An American Editor

June 23, 2014

The Practical Editor: What Does Professional Certification Look Like?

What Does Professional Certification Look Like?

by Erin Brenner

Rich Adin has talked about a desire for licensing copyeditors (see Evaluating Editors) to help prove their worth. It’s an idea that intrigues me. There are existing programs that offer certificates in copyediting, but these certify that you’ve completed a specific course load, not that you have experience and a tested level of mastery.

Worse, there’s no standard training program. You can take a single college course, several college-level courses, or public training courses in copyediting and learn vastly different, if useful, things. Each of them will say that you’re a copyeditor when you’re finished.

Not all copyeditors are trained equally, then.

So when I attended the Editors’ Association of Canada’s (EAC’s) national conference in Toronto this month, I was curious about the group’s certification program.

I talked to a lot of folks about it. Not everyone agrees on the value of it or that the way it’s currently set up is the best way. But love certification or hate it, EACers are passionate about this subject.

The EAC first formed a committee on certification in 1997, after talking about the need for it for a decade. Testing didn’t even begin until 2006. It was a long, slow process that has depended entirely on volunteers.

Here’s how the EAC approached creating its program.

Types of Editing and Standards

The EAC is open to all types of editors, so deciding what type certification should cover was a first step. The organization chose four categories to certify, with labels it found descriptive: proofreading, copyediting, stylistic (“clarifying meaning, eliminating jargon, smoothing language and other non-mechanical line-by-line editing”), and structural (“clarifying and/or reorganizing a manuscript for content and structure”).

Next, it had to define standards of what’s involved in these different types of editing. The standards, which are based on Canadian style, are reviewed periodically for possible updating.

I can only imagine the debates that occurred on what the standards should be. I’ve heard comments that the committee would debate for “months and months” over the standards and what they should encompass. That it took nearly a decade to get to the point of testing says something.

Testing and Grading

The EAC approaches certification similarly to how other industries approach it. Think accounting certification and medical boards. These aren’t certificates of learning, but of mastery and experience. As a result, the tests aren’t easy; only the foolish don’t prepare well for them.

Currently, the tests are on paper and in-person only, largely for security reasons. The committee is looking at ways to computerize the process and imitate better how most of us work.

Two tests are offered in November at various locations around Canada. You can earn certification in any of the categories — in any order — or take all four to become a Certified Professional Editor (CPE). You must score 80% to pass a test.

The EAC created a study guide for each of the tests, which includes practice tests and sample graded tests. It also offers a list of resources and study techniques. I heard more than once the advice to apply test-taking skills from your college years.

Because editing is so subjective and because this is a test of mastery, grading is a challenge. Tests are graded by hand by two trained graders with extensive answer keys. If the graders disagree on whether someone should pass or fail, a third grader is brought in. Then a marking (grading) analyst and an independent auditor review the graded tests.


Earning certification is great confirmation of your abilities, but given the time and costs involved in getting it, it must be more than that. As Rich Adin has noted (see Who Speaks for the Freelance Editor?), the real value is in clients and employers understanding what it means to be a CPE and desiring to hire them over non-certified editors.

One editor I talked with noted how the scientists he edits for immediately changed their opinion of him when he became certified. Specialty degrees and certifications are something his clients understand. They now see him as a colleague rather than support staff.

At this stage, though, it’s up to individual editors to educate their clients on the value of certification. The EAC’s next step is to educate the Canadian hiring community. Already there has been headway: some job ads have stated that CPEs need not take the editing test when applying for the job. But there’s a long way to go yet.

Right for the United States?

For a program like this to work in the United States, we need two things: a strong professional organization and the liberal borrowing from or licensing of the EAC’s program. If Americans don’t have to start from scratch, we could get up to speed much quicker. Starting small by focusing on just copyediting certification would help, too. We could add more certifications as time goes on.

My big reservation is that there really isn’t an organization ready to take on this challenge. The American Copy Editors Society (ACES) is great, but it’s still heavily focused on journalism and has taken up the much-needed crusade against plagiarism and sloppy reporting. Other editor organizations are either focused on a specific type of editing (e.g., Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, which already has a certification) or are too local, lacking the resources for such an undertaking.

But maybe I’m wrong. Is there an editing organization out there ready to take on the challenge of creating a US certification program? Are there enough interested editors willing to form a new group to explore professional certification for American editors?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks to Jeanne McKane, Frances Peck, Stan Backs, and everyone else who spoke with me about certification at the conference.

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.



  1. The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) could be a source of certification for editors, especially since more of its members are editors or proofreaders than are writers and other types of editorial professionals, but I don’t think it’s in a position to do so. It does offer classes on grammar and some aspects of editing that could be the starting point for a certification program.

