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Standards Communication Task Force

PES in the Field: Raising (the Topic of) Our Standards

Image courtesy of Editors’ Association of Canada/Association canadienne des réviseurs.

“I’m talking about making something less boring.”

This was feedback from an Editors Canada member on a draft of the latest update to Editors Canada’s Professional Editorial Standards (PES). The 2016 update was a year-long process that incorporated feedback and comments from many members. When a draft of the new text was circulated for final input, this member felt that something was still missing. In the 2009 edition, standard C11 read:

Establish or maintain a consistent tone, style, and authorial voice or level of formality appropriate for the intended audience and medium.

The member explained, “That still doesn’t cover it. A large part of the stylistic editing I do is to help the client keep the reader’s interest. For example, I was recently hired to make a company’s insurance benefit documents interesting. They were so dull that nobody was reading them, so employees had no idea what they were entitled to.”

The team in charge of updating PES considered. Was this kind of editing already covered by standard C11? Eventually they revised the standard to this:

Establish, maintain, or enhance tone, mood, style, and authorial voice or level of formality appropriate to the content and for the intended audience, medium, and purpose (e.g., making text more engaging or entertaining).

PES is a unique document that describes in detail the parameters of editing work. Its audience is editors and the people who work with, train, and certify them. As the work of editing has changed, the Standards have been updated, with the latest revision released just over a year ago.

The 2016 updates to PES reflect evolutions in technology and in the contexts in which editors work. Thus, the new version includes references to multimedia content like video, audio and alt text, as well as to tools for electronic editing like PDF markup and track changes.

Other revisions, like the one above, reflect not so much changes in the nature of editing as a maturation of PES itself, with clearer wording and better examples. Similarly, the updated version of PES is more explicit about one of the most subtle aspects of editing: knowing when not to edit. Standard A8.1 (in the Fundamentals section) says “Use editorial judgment when deciding whether to intervene, leave as is, query, change, or recommend a change,” and copy editing standard D2 says, “Know when exceptions [to rules] can be made (e.g., in fiction or advertising copy).”

The Editors Canada Standards Communication Task Force has the job of keeping the conversation about PES going. We’re planning a series of posts on The Editors’ Weekly about the sometimes surprising ways that the Standards are reflected in editors’ work in a variety of contexts. We’ll examine some standards in more detail, and talk to editors about how they apply those standards in their work.

In the meantime, we invite your comments and questions about PES and its latest revision. Do you refer to the standards? Why or why not? Do the latest revisions reflect changes in your editing work? Is there something missing from the standards that you find yourself doing, or conversely, are there standards that don’t seem to apply to your work at all? Do you have an interesting example of a particular standard in practice?


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3 Comments on “PES in the Field: Raising (the Topic of) Our Standards”

  • Frances Peck


    I always refer to PES when I teach editing at Douglas College and UBC. I ask students to read the document to get a better feel for the levels of editing and what’s involved in each, and we refer to the standards off and on as the courses unfold. As a snapshot (or, given the length, video clip?) of a complex, layered process that must always be customized to the project at hand, PES will probably always be a little incomplete and a little out of date. But imagine how muddy our thinking and vocabulary about editing would be without it.

    • Amy Brown


      Indeed, Frances, it’s a great tool for educators (and autodidacts like me)!

      I feel like almost any standard will be a little bit out of date these days. In the time it takes to think hard about something, write it down and post it on the Internet, things have changed! Although I did hear recently about an accreditation program for barbers — perhaps their trade hasn’t changed lately?

  • Rosemary Shipton


    PES is an invaluable guide for all editors, especially as they learn the craft as students and early in their careers. It’s also useful for negotiations with clients, in determining the level of editing to be followed. That said, it is essentially a list – a brief description of the tasks that belong to the different categories of editing. In no way can it determine the two qualities that are essential for every good editor: judgment to decide what needs to be done in every individual text; and the skill and talent to follow through. In the real world, discriminating, experienced clients or publishers are interested only in the final result, and they usually have a very clear idea of what they want that result to be.

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