If you have a keen eye for detail, a passion for language, and a desire to help others communicate effectively, a career as a copy editor might be the perfect fit for you. Editing and proofreading are also ideal work-from-home jobs or side hustles for anyone who is fluent in written English.
So, what training or experience do you need to get started in this profession?
South African copy editing & proofreading qualifications
In SA, and perhaps most of the world, you don’t need any specific qualifications, degrees or diplomas to embark on this career path. Basically, anyone can call themselves an editor and go out and get clients. But let’s suppose you want to gain confidence in your abilities and offer a really great service as a freelancer or even land a permanent job as a copy editor or proofreader. I’ll outline some training opportunities that I’ve either done myself or that are generally regarded as industry-leading courses. My focus will be on affordability, ease of access (i.e. online courses only) and the ability to get you up to speed relatively quickly. I’ll also only consider courses that don’t require you to have a degree or any previous experience.
Are some qualifications more recognised than others?
Before deciding on a course, it’s worth considering what your ambitions are. If you want to land a full-time job and work in-house for a publisher or news agency, you might want to focus on those courses that tend to be recognised by these employers. South African employers don’t always know about editing credentials, but if they do they are most likely to value accreditation by the Professional Editors Group or perhaps the Chartered Institute of Editing & Proofreading (both discussed below). But if you’re aiming just to test the waters with editing or to work as a freelancer, the qualification doesn’t matter and you can consider less costly options that still give the required knowledge. All prices quoted in this article are 2023 prices.
Editing and proofreading training courses
1. The Professional Editors’ Guild
The Professonal Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company representing the interests of copy-editors and proofreaders throughout South and Southern Africa. As a South African, this is probably a good place to start in your journey towards become an editor. PEG offers training courses, webinars, mentorship and a lively discussion group where you can get support and find out about editing work on offer. It’s certainly worth joining, though it doesn’t seem to have a complete learning path for editing and proofreading (more like individual specialist courses and webinars), so it’s perhaps not the best option for learning from scratch. They seem to refer people to the CIEP courses, which I discuss below. That said, they do offer accreditation and editing proficiency tests, so this is well worth investigating.
- Costs: Membership R670/year
- Pros: Community support, mentorship, specialist courses, accreditation
- Cons: No complete course for beginner editors and proofreaders
- Who it’s for: Southern African editors looking for accreditation, support, networking and mentorship
2. Chartered Institute of Editing & Proofreading
One of the world’s leading organisations for editing and proofreading is the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), based in the UK. The institute is focused on training and certifying editors, and they accept members from around the world. If I was just starting out with editing I might choose the CIEP as it offers a very clear study and certification path. I haven’t done any of their courses but I feel confident in recommending them as the CIEP qualifications are widely recognised in the publishing industry. The SA Professional Editors’ Guilde (PEG) recognised CIEP courses.
- Costs: £500 for all three foundational copy editing courses + membership £126 = £626
- Pros: Recognised qualification. Tutor support. Assessed tests and assignments.
- Cons: None I’m aware of
- Who it’s for: Prospective editors who want a qualification with industry recognition
Knowadays (formerly the Proofreading Academy) is a UK-based education company that offers editing and writing courses. I am listing them here as I have done their Become a Proofreader course and found it to be very detailed and comprehensive. In fact, the course goes beyond what is traditionally known as proofreading and covers what I would call light copy editing, so it offers good value there. I recommend this course if you want to get started with relatively low cost while still having tutor support and assessments.
While Knowadays courses perhaps don’t have quite the same professional recognition as the ones I’ve already discussed, they do have one big advantage – and that’s the offer of freelance work if you pass both the proofreading and the editing courses with distinction. This can be a fantastic way to gain experience as you will be provided with work and will have the guidance of their staff. Their courses are also accredited by Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – a professional body responsible for certifying excellence in professional development
- Costs: Proofreading course ($499) + Editing course ($499) = $998 (tip: sign up for free sample lessons and they will offer you discounts).
- Pros: Comprehensive material. Assessed assignments. Tutor support. Offer of freelance work. CPD points.
- Cons: Not as widely recognised by employers
- Who it’s for: Prospective editors wanting comprehensive courses with tutor support + the possibility of freelance work.
4. My Udemy editing course
With all the great training options discussed above, why would I go and create my own online course? The answer is simple – there are many prospective editors out there (perhaps you are one of them) who aren’t sure if editing is for them and are cautious about throwing money at a huge course they might not complete. I’ve condensed the fundamentals of editing and proofreading into a very accessible course that you can easily complete in a week or less. My philosophy is that you don’t need to be a grammar guru to be able to edit – you just need a basic fluency in English and the willingness to get to grips with some of the technical issues to do with grammar, punctuation and editing in electronic documents. We cover all of that in the course and you will have all the knowledge you need to get your first clients. Sign up here.
- Cost: Between $10 and $20 depending on Udemy promotional deals
- Pros: Compact starter course. Low cost. Tutor support
- Cons: No assessment and feedback. Little employer recognition
- Who it’s for: Anyone wanting a low-investment course to test the waters and gain the essential knowledge needed to start working as a freelance editor and proofreader.
Naturally, there are other training options that I haven’t covered in this article, but this should be enough to get you started.
A final note on qualifications
At the start of this article I said you don’t need a degree or diploma to work as an editor, but if you are looking for a permanent editing job then a degree in languages, communication or journalism in addition to your editing qualifications can certainly be helpful. If you don’t have a degree but still want to land a permanent job, I might suggest you start out by doing a foundational editing course then build a freelance editing business that will enable you to gain experience while doing further courses. In this way you will demonstrate your ability and resourcefulness to potential employers.
If you have any questions, do send me an email and I’ll be happy to respond.
Author bio: Russel Brownlee is Webrabbit’s editing and copywriting guru. You can also find him at Writercoach, his dedicated copy editing and proofreading site.