    ACES has been trying to expand into areas of editing other than journalism and would probably be the ideal resource. It’s already taken a starting point by developing a certificate program with the Poynter Institute, using members with university-level teaching experience as well as hands-on work experience (I wrote about that program for Copyediting newsletter recently), but that’s also still focused more on journalism than not.

    An academic “home” for certification might be more doable in the USA than one through a professional association. A number of colleges already offer editing programs, both certificates and degrees – usually at the master’s level, IIRC. The Graham School at the University of Chicago has a number of editing courses that could be the basis of certification, which would be appropriate since UC is the home of the Chicago Manual of Style.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — June 23, 2014 @ 10:04 am | Reply

    • The EFA can’t be a source until it’s ruling class has a change of attitude. Considering they haven’t had a change of attitude since its birth, it is unlikely to have one until all of the old guard has given up membership and a new, more progressive group of people with the will to make changes gains power. I doubt that will occur in my lifetime.

      Although an academic “home” sounds like a great idea, I think it has at least two major failings: First, no university has ever done anything that would be even remotely considered reasonably priced. If editors struggle now to meet bills, how would they find the resources, absent going into further debt, to attend a university? The second major failing is that universities are rarely interested in promoting the entrepreneurial aspects of a program. What I mean is that I doubt the University of Chicago would make arrangements with publishers to recognize their certification and have the publishers put certificate holders at the top of the freelance list. And what about those who do not work with publishers but with authors directly? I can’t imagine a university attending conventions and advertising in appropriate places to promote the hiring of editing certificate holders.

      There are other problems with a university program being the way to get certified, as well (it is the rare university that would not require some on-campus attendance, for example). I am not suggesting that there is no value to such a program, but rather that the program needs to be created and run by an independent body, even if that body is just responsible for establishing course requirements and then certifying university programs, much like the American Bar Association does with law schools.

      Also, I think the value to an independent group doing it is that the group could make concerted efforts to find work for freelancers, something no university would be willing to undertake for myriad very good reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by americaneditor — June 23, 2014 @ 10:31 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for this, Erin.

    A couple of quibbles, to get them out of the way. EAC’s Standards aren’t really based on Canadian style — they’re intended to be universal. They do reflect how editing is ideally done in the book publishing industry, which is a bit of a problem. They don’t necessarily reflect editing work in other industries, and few book publishers now put their manuscripts through the entire process. Low budgets = cut corners. The most recent revision of the Standards considerably reduced the book-industry bias, and I expect the next revision, which starts soon, to come close to eliminating it.

    The other quibble is that there isn’t a set passing grade of 80%. I can’t give details of the grading without breaking confidentiality (and I’ve never been on the Certification committee, so only know what the members of EAC’s National Executive have been told).

    As for editing associations in the US — no, I don’t think any of them are really in a position to offer a certification program at the moment, though ACES comes closest (and I believe they are interested).

    Note that IPED in Australia offers “acceditation.”

    What’s the difference between accreditation and certification? Accreditation is at a basic level. Someone who has just completed a college editing program should be able to pass an accreditation exam. Certification is at a much higher level. It’s aimed at professionals with at least 5 years of editing experience.

    I think EAC, and the other national editing associations, should be offering both. Each of the two programs has a lot to offer the profession. (Note that EAC is working on offering accreditation in French soonish. So the association will have testing in one language at one level, and in the other language at another level. Clearly that’s a step on the way to something more sensible.)

    There is no particular reason that EAC couldn’t be the association to offer certification to US editors. All it would need is an arrangement to have tests run in US venues. Plus a ton of promotion, and a lot more graders than we currently have.)

    Anyone who has taken the Stanford Publishing Program will notice that some aspects of EAC’s Standards look somewhat like Stanford’s old editing standards. That’s a co-incidence — people looking at the same problem and coming up with similar answers. Stanford would have been the logical home if a university had been chosen as the home for certification. But that program ended in 2009. Stanford now suggests that interested students consider the program at Yale. I know nothing about Yale’s program.

    If I were in the US, I’d want an association like EAC. ACES and EFA each offer some of what EAC offers, but neither of it all. (Not that I’m suggesting that EAC “has it all.” As a long-time member of the EAC national executive, I’m painfully aware of many things I’d like the association to do that it doesn’t.) But I don’t think starting a new association is the way to go. Each of the big US associations has an awful lot to offer (and some ideas that I’m hoping EAC adopts). I think it’s time the associations started really talking to each other, helping each other offer new services.


    Comment by Greg Ioannou — June 23, 2014 @ 11:00 am | Reply

    • I agree with Greg that it would be wonderful for the various international editing associations to cooperate with one another. This has already happened on a small scale. The Australian organization IPEd, for example, adopted EAC’s _Professional Editorial Standards_ several years ago, and now offers competence-based accreditation.

