10 essential background skills for freelance editors

As a teenager, I was told that basic use of standard office equipment was a requirement for entering the workforce. My mom taught me life skills such as replacing light switches, and she also taught me how to use a photocopier, fax, and filing system.

Today, most of those skills are obsolete. I’m surprised how many people overlook the basic skills we need today. If you’re starting out as a freelancer (or even if you’re looking for an in-house job), below are some of the things you are expected to know (and use with fluidity and efficiency) before you start.

Essential background skills for a copyeditor

Besides elements of style, and the proofreader’s marks, an editor needs to know how to

  1. download and install software, and keep it up to date
  2. reply to email — Including reply to all, reply to one just one recipient, reply to a listserv (or any group email service). Check emailcharter.org for easy tips.
  3. attach a file to an email — And write subject lines more meaningful than “hello.” Especially if the receiver may not recognize your name.
  4. upload and download to an FTP site
  5. track changes and add comments in Word — the automated features, not your own colour-code
  6. mark up a PDF clearly, using the clients preferred method — and maybe more
  7. participate in conference calls — join, host, and mute yourself when you’re not talking
  8. manage electronic files — create folders, move and copy files, rename files
  9. search online — There are few times when you shouldn’t at least try to find the answer for yourself (and identify reputable sources!). KWIM?
  10. invoice — Getting clients is one thing, but you don’t get paid unless you send an invoice. use a telephone — A remarkable technology that connects you instantly and in real time to the person you need to query.


I might also add “use social media” to that list. More and more jobs require some kind of online interaction.

That covers today. What will be the essential skills of the future?


Starter Kit for Editors category | Finding Work | Office Essentials | Is Editing for You?
Reading List | How to Become an Editor | Estimating Your Pace | Setting Fees

One thought on “10 essential background skills for freelance editors

  1. Thanks to Rachelle Redford who suggested adding “updating software” and “marking up PDFs clearly” to the list.
    Her attempts to make me less ranty fell on deaf ears. la-la-la-la 😉

    Thanks to Danielle da Silva for the “invoice” suggestion. I like it a lot better than the tip about using a telephone — though, those ARE handy.

    Also, here are some print resources my colleague Dimitra Chronopoulos recommended:
    135 Tips on Email and Instant Messages: Plus Blogs, Chatrooms, and Texting
    by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts

    Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better
    by David Shipley, Will Schwalbe

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