Why not a master’s in editing?

Many higher education courses — for example, in publishing, creative writing, and journalism — courses provide some coverage of editing. Few, however, give it major emphasis – let alone make it the main focus. Yet the case for providing courses dedicated to editing is compelling.

Editing is, after all, is an activity with a long pedigree within academia, at least in the form of scholarly textual editing and journal editing. And editing is a complex, intellectually rich, activity, worthy of genuine study.

Moreover, courses on editing would harmonise with universities’ growing concern to demonstrate that their courses promote employability. Many people work as designated editors — and editing is also a valuable skill to possess in more general roles that involve communication or the handling of information. 

In the publishing industry, editing takes many forms – for example, commissioning, volume or journal editing, development editing, and copy-editing. There is a reasonably close kinship to the editing skills employed by a magazine, newspaper, or website editor — and at least some comparison to those skills in radio, television, film, and music.

The skills that such various forms of editing have in common are amongst those often identified as most desirable in the age of digital information. They include abstracting, collating, criticising, curating, digesting, evaluating, indexing, and remixing. 

A particular attraction for any university that wanted to establish a course is the existence of a number of professional bodies. Examples include the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers. I’d urge any such university to seek to work in genuine partnership with professional organisations such as these: there would surely be mutual advantage to be gained from exploring such areas as accreditation and credits towards professional qualifications.

To support courses of the kind envisaged here, many high quality resources are already available. They include:

  • Scott Norton, Developmental editing (U. of Chicago Press);
  • Janet Mackenzie, The Editor’s companion (Cambridge U. Press); 
  • Yehuda Baruch et al., Opening the black box of editorship (Palgrave).

In addition, many editors provide a regular supply of high quality content online via social media. They include Averill Buchanan (@AverillB), Louise Harnby (@LouiseHarnby), Katie Van Heest (@TweedEditing), Kristine Hunt (@CCCopyEditor), Agata Mrva-Montoya (@agatamontoya), and Katharine O’Moore-Klopf (@KOKEdit). There’s certainly no shortage of resources.

Overall, courses in editing, by combining high-order intellectual content with vocational possibilities, would be likely to prove popular. They therefore offer an opportunity for host institutions both to generate income and to contribute to their students’ employability. What’s not to like?

And, yes, I’m ready to talk!  🙂

21 Responses to “Why not a master’s in editing?”

  1. Anthony, thank you very much for the mention. I have begun work on an MA in historical resources management with an emphasis on digital media. While the program remains small in its infancy, I hope to see it expand in the future to include many of the points you raise about the wide variety of editorial skills and the need for research into their impact on scholarly publishing. The editing field, particularly among freelancers, lacks emphasis on professional accreditation — something that is attractive to many fledgling editors, but which in the end, I think, leads to a view of freelancers as less worthy than their in-house colleagues.

  2. An interesting post! I am currently finishing a book/PhD thesis on editing, after years in the business, and at my univeristy (Roehampton) we now offer a module on ‘publishing and editing’ as an option on the creative writing MA

    • Thanks, Susan.Know a little re. the Roehampton course (am publishing a book edited by ex-Roehampton lecturer, Sharon Norris). Would be interested to hear more re. the course and, especially, the book….

  3. This is an interesting idea. Non-editors are often inclined to think “editing” encompasses little more than checking spelling, grammar and punctuation. A good editor might need to apply all the skills you mentioned (abstracting, collating, criticising, curating, digesting, evaluating, indexing, and remixing) and much more. Depending on the project, editing can require checking facts, formatting, and graphics; making sure that specific styles are used; and establishing an appropriate hierarchical chain for approving drafts. Editors also need to understand enough about other components of the project in order to do an effective job, and that requires the kind of management skill acquired through experience — not to mention diplomacy. A degree in editing sounds like a good idea to me, but I wonder if anyone besides other editors would agree.

    • I agree, non-editors often reduce the idea to checking SPAG. Perhaps that’s why they often seem to think editors will agree to looking at things free of charge – nothing to it!

  4. Very good idea! The training culture within the books trade seems weak – where is the idea of continuing professional development in publishing? Yet at this time of rapid techno-cultural change our industry needs it more than ever …

    • Thanks, David. Publishers often say the workforce lacks digital skills (true) but there’s not exactly an surfeit of high-level editing skills.