      Editors in the US and elsewhere don’t have to wait for EAC exams to be offered in American and international venues. Anyone working in English who can come to one of the existing test sites (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax) is welcome to take the tests. You don’t need to be an EAC member or a Canadian resident to do EAC certification.

      Of course, it would be easier if non-Canadian editors had tests offered nearer their homes, but in the meantime, the travel option is open to them.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Anne Brennan — June 24, 2014 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

    • Just a clarification about the Australian accreditation, Greg.

      Very few editors with fewer than 3 year’s experience manage to pass the accreditation exam. Accreditation indicates competence in meeting the Australian Standard for Editing Practice.

      Exams are currently hard copy and invigilated at capital city locations. The Accreditation Board is working towards onscreen exams.


      Comment by Desolie Page — June 25, 2014 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  3. To reply somewhat to Greg’s comment, I am told that EAC’s French equivalent to the exisiting certification exam should be launched in late 2015—next fall, to be exact. That’s welcome news for some of my French-speaking colleagues who have expressed interest in becoming certified editors, but had reserves about sitting an exam in a language that was not their mother tongue (English, of course).

    I also agree with Greg when he states that associations should start “talking to each other.” Why haven’t they been talking to each other until now? I’m sure that the EAC can definitely share ideas with other editing associations and vice-versa. If it is not feasible for associations stateside and overseas to offer their own certification exams, I don’t see how or why it should be a problem for the EAC to offer its current exam to American and international editors. Of course, EAC’s exam will have to be adapted to linguistic and editorial realities elsewhere. How can that be done? I bet that’s the million-dollar question some people will be asking.


    Comment by Dwain Richardson — June 23, 2014 @ 11:49 am | Reply

    • Dwain, EAC’s annual conference next year will be held in conjunction with every editing association we can connect with. The theme is Editing Goes Global and the hope is that it will be the first truly international conference of editors. We’ve already lined up speakers from the Australia, England, Ireland and the US. I hope to meet you there. Toronto, the second weekend of June 2015.


      Comment by Greg Ioannou — June 23, 2014 @ 1:06 pm | Reply

  4. Ruth, I don’t think the EFA can offer certification. While it offers online courses, I just don’t think it has the infrastructure for such a massive undertaking. Nor do I think ACES is right for it. While it has the infrastructure, it has other focuses right now (which is fine) and is still largely journalism based, despite its membership makeup.

    I agree with Rich that while a university might have the infrastructure, what interest would it have in helping certified editors find work? Ideally, you want the organization to not only offer the certification but make it worthwhile. Which translates to educating the marketplace on why it should hire certified editors. That’s not a university’s job, nor do I think it’s a good way for it to spend its time and money.

    Thanks, Greg, for the additional information. I passed along what I’d been told, but I clearly need more training in verifying facts and reporting them accurately. I’m not a professional journalist. Maybe not coincidentally, that’s ACES’s big push these days: verifying facts and getting them reported accurately.

    Dwain, thanks for the information about accreditation. I agree: it would be wonderful to have both. National organizations talking to each other is a great start, but it doesn’t create a US org that could take on accreditation or certification. Our choice is to either get an existing organization on board or start a new one with that goal in mind. Friendship with other orgs can help, but the org’s membership has to want it, and I’m not convinced enough members in any US organization want it badly enough. Someone prove me wrong! I stand ready to help.


    Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  5. I forgot to add that the EAC certification’s focus on book publishing is a negative for me. Traditional book publishing is just one (shrinking) corner of publishing. I’d prefer to see a general exam with specialties, such a book publishing.

    I haven’t seen a test, but I think taking it using American resources, such as American Heritage Dictionary and Chicago Manual of Style, would be a test taker at a disadvantage. There would be a lot more corrections to make, which increases the possibility of introducing errors and missing them.


    Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

    • As a long-term member, I’ve learned the following about EAC certification: Certification exam takers have their choice of style guides—the markers will take that into account. In fact, the EAC website lists the following in the list of things you can bring to an exam:

      “For proofreading, copy editing, or structural editing, up to three additional style guides. For stylistic editing, either a thesaurus and two style guides or three style guides; recommended style guides include The Chicago Manual of Style, The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage, The Canadian Style and The Canadian Press Stylebook and its companion CP Caps and Spelling”


      Comment by Ken Weinberg — June 23, 2014 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

      • Ken, that’s true, but how many graders are trained in American styles? I’m not trying to knock the EAC’s certification; I just think it’s not international yet. I acknowledge, though, that I haven’t closely studied a practice nor taken the real thing.


        Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 4:08 pm | Reply

        • Erin, I’ve been a co-chair of EAC’s Certification Steering Committee for three years, and I can answer your questions.

