Becoming a Copy Editor: Career, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of becoming a copy editor? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to find out if becoming a copy editor is right for you.
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Becoming a Copy Editor: Pros and Cons

If you love to write, and you have a keen eye for detail, you might consider becoming a copy editor. Take a look at the following pros and cons to determine if becoming a copy editor is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Copy Editor
Usually requires only a bachelor's degree*
Median salary in Dec. 2014 was $41,384/year**
Advances in technology make it possible to work remotely*
Can work in many industries (newspaper publishing, scientific services, education)*

Cons of Becoming a Copy Editor
Job outlook for 2012-2022 is -2%*
Competitive job market, especially for newspaper and magazine jobs*
Meeting deadlines often requires working long hours*
Meeting production deadlines and overseeing multiple projects can be stressful*
Freelance copy editors must continuously look for new work*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Copy editors are responsible for reviewing and editing the work of writers. This includes making sure the author followed editorial guidelines and used correct grammar, punctuation and spelling. Copy editors often verify facts, and they may also arrange page layouts. In some cases, a copy editor may rewrite a piece of writing to improve its readability.

If you choose to become a copy editor, you can expect to work in a fast-paced environment and juggle multiple projects at the same time. You may have to work long hours to meet deadlines, but thanks to advances in technology, you may be able to work those hours from home.

Career Options

Most copy editors work for publishing firms, newspapers and magazines, but there are other options. You might find a job with such organizations as a manufacturer, marketing firm, political organization, university or government agency, to name a few. Opportunities are increasingly becoming available with online businesses. Some copy editors are generalists, while others become specialists within their industry; for example, you can focus solely on medical or scientific documents.

After you gain a few years of experience, you might consider going off on your own and freelancing. As a freelance copy editor, you might enjoy a flexible schedule and higher paying clients, but your income would probably be less predictable than if you were a salaried employee.

Job Growth and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected the number of jobs for all editors to decline by 2% between 2012 and 2022. During this time, employment opportunities may be best with web-based publications and companies that are expanding into the digital arena. According to PayScale.com, the median salary for copy editors was $41,384 in 2014, with salaries from the 10th to 90th percentiles ranging from about $29,000 to $64,000.

Education Requirements

Most employers prefer copy editors who have at least an undergraduate degree in English, communications or journalism. However, there are exceptions, and some employers will consider hiring an applicant with a different background if he or she displays robust writing skills. Either way, copy editors must have a firm grasp of grammar and writing style; familiarity with standard word-processing and publishing programs is also essential. If you'd like to specialize in an industry, such as fashion or science, make sure you have an in-depth understanding of that field.

Copy editors work with a variety of people, such as writers, photographers, project managers, designers and web developers. They must be skilled at offering constructive advice in a gentle manner. Taking additional courses in interpersonal communications might enhance your ability to build these vital work relationships.

Real Job Postings

Nearly all employers want copy editors who have bachelor's degrees in English or journalism. They also prefer those who can demonstrate proficiency in relevant computer applications. To help you better understand what employers are looking for, here are a few job postings from April 2012:

  • A newspaper in Texas needed a copy editor to write headlines, edit copy and design pages for the publication's real estate and employment sections. The job also included developing story content for the paper's special sections, assigning jobs to freelance writers and editing all products. Applicants needed a 4-year degree in journalism, English or a related field and two or more years of experience in writing, editing and page layout.
  • An author in Illinois sought a copy editor for a part-time, temporary job proofing a do-it-yourself book. Requirements for this position included above-average language skills and experience with Adobe InDesign. The employer was open to hiring an experienced college student enrolled in a journalism program.
  • A provider of virtual K-12 education in Maryland needed a temporary copy editor to edit curriculum and company promotional materials. Candidates needed to have a bachelor's degree in English or journalism, 1-3 years of editing and proofreading experience and proficiency in Microsoft Office applications and HTML. The employer preferred applicants with experience in editing curriculum materials.

How to Get Ahead as a Copy Editor

Expand Your Network

At a 2012 conference hosted by the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), participants learned to use social media tools, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, to keep in touch with colleagues who may have the inside scoop on upcoming job openings. Using such tools is an effective way to learn about employment opportunities because employers often tweet about job openings before publicly advertising them.

Sharpen Your Online Media Skills

While the job outlook for copy editors is well below average, you can stand out among your peers by becoming an online media expert. According to the BLS, copy editors with experience in online media and publishing tools will have better job prospects than those who stick with more traditional forms of publishing. There are several colleges and universities that offer continuing education and certificate programs in online publication skills. You can also look for internship opportunities that provide you with online media experience. According to the Knight Ohio Program for Editing and Education at Ohio University, a successful online copy editor has the following skills:

  • Ability to quickly move content out to multiple sources, much like a wire service
  • Flexibility to work both online and in print
  • Ability to balance speed and accuracy
  • Competency in editing different online presentations

Other Careers to Consider

Technical Writer

If you love to write, you might consider becoming a technical writer. These professionals may create operating instructions, equipment manuals and frequently-asked-questions pages. The job outlook is significantly better than that of copy editors - the BLS anticipates a healthy 17% increase in employment between 2010 and 2020. The mean salary for technical writers was about $67,000 as of May 2011.

Desktop Publisher

If you're partial to the idea of creating page layouts, you could become a desktop publisher. Professionals in this field use software programs to format text, graphics and other materials into a finished page layout for books, newspapers and brochures. You wouldn't necessarily need a bachelor's degree in order to get a job, but the average salary was only about $39,000 as of May 2011. The BLS expected a decline in desktop publishing jobs of about 15% between 2010 and 2020, but experience in electronic and web publishing may lead to better job prospects.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Advertising and Public Relations

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication

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Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Communication

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Penn Foster

  • Career Diploma - Freelance Writer

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Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication

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Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Arts in Communication - General
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided

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Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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Full Sail University

  • Master of Fine Arts - Creative Writing
  • M.S. - New Media Journalism
  • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
  • BS - Sportscasting (Campus)

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