What is an Editor?

An editor is a critical reader and a lover of words, whose job is to polish and refine a story or an article. Editors are employed by a variety of industries and for many types of products, such as magazines, newspapers, blogs, and books.

What does an Editor do?

An editor sitting at a desk, editing manuscripts.

Editors are responsible for checking facts, spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and for ensuring that an article corresponds with in-house style guides and feels polished and refined when done. There are also times when editors need to cut out content that doesn't fit in with the story, and guide the attention towards the areas that the reading audience should focus on.

There are a variety of areas in which editors can work. The following are a few examples:


When it comes to books, an editor is seen as a gatekeeper between the author and the audience. Authors know their stories inside and out, and have had a strong personal relationship with their manuscript for months or sometimes years. Audiences have no emotional attachment to books that they have not read yet and are quick to judge any novel that they pick up to read. Therefore, an editor needs to edit a manuscript while taking a dual-sided point of view in order to keep both parties happy.

The manuscript may need changes that will keep the audience pulled in and interested for the length of the novel. However, any changes that are made must feel like the author's authentic voice in order to keep the author happy with the new and improved manuscript.

Editors are responsible for a range of functions in a publishing house and many phases of editing need to take place before a book is ready to be published. When people hear the word “editor” they usually imagine someone who spell checks and is a stickler for grammar. While this is true to some extent, a lot more goes into editing a manuscript than just that. Before and after a manuscript is picked for publication, there are many alterations and decisions that need to be made. These are made by the following types of editors.

Developmental Editor
When authors have an idea for a book, they often seek out the help of a developmental editor. This type of editor helps authors develop a book from an initial idea, outline, or draft. There is typically much more personal attention given to the author at this stage, and by this type of editor, than during any other editing stage.

Developmental editors look at the structure, focus, and content of a potential book. They look at the most marketable way the content can be presented, and help guide the writing in that direction. Any inconsistencies, such as tone, or target audience, are addressed during this time. The developmental editor will work with the author to meet the requirements of the publisher, sometimes through many drafts.

During this stage of editing, the editor focuses on producing a manuscript that can be acceptable enough to progress to the next step. While content, organization, and presentation are all important factors, honing in on things like character development, getting the setting right, and clarity of plot, are also crucial.

The developmental editor may suggest additional research to be done to “flesh out” certain parts of the material to get a clearer picture and to create better flow. Comments are made on style, structure, and flow of information. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are also checked along with URL links, captions, graphics, footnotes, references, photos, tables, quotes, bibliography, and citations.

This type of editing is the most invasive, so the editor works closely with the writer to approve changes and to make sure the author's original voice is preserved.

Substantive Editor
A substantive editor can offer help to both fiction and non-fiction writers. These types of editors do not typically work with a writer from the initial stages, but will look at a manuscript after the writer has completed several drafts with the developmental editor. Small details will be looked at, as well as the overall feel of the manuscript. Any points of weakness will be addressed, and suggested options to improve and strengthen the manuscript will be offered.

Fiction writers can greatly benefit in having this type of editor look at improving the strength of their manuscript with things like: plot, dialogue, story elements, characterization, scene order, setting, voice, point of view, word choice, syntax, pace, and sentence structure. Non-fiction writers can also benefit by having a substantive editor look at things like: structure, consistency and flow, proper progression of sections, and whether the information presented is substantial enough for the audience.

Acquisitions Editor
The next editor a manuscript hopefully goes through is the acquisitions editor – writers, as well as agents, will typically submit their manuscripts to the this type of editor. Acquisitions editors find new authors and decide whether the manuscripts submitted would be profitable choices in the long run for the publishing house they work for. They will promote the chosen authors, make a pitch to the house to publish the manuscripts, and facilitate communication between the publisher and the writer. The acquisition editor also manages all the budgeting, marketing, and contractual decisions.

There is typically a lot of competition with other acquisition editors to bring in new authors, therefore it is often a challenge to get an author accepted into the publishing house. Once accepted, the acquisitions editor will often follow a manuscript from that point forward until publication, in order to ensure the story is in line with the publisher's vision.

Line Editor
The next type of editor is the line editor. This editor will go through a manuscript line by line and find grammatical and spelling errors that may compromise the quality of the material. The line editor will also make sure that word choice contributes to the overall tone of the book.

Line editing sometimes overlaps the areas of developmental editing and copy editing, and in some publishing fields the line editor and copy editor positions are combined into one. However, this type of editing goes beyond just checking for proper grammar. A line editor's main focus is to be deeply in tune with the author's voice and to make it come to life.