          EVERY marker, like every Canadian editor, is fully trained in American styles. They’re not that different from Canadian styles, and many of our reference books are American. All an American editor has to do when taking an EAC exam is specify which dictionary and style guides s/he is using. Same with an Australian editor or a British editor. We Canadians have to be proficient in all international editing styles.

          It is absolutely not true that EAC’s certification tests are book-focused. They never have been, although there seems to be widespread misunderstanding about this. I’ve seen every certification test ever offered, and I can tell you that questions and scenarios about magazines, newsletters, and corporate documents have always been included, both in the study materials and on the tests themselves. And for at least the last five or six years, the tests and study materials have also included questions about websites, online communication, and technical materials. We change the tests every year, and we always strive to include questions that cover editing for government, business, non-profit, educational, print and online publishing, and technical sectors.


          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Anne Brennan — June 24, 2014 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks Erin for a wonderful article. I was surprised to read that currently there is no organization in the United States offering a certification examination for copyeditors. Was I wrong in assuming that the United States is the heart of publishing? Anyway, as an Indian editor, my problems are twofold. To start with, we don’t have an association of freelance editing professionals. and when I expressed an interest in the EAC’s certification exam in a forum, someone commented that 1. Taking the certification exam would be an expensive proposition, more so for someone from India. 2. It won’t be of any use to take this exam. [If it won’t be of use for me, for reasons that I don’t know, then what use will it be for editors from any country other than Canada?] 3. It would be nearly impossible to pass the exam for an international editor as it is too specific to Canada. I know it should not be a problem for an organization to conduct an exam anywhere in the world. I checked with BELS and they were willing to hold it in New Delhi provided there were 12-15 people interested in taking the exam. I feel, the onus should be on companies that employ copyeditors They should encourage and support their staff to take the exam and get certified.


    Comment by Vivek — June 23, 2014 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

    • Vivek, EAC’s certification tests are designed to be meaningful for anyone editing in English, no matter where in the world they live or were trained. All you have to do is come to a Canadian test centre and specify what dictionary and style guides you’re using.

      Since passing completing my EAC certification (I’m a CPE, or certified professional editor), I’ve been able to attract higher-paying, better-quality jobs. That would be an advantage wherever you live and work. EAC certification measures excellence, not competence. If you pass an EAC test, you’ve proven that you have mastered the craft of editing. That’s always marketable. You just need to tell your clients about it.


      Comment by Anne Brennan — June 24, 2014 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

      • Darn, there’s no after-the-fact edit button! Instead of “passing completing my EAC certification,” I meant “completing my EAC certification.” Yeah, I are excellent. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by Anne Brennan — June 24, 2014 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  7. Erin, CMOS is probably the most commonly used style guide in Canada. MW probably isn’t as commonly used as Oxford Canadian, but it is also in very wide use here. The graders would be very familiar with both.

    Vivek, given that the exams have to be taken in person in Canada, they most definitely would be prohibitively expensive for an editor in India. I don’t know why anyone told you that they wouldn’t be of use to you. If nothing else, preparing for them is terrific professional development.

    The exams I’ve seen (which are the ones in the publicly available training materials) are not very specific at all to Canada. I don’t believe the exams themselves are especially Canadian either.


    Comment by Greg Ioannou — June 23, 2014 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

    • I agree with Greg–preparing for EAC’s certification tests is excellent professional development, even if you never take the tests themselves. Anyone wishing to improve their skills would do well to work through the _Certification Study Guides_, _Professional Editorial Standards (2009)_, and _Meeting Professional Editorial Standards_. All are available at

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Anne Brennan — June 25, 2014 @ 5:05 am | Reply

  8. Vivek, I don’t know if the US is still the heart of the publishing world. And even if it is, that’s book publishing and editors do so much more than books.

    One trouble for you (and me, for that matter) in taking the EAC’s test is that at this point they’re given in person in Canada. You’d have to travel to a Canadian site to take the test; that can be cost-prohibitive for sure. The test is already expensive, and each of us has a limited amount of money to spend. I’m not criticizing the fact that the test is expensive or that it’s only in person. It is what it is. This has been a long road for the EAC, and everyone involved is to be commended for making the certification a reality.

    The EAC’s test is still new enough that it’s up to the individual editor to educate clients and employers of the value of holding the certification. That doesn’t bother me, as I’d consider it part of marketing myself, but it may trouble other editors. The EAC is now starting to educate the Canadian hiring market, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it does this. It’s an important next step that will increase the value of certification for everyone involved.

