The editor described in academic literature and the real-life editor are two different people. If you choose to deviate from the prescribed formula, your editing might improve as a result.

Academic literature often portrays the editor as the final destination for a piece of writing—where it goes to get its final evaluation. However, in a professional setting an editor doesn’t have to be a stopping point. An editor can instead be a companion to the composition throughout its development. Professional editing is a lot more hands-on than the literature would have students believe.


Associate Professor Rebekka Andersen of UC Davis spent three weeks shadowing and interviewing a small publishing company’s editors and publishing team to determine the editor’s role within the technical publishing process. In the article “The Context Dependent Editorial Process: Toward a More Complex Understanding of the Technical Editor,” published in the 2005 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference Proceedings, Andersen (2005) found that editors were involved in every stage of the process—conception, prewriting, writing, editing, publishing, and even client relations. She found a few key differences between the editors portrayed in academic writing and those at this publishing company:

  1. Editors are communicative. Editors at the publishing company communicated with writers early on in the document development process, providing suggestions for the first seven pages to improve later pages. Conventionally, editors come in later for an objective view of the text, but when this company’s editors communicated earlier, both the editor’s and the writer’s work improved.
  2. Editors are involved. Editors met with potential and current clients and worked with the sales team to go over project goals prior to beginning editing work. One editor indicated that this involvement helps her understand their clients’ needs and improves her editing work.
  3. Editors are flexible. In academic literature, says Andersen (2005), “Editing is often presented as a text-based process that can be mastered and transferred,” something consistent and unchanging (489). However, the process used at the publishing company she studied was both unique and dynamic. Sometimes the proofreader worked on the layouts and the editor stepped in to proofread. Flexible roles helped cover the office workload.


Andersen clarifies that her work is only preliminary research, and she emphatically calls for more work to be done. Academic literature, she says, needs “to more fully characterize how organizational contexts influence editor roles in the document development process. Furthermore, descriptions of comprehensive editing as an important editorial task need to be expanded to include the collaborative nature of editing” (493). Until that happens, we as editors should be aware that the literature is not the final authority on editing.

Help students understand the social nature of editing and how social relations and tensions in an organization shape communication and document development.

—Rebekka Anderson (2005)

The literature may have you believe that editorial work is merely the endpoint of writing, but editorial work is best done by working with your colleagues throughout the editorial process. As you make an effort to be communicative, involved, and flexible, your editing skills might improve, the client might be happier, and the manuscript might be more logical and engaging for readers. In addition, you might be happier as you take on different roles and avoid a stagnant workstyle.

To learn more about Rebekkah Andersen’s professional editing research, read the full article:

Rebekka Andersen. 2005. “The Context Dependent Editorial Process: Toward a More Complex Understanding of the Technical Editor.” In Proceedings. International Professional Communication Conference, 2005, pp. 484–497.

—Linde Fielding, Editing Research


Find more research

Check out Jocelyne Bisaillon’s (2007) article to learn more about keys to succeed in professional editing: “Professional Editing Strategies Used by Six Editors.” Written Communication 24, no. 4 (October): 295–322.