Paragraph and sentence structure is the main focus of line editing, ensuring ideas are expressed with both strength and clarity. Instead of 'fixing' the author's voice, a good line editor will make the voice stronger and sharper.

Copy Editor
The copy editor is one of the last people to go over a manuscript before it is ready for print. They examine the document for inconsistencies in theme, style, and factual information. Permission is checked for copyright material, ensuring there will be no legal conflict. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are also scanned again. The main purpose of the copy editor is to make sure the text that is used is clear, will maintain the interest of the reader, and maintain in-house style rules.

“Style can include the specifics of any particular publishing company, as well as the type of guide being used, such as the Chicago Manual of Style,” says Ciara Larkin, a senior copy editor in book publishing at Thomson Reuters.

"There’s no getting around attention to detail" says Jenna Rose Robbins, an editor, writer, and web consultant at Siteseeing Media & Web Consulting. “And some people just can’t be taught because it requires a specific type of focus. I know some amazing line editors who are terrible copy editors. You need to know Associated Press and/or Chicago style. This is just something that has to be learned, like memorizing the periodic table of the elements, only in more detail.”

Production Editor
In the home stretch, the edited manuscript goes to the production editor who oversees the transition between manuscript and published book. This is the last person to review the material before print. This type of editor manages the typesetting, artwork, and budgeting, and ensures quality is met in all other areas of editing. Production editing is a multi-faceted role that requires a mix of editorial and project-management skills.

Being a production editor is all about quality control, and differs from other editors in the scale of the changes being made (micro vs. macro). A production editor deals with small-scale, non-substantive changes, while other editors look at larger-scale, substantive changes.

Production editors are also trained in other quality control checks that include: proofreading, copyediting, extensive formatting checks, and more. In summary, a production editor is responsible for catching any small errors, whether that’s a typo, a grammatical error, or an odd layout issue.

An editor checking for errors.


Editor In Chief
All the operations of managing a newspaper or a magazine are the responsibility of the editor in chief (also known as the executive editor or editor at large). They are responsible for the look of the product, the type of content produced, the number of articles that need to be written, and for ensuring that each issue is released on time. They also oversee all department editors (as well as the hiring and firing), and have the final say on what gets published.

The editor in chief is responsible for creating an editorial board, which is basically an outline of what needs to be included in the newspaper or magazine issue. Every issue has its own board. When all articles and images have been submitted for an issue, the editor in chief will review everything for accuracy and will make any necessary changes to the layouts and to the design.

Engagement Editor
An engagement editor has the job of identifying stories that are going to resonate with the audience. Engagement editors also discover the best strategies and tactics in which to deliver those stories. They work with the editorial team to recommend an angle or an idea, or identify trending stories that are primed to take off with a specific audience.

This is often done by using social media and analytics tools. Examples may be what’s leading CNN or FOX News, or what people's Facebook newsfeed is for the day. Ultimately, engagement editors need to ensure that the stories they are presenting are staying true to what the company's brand is, and what the audience is able to resonate with.

Managing Editor
The managing editor is responsible for enforcing the policies that have been set out by the editor in chief, and supervises the day-to-day operations of the publication. Both the managing editor and the editor in chief are actively involved in choosing the topics of interest they think their readers will find compelling to read, and to make sure all sides of a topic are reported on. Often, these topics of interest will be presented to them by the engagement editor and the editorial team.

Once a decision has been made on what the topics will be, the managing editor will take over and assign articles to the writers, answer questions, suggest ideas, keep things on schedule, and eventually approve articles and stories for final copy. At times, the managing editor will take on the writing of one or more of the stories, and may even be responsible for a specific section of the newspaper or magazine.

Copy Editor
The copy editor (or sub editor) for a newspaper or magazine checks the facts, spelling, grammar, structure, and punctuation of articles, stories, and captions. They may write headlines or introductory paragraphs, arrange the layouts and sidebars, review photos, make sure captions match the photos, and suggest word changes to prevent any legal issues. Copy editors are also responsible for making sure that articles and stories match the in-house style guides.

Are you suited to be an editor?

Editors have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if editor is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of an Editor like?

An editor's hours are generally determined by the production schedule and by the type of editorial position they have.

Advances in electronic communications have changed the work environment for writers and editors alike. Editors are able to do a lot of their editing from their homes, but most salaried editors work in-house, dealing with production deadlines and the pressures of trying to produce accurate work. This is advantageous because they get to learn how production works from the inside out.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become an Editor?

As editors typically earn a bachelor’s degree, they spend four years completing an undergraduate program. Those who pursue a graduate-level editing or publishing degree generally add another two years to their educational track.