    I don’t know much about the Indian publishing market, but in the US there are fewer and fewer companies employing large staffs of editors and even fewer that will pay for continuing education or certification. To be honest, many American companies would rather hire Indian companies to do the editing and other parts of the publishing process because it’s cheaper. Again, I don’t mean this as a criticism. I’m just trying to state facts as honestly and accurately as I can (and I’m as fallible as the next person!). If Indian companies will pay for you to become certified, hooray! Increasingly more US editors are becoming freelancers, who have to fund their own education needs. Does it make sense for US freelancers to organize enough to create a certification program? I think so, but not everyone agrees. It remains to be seen if enough of us do to take on the challenge. It’s not a one-person job!


    Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

  9. Greg, what about the book publishing focus? I only glanced at a practice test during the conference, and I was given the impression that it was a small part of the test, but still: not every editor works on books or in traditional book publishing.


    Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 4:29 pm | Reply

    • Erin, it’s a work in progress, and always will be. The original tests (which really weren’t prepared that long ago) were entirely book-focused. The most recent changes to the Standards tried to eliminate the book-editing bias, and was reasonably successful. The tests reflect those standards. The upcoming revision to the Standards, which haven’t started yet, should eliminate the last vestiges of book-publishing bias, but they won’t be reflected in the actual tests until around 2016 or 2017. The standards and certification are both (in theory) on five-year revision cycles. Each time we think the required revisions will be minor, but the biz moves faster than we realize.

      By the time the book-publishing bias is eliminated, there will be other pressing problems and biases to address. It’s never going to be perfect.


      Comment by Greg Ioannou — June 23, 2014 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

      • Nor would I expect it to be perfect. Like editing, the certificate is always a work in progress. I’m glad to hear the book focus is being eliminated, as I think that makes certification more valuable for more editors. And every improvement should make it more valuable to more editors until it takes over the world! [insert evil laugh here} 😉


        Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 4:49 pm | Reply

        • Actually, as a co-chair of EAC’s Certification Steering Committee, I’ve seen every test EAC has ever offered. It’s not true that they’re entirely book-focused. They never have been. I remember questions about newsletters and newspapers when I took some of the first tests in 2007. I don’t know why Greg thinks the early tests focused only on books, but many people seem to think that. It’s a misperception the Certification Steering Committee has been fighting for a long time.

          We set new questions for every test we offer. And we make sure each test contains questions that are relevant to people editing in the government, business, educational, print and online publishing, non-profit, and technical sectors.

          EAC tests are based on _Professional Editorial Standards (2009)_ (, which covers all the things editors need to be able to do, no matter what kind of material they’re working on. _PES-2009_ does not talk about specific types of publications.

          If you’d like to know more about EAC certification, please visit



          Comment by Anne Brennan — June 24, 2014 @ 7:38 pm | Reply

          • Anne, my notion that the first certification tests were focussed on book editing is based on the fact that in the early days one of the tests was on Knowledge of the Publishing Process (fondly known as KP). I was one of the proofreaders for the study guide for that test. The study guide was basically a guide to what an editor needed to know to work in book publishing, even showing such specifics as how to do a book publishing work-back schedule.

            The way we break out the four basic stages of editing work (structural/substantive; stylistic; copy; proof) can be applied in any setting, but it is based on the book publishers’ work flow. In any other setting, all of those functions are performed in some way or other, but they aren’t often conceptualized that way.

            I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. The way EAC’s Standards spell out editorial work has helped clarify the various editorial tasks for innumerable people (including pretty much every client I’ve had in the past decade). But the process that those standards are built on isn’t universal, and the Standards doesn’t include all of the major editorial functions — not even all of the major book editing functions, because it is missing evaluation/assessment/acquisitions.

            My first editorial work was doing “rewrite” for a community newspaper — basically turning some non-writer’s draft into something publishable, preferably in about 10 minutes. It’s a basic editorial function and one that’s performed in many contexts (but one that’s fairly rare in book publishing) and I don’t believe our standards or certification consider it at all.


            Comment by Greg Ioannou — June 25, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

          • This reply is supposed to go below Greg’s next one, but the system doesn’t seem to allow it. I guess we’ve reached our quota of indents.

            Thanks, Greg, for reminding me about the old Knowledge of Publishing (KP) test that was originally part of EAC’s certification program. You’re right–that was a book-oriented test, though as a long-time magazine editor I found that it pretty much described my production process, too. So even though I wasn’t a book editor at the time, I didn’t feel excluded or disadvantaged by that test. And the tests I took in copy editing, proofreading, and structural and stylistic editing never struck me as book-centric, either. Yes, they did talk about books, but they also talked about other media.

            I hope the next set of _Professional Editorial Standards_ will cover rewriting (as you say, it’s very common in fields other than book publishing), acquisitions, evaluation, developmental editing, technical editing, and a few other things I can’t think off just now. It’s fascinating to watch the standards evolve as our business changes!



            Comment by Anne Brennan — June 26, 2014 @ 12:05 am

  10. It’s interesting to point out that the American Society for Indexing had a similar problem. The society could not build the infrastructure necessary to certify its professional indexers.

