And beware of freelancer scams on some marketplaces. 

Got What It Takes to Be a Copy Editor?

Copy editing is not a career for passive and hesitant people. It takes authority to point out a copy’s spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. You can become a copy editor by practicing reading, writing, and mastering the house style guides.

Are you ready to become a copy editor? Take an online course, then check your knowledge through editing tests.