Prospective editors who wish to work with a publication or publishing house often have to work in an entry-level role before securing an editing position.

Self-employed freelance editors can begin seeking clientele at any time; however, it will take time to build a portfolio that will attract larger clients.

Are Editors happy?

Editors rank highly among careers. Overall they rank in the 66th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

This higher-than-average happiness quotient among editors may be rooted in the essence of the work. Editing by its nature allows its practitioners to see the results of their labor. Taking a manuscript that, despite its valid content, may lack structure and flow and then bringing those very qualities to it, can be rewarding to people who have a particular appreciation for the written word.

Should I become an Editor?

Before committing to the editing profession, aspiring editors should be sure that they understand all that it involves.

Editing goes beyond a love of language.
Most people enter the editing field because they are intrigued by language. They enjoy the challenge of finding the right word to convey a point, making sense of a complicated piece of information, or working with text until it flows smoothly.

Meeting this challenge, however, requires more than a love of language. It calls for a passion for detail and accuracy and an inability to ignore incorrect or imperfect word choices and mistakes of grammar. Accomplished editors notice illogical arguments, inaccurate statistics, and poorly constructed sentences. They turn their love of language into a way to make a living and have an impact on the world around them.

Editors think and listen for a living.
’To be a really good editor, you have to be a really good listener. I don’t mean to the author. You have to listen to what you’re reading.’
– Ellen Seligman, (deceased) Publisher, McClelland and Stewart, Vice President, Random House of Canada, 2000 - 2016

‘People who do well at editing … have a nuts-and-bolts appreciation of how prose should fit together to provide the greatest possible clarity.’
– Katherine (surname not provided), Editor and Publisher

In other words, people who succeed in editing have:

• An instinct for recognizing patterns, organizing ideas, and creating categories
• A willingness to question assumptions, theories, and facts
• An interest in learning new things
• Proficiency in grammar, spelling, and composition
• An ability to visualize the end product while focusing on and remembering details
• A capacity to think logically and exercise good judgment
• An ability to reorganize a document to achieve clarity and momentum
• An instinct for recognizing what is missing in a passage

And they are willing and able to:

• Use a wide range of reference materials
• Work within deadlines
• Keep an eye on the budget

Editors are everywhere.
Most prospective editors envision themselves working for a specific publication or publishing house. The fact is, editors can be found everywhere.

Of course, they work in publishing; but they also are employed in the sales and marketing, manufacturing, government, legal, and education sectors, among others. They can be specialists who, for example, edit only scientific and medical or academic documents; or they can be generalists who work on all kinds of content.

As is the case in many other fields, technology has changed the nature of editing. What was once done with a red pen is today done with a keyboard and a mouse or a digital pen and a tablet.

Jobs may involve using advanced software and publishing platforms, or multimedia software and interactive technologies that combine the written word with graphics, audio, video, and animation.

Editors may work with other team members on shared documents. They will undoubtedly be expected to collaborate with writers, publishers, web developers, designers, artists, photographers, project managers, printers, and other editors. Contemporary editing is the work of individuals who are adaptable and flexible.

Editing can be both rewarding and frustrating.
• Editors often work with minimal supervision and may be expected to make decisions on their own. This level of independence can be very rewarding – for the right person.

• Freelance editors can work from home, set their own hours, and choose their projects. For some individuals, however, these freedoms may make it difficult to remain disciplined and focused.

• For many editors, the tight deadlines and pressure to ensure absolute accuracy are welcome challenges. For others, they may, at least sometimes, prove to be overwhelming.

• Editors are not always recognized for their work. In some cases, they are invisible. Many editors find satisfaction in this supporting role; others may seek greater visibility and prominence.

‘If you do not tolerate a certain level of anxiety over a considerable length of time (say, an entire career), then you are probably not constituted to be an editor.’
– Gerald Gross, Editor, Editors on Editing

‘The only predictable element in editing is that the next problem to come along will not yield to any of the thousands of solutions developed in tackling previous problems.’
– Arthur Plotnik, The Elements of Editing

What are Editors like?

Based on our pool of users, editors tend to be predominately artistic people. This finding is a simple and articulate confirmation of the kind of work that editors do.

Anyone who reads understands the power of the written word. Editors understand – and appreciate – the art of the written word. They know that one word substituted for another, the insertion or deletion of a comma, changing an awkward run-on sentence into two grammatically succinct ones, all can result in utterly readable, elegant, and artistic prose.

Editors are also known as:
Copy Editor Newspaper Copy Editor Sports Editor News Editor Features Editor Assignment Editor City Editor Aquisitions Editor Developmental Editor Line Editor Production Editor