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Becoming an editor

Alethea Spiridon
Editors’ Association of Canada
(The Editors’ Association of Canada began using the name Editors Canada on July 1, 2015.)


An editor's working life is almost always interesting, engaging and highly rewarding. It's the perfect career for those who have a desire, and an ability, to make written communications better.

What it takes to become an editor

Becoming an editor doesn't happen overnight, and not even after graduating from a publishing program (see list of programs at end). There are many important qualities that a good editor should have, but three top the list: (1) the ability to recognize patterns and organize ideas; (2) a willingness to question assumptions, theories and facts; and (3) an interest in learning new things (for example, styles, subject matter, technology and publication processes).

An editor should also have the following capabilities:

  • A good ear for the rhythm and tone of a text.
  • Knowledge of the rules of grammar and writing, and knowledge about when to use the rules and when to bend them.
  • Diplomacy and tact in dealing with people, especially how to offer corrections and suggestions to authors, who can be sensitive about their writing and work.
  • A clear understanding that an editor is not the star; the writer is. Editors have to be okay with the back seat even when it feels as if they are driving.
  • Remarkable attention to detail.
  • Ability to meet deadlines.
  • Patience. Sometimes an answer isn't immediately known. It may be necessary to re-read an entire text, or skim through reference books, or discuss the question with an author (and even fellow editors). An editor needs determination to find the right answer for the project at hand.

Education and training

Editors should, and typically do, have a university degree. A common degree is English, but editors come from many disciplines: history, math, science, philosophy, public relations. Individuals with these kinds of degrees, rather than an English degree, tend to edit in their area of specialization, and often fall into editing as a second career.

Many editors have pursued some post-graduate course work, and others have completed Masters and PhDs, but these degrees don't guarantee an abundance of work. What truly counts is having some kind of undergraduate degree, a post-graduate certificate in publishing, and then a passion and drive to keep learning and upgrading skills after graduation and beyond. The Editors' Association of Canada offers a certification program for editors who work with written material in English.

Career prospects

Some editors work in-house for a book publishing company, and this is the kind of editor most people think of when they hear the word editor. But book publishing in Canada is a small industry. Canadian editors are found in many sectors—government, corporate, education and advertising—and work on communication vehicles like websites, textbooks, books, magazines, newsletters, brochures and reports. All written documents that are accurate, easy to read and engaging have probably had an editor involved in their production.

There are two types of editors: those who work for a company in-house and those who freelance. The benefit to working in-house is collecting a salary and knowing month to month how much money will be coming in. This brings peace of mind to many. In-house work is often predictable, in that the types of projects will vary minimally. Freelance editing, where an editor typically works in a home office, offers the freedom to take on multiple projects from a wide variety of areas, so the work is constantly changing. This is a plus for some people. But freelancing does not come with any monetary guarantees, and incomes vary.

Publishing programs in Canada


  • Book + Magazine Publishing Program, post-graduate certificate, Centennial College, Toronto, Ont.; one year, two semesters.
  • Publishing program, certificate, Continuing Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C.; can be done part-time.
  • Creative Book Publishing, post-graduate certificate, Humber College, Toronto, Ont.; one semester.
  • Publishing program, post-graduate certificate, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ont.; part-time and distance education.
  • The Master of Publishing (MPub) program, Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, B.C.; 16 months, full-time.


  • Diplôme de 2e cycle en édition, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Que.; (30 credits)
  • Baccalauréat en communication, rédaction et multimédia, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Que.; (90 credits)
  • Certificat en pratiques rédactionnelles, TÉLUQ, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, Que.; distance education (30 credits)
  • Certificat en rédaction professionnelle, Université Laval, Québec, Que.; (30 credits)
  • Certificat en rédaction professionnelle, Glendon College (York University), Toronto, Ont.; (about 2 years)
  • Certificat de rédaction, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Que.; (about 30 credits)