Becoming an Academic Editor

Jumping Ship

Graduate data analysts meet to discuss a project

Many language editors seem to fall into the profession by ‘accident’.

I started out as a research scientist working in the field of neuroscience and human genetics. A few years ago, motivated by my love of writing and years of helping my German colleagues write their research papers, I left academia to start my own business as an academic editor. Today, I help non-native English-speaking scientists get their research papers ready for publication in peer-reviewed journals and work as an academic copy editor for a medical journal.

Perhaps this sounds like a career change you may be interested in? To help you decide, in this article I explain how I transitioned from academic to editor and how I am navigating the waters of academic editing.

Useful experience

The specialist knowledge, research and publishing experience, and critical appraisal skills that I gained from my time as a researcher are extremely useful in my role as a language editor. They help me to:

·        Understand the core message and supporting arguments in a research paper

·        Make sure the argumentation is sound and that the results presented support the conclusions

·        Point out when a client’s experiments do not properly address their research question and when they haven’t provided enough methodological information to allow the reader to repeat the experiments

·        Pick up on discrepancies in scientific content.

These skills are useful, but my transition from scientist to editor did not happen overnight. I had to learn a completely new set of skills.

Getting the skills you need

Editors need to know about grammar, word choice, usage, punctuation, and spelling. And they need to know when to break these rules to communicate the author’s message more effectively. It is also important to respect the author’s voice and realize when the text should be left alone. These essential editing skills come with time – like any profession, an editor needs many hours of editing experience in order to master their craft.

So how can you learn the skills you need to become an editor?

Most editing societies offer workshops and online training courses. For example, I joined the SfEP ­– the UK-based society for editors and proofreaders. My membership allowed me to sign up for the SfEP’s Copy-editing Headway, Medical Editing, and Brush Up Your Grammar courses for a reduced fee. These courses armed me with valuable knowledge and helped me to expand my skills as an editor of biomedical texts.

Finding work

Most newbie editors wonder where they will find work. As a freelance editor, you can work for a publisher or editing agency, or you can work for your own clients.

If you work for your own clients, you can charge the rates you want. But you do have to attract these clients. The type of work better suited to you will depend on how much time you can/are willing to invest in marketing your services.

Show what you can do

What does marketing involve? Marketing is all about making sure people know what you can do. For example, to market my own business I write regular blog articles, both on my own blog and for SENSE (the Society of English-language professionals in the Netherlands). I also try to be active on social media; I participate in discussions on professional forums and share my own content.

Marketing will not bring in clients overnight – you have to stick at it. But there are resources out there to keep you motivated. You can find a wealth of information about marketing your editing business by searching previous posts in online groups (the Business and Professional Development for Editors Facebook group is a great place to start).

If all this sounds horrible to you, then you will probably be happier working for an agency. You won’t have as much freedom to negotiate your rates, but you can spend your working time doing actual editing.

If this sounds more appealing, then get in touch with a few of the many editing agencies out there that specialize in editing academic journal articles. Most of them are looking to hire editors with advanced degrees and research experience. You will usually have to complete an editing test to make sure your editing skills are up to scratch before you start receiving assignments.

A friendly community

Starting a new career can be daunting. Connecting with people who are in the same boat can be reassuring. So whether you decide to market your business and grab your own clients or join an agency, be sure to reach out to the editing community, for example by joining societies, going to conferences, and being active on social media. I was delighted to discover it is filled with friendly, helpful, capable editors who are always happy to support one another.

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