  5. This merits serious consideration. Ajeskin is right to wonder whether anyone other than editors would deem such a course worthwhile. After thirty years in trade–non-fiction, academic, reference book, and magazine editing and writing, I am still amazed at how much there is to know and remember and convey to writers and communicate with other editors and be willing to be flexible about. The Chicago Manual of Style is only the tip of the iceberg—a big tip, to be sure. (Among the many other titles you could add to your resources is Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing.) Diplomacy is key, too, as is broad-mindedness, breadth of knowledge, and humility.
    And that addresses only the mechanical aspects of trafficking in manuscripts. Beyond that are matters of manuscript acquisition, copyright, permissions, design, contracts, permissions, and electronic media.

    • Thank you. I might not be the best person to comment on diplomacy (though would agree). Agree re. Helen Sword – recommended her book today on a training course at Univ. of Leeds.

  6. There is a strong movement in the United States toward higher education as a means to an end, specifically the end of employment. Certainly the program I am in is focused in this way — two tracks are offered, one in using GIS in the social sciences and one in using digital media (and no PhD offered, so in a sense it’s designed as something of a terminal degree). We are hiring additional faculty for both tracks, but currently the program doesn’t offer any courses specifically on editing, although participating in editorial processes for the journals we co-publish is part of the digital media portion.

    As for whether a degree in editing would appeal to anyone but editors — I’m not sure it needs to! It strikes me as a sort of internal industry certification.

    • The means/end terminology strikes me as useful here: I guess the basis of my argument is that a course on editing could be seen as both a means (towards employability) and a means ( a legitimate subject of study in its own right).

  7. I fully agree! In the current world of “too much information”, editing is becoming at least as important as writing, if not more important. So let’s also educate people to do it.

  8. I agree that formal editing training is worthwhile but why should it be post graduate? Journalism or creative writing skills are not necessary to be a good editor. Industry training is more appropriate than another university course.

  9. I’m not sure it needs to be post graduate… though I think it can be at the undergraduate level. I’m just not sure it is “intellectual” enough to deem it worth of graduate level courses. I feel the same way about journalism, honestly. Most journalism schools at the masters level are just repeats of what undergraduates in journalism do. I majored in Editing/Writing/Media at Florida State University. They only offer a graduate level “certificate” in it. There are plenty of editing/comp/theory/digital humanities/workshops in the program. Many of the courses produced portfolios. It was required of every student to do a semester long internship. Many do several. I worked at a publishing house for a year. I took the course because it seemed more practical than the literature or creative writing track. In fact, several of my advanced level courses were taken with graduate students… It was the same class, just the graduate students took it for graduate level credit. I wouldn’t go to grad school for it, maybe only as a “minor” level of competence within another program.

    • Thank you for a thought-provoking post. My immediate responses:

      1. I don’t share your doubt over the intellectual quality: editing brings in (or can bring in) all kinds of questions from diverse fields, such as linguistics, communication, aesthetics and ethics.

      2. But I do find your suggestion re. undergraduate courses v. promising. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Well, frankly I think just a mental block or prejudice on my part: my university work is mostly at graduate level upwards, so I just didn’t consider undergraduate courses. Now I wish I had!

      3. So far as I can judge re. journalist courses, the situation is rather different in the UK. A few years ago I researched the Journalism Studies market for a publisher and generally found that there were many masters course taught by self=proclaimed ‘hackademics’ – experienced journalists who had moved into academia. They tended to teach practical, professional-oriented, courses (rather like many Publishing Studies courses over here). In contrast, many undergraduate modules were located in Media Studies departments with a more academic and theoretical bent – lots of Baudrillard, Deleuze and stuff. It wasn’t necessarily so much that one type of course was more advanced than another – it was more, I think, a matter of orientation.

  10. […] writes: In ‘Why not a master’s in editing?‘ I nominated some editors and proofreaders who consistently produced high-quality content on […]

  11. I have an MPhil in Publishing Studies which I obtained from the University of Stirling in Scotland in 1985. That course included a robust module on editing and thanks to that I’ve been successfully working ever since as firstly an in-house editor and now a freelance.
    Editing can be made as intellectual as you like and taught at any level from secondary school upwards in my opinion.

  12. […] my post on editing courses (18 February) I mentioned a number of editors who publish quality content about editing, using […]

  13. […] as volume editor, Elaine Walker. I’ve written on this blog before (for example, in Why not a master’s in editing?) about the varied meanings of ‘editing’. Elaine turned out to be accomplished — […]

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