    As an alternative, a small group of senior members and past officers founded the Institute of Certified Indexers (ICI) at

    It’s hard to tell whether this approach has worked for them. Based on the information on their web site, it appears that certifying indexers is an arduous undertaking from both sides of the fence. I am only speculating here, but if an entity does not have the support or sponsorship of the association, it is difficult to promote the certification program to both the professionals and those who hire them.

    I suggest you start with a task force that includes representatives from the major associations (e.g., ACES, EFA). The task force can conduct a feasibility study to determine whether certification is viable, to collect useful facts and figures to aid decision-making, and to define alternative approaches and solutions to putting the idea into practice. Perhaps the task force could also conduct a survey of the associations’ members to gauge interest and demand for certification. And would members be willing to pay, as part of the membership fees, the training, testing, and maintenance of certification?

    If anything, the task force would encourage an open, informative, and insightful dialogue among the associations.


    Comment by Anna Biunno — June 23, 2014 @ 4:40 pm | Reply

  11. Here’s my latest thought: No one US organization seems situated to create certification. However, there are enough smaller organizations that can work together to benefit all editors (thanks to Kristine Hunt for that idea!). Starting small is key: a general US copyediting certification that would suit for copyeditors, no matter which industry they worked in, would seem a good place to start.

    Once a test is developed and the first few certifications earned, the various organizations would need to educate the hiring community on the value of certification. They should also consider educating editor training programs to encourage them to train new editors with the standards in mind.

    That in itself is a ton of work, but if several organizations worked together, it could happen.

    After that, the program can be expanded in a way that seems reasonable: an accreditation program for copyeditors, certification in specific industries (book publishing, news, financial, etc.), or different levels of editing (developmental, content, proofreading).


    Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

  12. Anna, I love that you made that recommendation right before I made a similar one! 🙂


    Comment by erinbrenner — June 23, 2014 @ 4:50 pm | Reply

  13. Erin, how wonderful that you’ve begun this important conversation among editors. We at EAC are proud of our certification program and are more than happy to share information with anyone who will listen. (Witness my gushing to you at the EAC conference!)

    I’d like to make three important clarifications, one long one and two short. Though I’m not currently a member of EAC’s certification committee, I’m a past member and past chair. I helped create the original pilot tests and was the first trainer of markers. I also headed up the most recent revision of the professional standards that certification is based on.

    1. There is no book bias in EAC’s certification program. I’m not sure where that idea came from, but anyone who is certified or has worked on the program can confirm: the tests have always covered a range of genres. The original pilot tests, for instance, included excerpts from a government brochure, a community newspaper, an orientation manual for post-secondary students, an academic article and a short story. That range is fully intentional and is reflected in every single test that’s administered. From the dawn of the program, we knew it had to reflect the many fields that editors work in; otherwise, we’d have an irrelevant program on our hands.

    Nor is there a book bias in the standards. Check them out; you can download them for free ( -> Publications -> Professional Editorial Standards). You’ll see that the wording very carefully avoids singling out any genre: books or magazines, websites or catalogues, policy documents or drug monographs, blogs or theses.

    If there’s a bias, though I don’t think that’s the right word for it, it’s that both the standards and the tests are based on the levels of editing that have traditionally been followed in publishing. The idea that a document undergoes structural, stylistic and copy editing, followed by a proofread, is very much a publishing notion. As we all know, those levels are often muddled, and some of them skipped altogether, in real-life projects, especially outside the publishing world (magazines, newspapers, books, academic and textbook publishing, etc.). Our thinking, however, is that a CPE still needs to know how to edit at all those levels, even if the lines are blurred in a given project.

    2. Certification best practices say that you (1) develop relevant professional standards and only then (2) test to those standards. At EAC we published our first standards in 1991, long before we started developing certification. That’s something to bear in mind as you contemplate creating or adapting any program.

    3. Our pass mark isn’t set firmly at 80%, but it is usually *around* 80%. The exact pass mark varies from test to test, depending on a number of variables too complicated to get into here (especially after my LONG point 1 above).

    Erin, it’s wonderful to see how much interest you’ve sparked in this idea in just one day. I look forward to following the conversation.


    Comment by Frances Peck — June 23, 2014 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

  14. One way to address the cost part of taking the EAC certification is to hold the test around the dates of the EAC conferences. Those who attend the conference can also take the test if they are interested. The BELS exam was held close to the dates of the Council of Science Editors conference this year in the United States. I feel the tests need to be marketed at the conferences. Conferences and certification tests need to go hand in hand. Someone who travels all the way should not mind taking the test and adding the prestigious ELS or CPE after his or her name. I am not sure whether it is correct for copyeditors to practice their art without holding a certification. Would we allow someone without a medical degree to operate on us? If not, then why we don’t have the same standards in place for copyeditors?

