How To Become an Editor

Female editor sitting at a desk with her laptop and notes

Do you love to read and enjoy thinking of ways to improve an author’s writing? If so, you may consider a career as a professional editor. Editors are hired by various organizations to ensure that printed or published materials are error-free and reader-friendly before they are published.

Are you wondering how to become an editor? Perhaps you’re curious about how to become a freelance editor compared to an in-house editor. We’ll take a look at the process in this career guide and dive into common questions like, What degree do you need to be an editor?

In This Article:

What Do Editors Do?

One of the interesting aspects of this career is the many hats an editor can wear. There are many kinds of editors, each with different daily responsibilities. The ultimate responsibility of every editor, however, is to improve the quality of written work.

Some of an editor’s specific tasks may include the following:

  • Fact-check pieces for accuracy prior to publication 
  • Rewrite copy or send a piece back to the writer for recommended revisions
  • Correct errors in punctuation, grammar, syntax and spelling
  • Ensure that each piece of writing follows established style guidelines
  • Develop content ideas and assign articles to writers
  • Hire, train and supervise writers and other editors

Editors can work for a variety of companies, ranging from book publishing houses and marketing agencies to newspapers and periodicals.1

What Degree Do You Need To Be an Editor?

Editors can come to the field from a variety of academic backgrounds, ranging from communications to journalism and beyond. However, one of the most relevant degree options is a degree in English or professional writing. In addition, you might consider declaring a minor or taking other courses that reflect your interests and that can help qualify you for a specific niche.

Though the details of the English or professional writing curriculum vary from one school to the next, degree programs often include topics like the following:

  • The written word’s role in the marketing and PR fields
  • The development of technical, academic and professional writing
  • The role of multimedia in contemporary journalism
  • The craft of creative writing
  • The analysis of multicultural literature

Internships during college are particularly important for the book publishing niche, as it is customary for editors to work their way up from assistant-level positions. An internship can also enable you to build invaluable professional connections that may help you land your first full-time job after graduation.

Do You Need a Graduate Degree To Become an Editor?

Most editors do not need a graduate degree. The exception is editors who work for academic/scientific publications. Scientific editors need at least a master’s degree and often need a doctoral degree.2 If you want to teach at the college level within this subject matter, a graduate degree would be necessary.

Skills and Preparation To Become An Editor

Now that you understand what degree(s) you need to become an editor, it’s important to understand what skills can help you become an editor and what you can do now to prepare for a job in this field.

Some of the important skills and characteristics of an effective editor include:3

  • Writing and grammar skills
  • Creative mindset
  • Attention to detail
  • Business-related and managerial competencies
  • Interpersonal skills

Designate Time To Read Every Day

Being well-read often gives you an intuitive sense of what works and what does not and how to improve various pieces of writing. It’s best to spend most of your reading time within your intended niche. For instance, if you want to become the editor of a science magazine, you should read STEM field magazines regularly.

Build an Editorial Portfolio 

In order to land your first full-time job as an editor or editorial assistant, you may need to prove that your writing skills are exceptional.

The solution is your portfolio. Throughout college, you’ll likely need to complete various types of writing for your classes. Save the writing projects you are especially proud of and those which best showcase your writing talent. Writing projects from relevant extracurricular activities, like the school newspaper, or writing done during an internship program should also be included.

Different Editor Job Descriptions

There are many types of editors; their specific roles often depend on the companies they work for.4

Most Common Types of Editors

  • A developmental editor works for book publishing houses and agencies and act as mentors for independent authors, providing help with big-picture issues. 
  • Acquisitions editors also work in the book publishing industry and are responsible for analyzing current market conditions, predicting trends, reviewing manuscripts and identifying whose work they may want to publish.
  • The editor-in-chief, who is the organization’s highest-ranking editor, supervises the editors and writers, establishes the voice of the publication, sets publishing guidelines and has the final say on which pieces are published. 
  • Managing editors have duties such as assigning articles, ensuring that pieces are written according to schedule, answering questions from the various editing departments and representing the publication when the editor-in-chief is unavailable.
  • Copy editors are grammar gurus who perform rewrites that ensure a piece adheres to style guidelines with overall consistency and accuracy and is free of errors in syntax and grammar.
  • Proofreaders double-check that the writing is free of errors in punctuation, grammar and syntax and that all the formatting (fonts, layout and spacing) is as it should be.

Freelance Editor vs. In-House Editor

The decision of whether to become an in-house editor or a freelance editor is one you may carefully consider as these pathways have significant differences.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13% of editors are freelancers. Others are in-house editors who work for newspapers, media streaming distribution services, the entertainment industry and other types of employers.5

There are benefits and drawbacks to each path. Freelance editors enjoy the following:

  • Flexible schedule
  • Ability to work from anywhere with a stable internet connection
  • Freedom to take on your preferred clients
  • Ability to set your own rates and specialize in your preferred field

However, freelance editors must also spend time managing their businesses, advertising their services and interacting with clients. Having a background in business, a business minor, or some kind of education in the business industry can be helpful for freelance editors to be successful. Self-employed individuals must also pay the employer’s share of income taxes, and they may deal with an unpredictable income.

If you are wondering how to become a freelance editor, it is generally easier to attract clients once you have some work experience on your resume. Once you have acquired some relevant experience, you may decide to create your own company’s website and apply to contract jobs as a freelancer.

Some benefits of becoming an in-house editor may include the following:

  • Predictable paycheck
  • Benefits, including healthcare and retirement
  • Consistent workflow
  • Paid time off
  • Enhanced credibility derived from working for an established organization

Drawbacks may include a reduced ability to choose your own projects and less flexible scheduling.

Start on the Path Toward an Editorial Career by Earning a Degree at GCU

At Grand Canyon University, you’ll have opportunities to build a firm foundation of competencies as you pursue a career as an editor. Among our language-related degrees is the Bachelor of Arts in Communications with an Emphasis in Broadcasting and New Media as well as the Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing for New Media. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about joining our learning community and explore available degree options.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). What editors do. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Dec. 11, 2023.

Indeed. (2022, June 24). How to become a scientific editor. Retrieved Dec. 11, 2023.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). How to become an editor. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Dec. 11, 2023. 

4Indeed. (2022, Dec. 20). Types of Editors. Retrieved Feb. 22, 2024. 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). Work environment. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Dec. 11, 2023. 

Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Feb. 22, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.