    What has been done for indexers by the Institute of Certified Indexers in association with the American Society of Indexers is commendable, and something on the same lines need to be done for copyeditors. With more and more copyeditors following the freelancing route, certification is the need of the hour and freelancers won’t mind spending some money on continuing professional development. We need to make certification beneficial for both the sides. The one who is doing the work and the one who is hiring the certified person. May be the hiring companies can exempt certified copyeditors from taking a test when they apply for a full-time, part-time, or freelance job.

    The EAC conference next year will be the perfect sounding board for this idea. A survey of all those who are attending can be carried out, but a lot needs to be done before that.


    Comment by Vivek — June 24, 2014 @ 12:10 am | Reply

  15. The problem with having the tests around the same time as the conference is that the organization is volunteer-run. The conference and the tests are by far the most intensive volunteer efforts of the year. Running them at the same time would burn us out completely.


    Comment by Greg Ioannou — June 24, 2014 @ 12:15 am | Reply

  16. Greg, please raise a Call for volunteers for the 2015 conference from all editing associations.


    Comment by Vivek — June 24, 2014 @ 12:45 am | Reply

  17. I will. But not until I have things for them to do. (That’s what the Conference 2015 Facebook group is for.)

    Most of the volunteer effort comes in the last four months before the conference. But in this case organizing the associations will have to start soon. We’re slowly working on it.


    Comment by Greg Ioannou — June 24, 2014 @ 1:53 am | Reply

  18. I’ve learned a lot on this thread, and I’d just like to add a wee comment here. While I’m well aware of the constraints, limitations, continually changing nature, and ongoing development of the EAC certification tests, I think, Ann, your comment, “If you pass an EAC test, you’ve proven that you have mastered the craft of editing,” isn’t quite accurate. At present, the tests largely don’t address fiction editing, which is an editing world unto itself. You can be a CPE but still not have mastered the intricacies of fiction editing. I’d like to see a certification test for this one day, but it would clearly be daunting to develop. Any thoughts?


    Comment by Arlene Prunkl — June 25, 2014 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

    • I think that’s a valid point, Arlene, and it’s one reason I’m thinking that if we Americans can get our act together, we should strive for a general test with specialties that can be added on somehow (a special group of questions?). News editing is not book editing is not business editing, etc. But grammar is grammar. Well, most of the time.


      Comment by erinbrenner — June 25, 2014 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

      • Arlene, you’ve hit on a central issue we had to tussle with when figuring out what shape EAC certification should take. There are so many fields of editing, each with its own standards. If you edit fiction, you have to know character arcs and dramatic tension. If you edit newspaper articles, you’d better have mastered the lede and the nut graf. If you edit websites, you need to know SEO and metadata. If government work is your thing, you have to work with plain language and infinite numbers of reviewers (a little joke…).

        Remember the kids’ game Mr. Potato Head? Our certification is basically the potato to which Specialty A adds hair and a moustache, Specialty B adds glasses and a bowtie. That’s what you’re getting at, Erin, with your idea of treating the specialties as add-ons. It’s a terrific idea, as long as you have the resources (and patience) to develop standards for those specialties. If you do, please consider sharing them with us in Canada. Maybe we can barter: our potato for your nose and cowboy hat?


        Comment by Frances Peck — June 25, 2014 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

      • That’s true, Erin. The EAC tests, like the EAC standards, are based on the steps an editor needs to take when working with a manuscript: structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading. These are universal tasks, no matter what genre you’re working in.

        When we create the tests, we try to set questions about these tasks within scenarios that cross a variety of media. You might be asked to proofread a recipe, shorten a news article, place a set of magazine production steps in order, analyze a manuscript for structural problems, identify stylistic problems within a passage, specify when to use various font styles, indicate what facts in a passage need to be checked, create an outline for an article or book chapter, copy edit and format a table, standardize a set of measurements that appear in a mixture of imperial and metric, identify material that needs copyright clearance, identify biased language and potentially libelous content, etc. All of these are things an editor needs to do no matter what medium or genre s/he works in.

        Arlene, you’re right that fiction is not specifically covered by _Professional Editorial Standards (2009)_, but neither is any other genre or medium. The standards don’t cover developmental editing, for example, or project management. We’ll have to see what areas are added when the standards are revised. If you feel strongly that tasks specific to fiction editing should be included, perhaps you could be a part of the Professional Standards Committee. I know the committee is looking for a chair at the moment. 😉

        Hope this helps clarify things.



        Comment by Anne Brennan — June 25, 2014 @ 10:44 pm | Reply

        • Thanks for your comments, Erin, Frances, and Anne. I had a feeling I’d be opening up a big ol’ can of worms with my question/comment. I like the PotatoHead analogy, Frances. 🙂 I think I tend to see things from a partially skewed perspective because, in my world, fiction looms so large. I’ve always seen it as standing apart from all the other types and genres of editing, which I’ve thought could be broadly grouped together into nonfiction. My admittedly skewed perspective comes from the fact that I deal with fiction every day, I’m always getting requests for fiction editing, and so it seems to me that just about everyone is writing fiction. And I’m constantly seeking editors who are skilled and trained in substantive fiction editing, and so often I have a difficult time finding them.

          You’ve all given me a new way of looking at this, and thanks for this new perspective. Instead of seeing fiction as standing apart, I can now also see recipes, or plain language, or textbooks, or magazine production, etc., as standing apart in their own ways too.

          Anne, being a part of the Professional Standards Committee a very tempting idea, and I know I’d have some ideas to contribute. Let me think about that. But as for being chair, I’m torn in a few too many directions right now (personal and professional), and taking on that responsibility would be a commitment that I know would overwhelm me.


          Comment by Arlene Prunkl — June 25, 2014 @ 11:09 pm | Reply

          • I think editors quickly learn to specialize when they start out. You might trained in a general way but almost from the start you have to learn some specifics. For example, I teach in UC San Diego’s copyediting certificate program. While we teach the basics, there is a slight book publishing bias. There has to be some bias to teach beyond editing a sentence. Once you’re tackling a paragraph, even, approaches will be different. In the UCSD program, there’s an emphasis on editing formal language. There aren’t any lessons on dealing with, say, fictional conversations, which a fiction editor would need, or with liability, which would loom large for journalism editors. I add items I think are important and that fit in the time I have, such as basic fact-checking and editing for the web.

            Which is a long way of saying that we all have a skewed point of view to one degree or another. My own is toward web publishing, business writing, and self-published books. None of those follow what most would consider a standard publishing process. I can, however, commiserate with government editors. Some of my business clients have insane review processes and power struggles in the oddest places. Sigh.


            Comment by erinbrenner — June 26, 2014 @ 9:11 am

  19. I should clarify, I refer to full-length fiction editing. I see from Frances’s comment that a short story is (or was?) included in at least one of the tests.


    Comment by Arlene Prunkl — June 25, 2014 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

  20. Erin, a few notes on this conversation from an ACES board member:

    1) I do think that ACES is interested, over the long term, in building a true certification program for the editing profession. I don’t think we know what form that will take yet, but it’s definitely a major point of discussion for the board.

    2) ACES has just set up an official collaborative membership agreement with EAC. Among other things, we’ll be promoting their conference, and they’ll be promoting ours. And members of one organization can now attend the other organization’s annual conferences at member rates.

    3) ACES is also in the very, very preliminary stages of assessing whether we might be able to leverage EAC’s certification program and bring it to the United States. Even if we were to do this, it couldn’t happen immediately.

    4) ACES does retain a journalism bent, based on the group’s history in that industry. And this is indeed reflected in the content of our current certificate program, offered through Poynter. But I think with every season and every conference, ACES is offering a broader and broader array of training opportunities. Maybe at one time ACES was “the association for newspaper editors that also does some other stuff.” I don’t see that being the case as we move into the future.

    5) The whole plagiarism thing — this was our conference theme for 2013, but it’s not actually a core focus for ACES. If we’ve made it seem that way in our communications over the past year or so, that’s our failure. But it shouldn’t be taken as a sign of a “new direction for ACES,” or that “preventing plagiarism” is the new banner under which we march.

    6) I love that you and Rich have started this conversation. It’s been a frustration of mine for years that there’s no widely recognized, respected certification program for our industry. Let’s hope that ACES — or another deserving organization — will bring this to us in the next few years.



    Comment by Samantha Enslen — July 1, 2014 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

    • Whatever you decide, please make it AFFORDABLE, especially for those who are already members of a professional editing or writing organization. I’m sick of organizations bragging about their “discounted” classes for members only to find a ridiculously expensive class for members with a $20 or $30 extra price for non-members. Not all of us are raking in the big bucks. Thanks.


      Comment by mdfloyd — March 8, 2015 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  21. […] a recent essay, “The Practical Editor: What Does Professional Certification Look Like?,” Erin Brenner discussed certification of American editors. The essay also provoked a number of […]


    Pingback by Business of Editing: Certification & Ethics | An American Editor — July 9, 2014 @ 4:03 am | Reply

  22. […] a follow-up to my article on the possible need for editor certification, Rich Adin wrote about the need for an ethics portion of a certification […]


    Pingback by The Practical Editor: 11 Standards for Ethical Editors | An American Editor — July 21, 2014 @ 4:01 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: