Ethical Issues in Editing: Professional Standards

Ethical Issues in Editing: Professional Standards

Now updated below to include 2024 standards from Editors Canada, which was a major overhaul. (See the previous comparison.)

The standards quoted below are roughly grouped by topic. Click a topic to expand it and see the related standards from professional editing organizations. Wordings have been shortened to fit. It’s a work in progress! Let me know what you think should be moved, added, or deleted.

Understanding of Laws Related to Publishing


EC: A7.1 Understand the legal dimensions of editing, and identify and either resolve or flag possible legal issues (e.g., copyright infringement, plagiarism, defamation, obscenity, privacy violations). Know when to suggest seeking legal counsel.

EC: D4.3 Recognize elements that require copyright acknowledgement and permission to reproduce (e.g., quotations, multimedia, visual elements). Check that permissions have been obtained. If necessary, bring the matter to the appropriate person.

IPEd: Professionalism and competence — comply with IPEd’s Constitution and this Code of Ethics

IPEd: Respect for IPEd, its principles and its members uphold the reputation of IPEd, and maintain a supportive public attitude towards IPEd and the editing industry in general not make statements claiming to represent the views of IPEd without IPEd’s consent.

IPEd: A4 Legal and ethical matters — …alert the publisher at the earliest opportunity to any possible legal problems…

IPEd: Professionalism and competence — perform work in accordance with the principles and practices of the Australian Consumer Law and any other applicable federal, state and territory legislation

COPE: Post-publication discussions and corrections — …have mechanisms for correcting, revising or retracting articles after publication

COPE: Ethical oversight — …policies on consent, …vulnerable populations, …research using animals… human subjects, handling confidential data and ethical business/marketing practices

COPE: Allegations of misconduct — …clearly described process for handling allegations …take seriously…. Policies …to handle …whistleblowers.

Copyright, Libel, Obscenity, etc.

EC: A7.2 Know the basics of copyright legislation and how it affects all content producers. Look up specific provisions if necessary.

EC: A7.3 Know when permission is required (e.g., to reproduce an image or copyrighted text) and when consent is required (e.g., to use a person’s name or image). 

EC: B2.7 Determine whether any permissions are necessary (e.g., for quotations, visual elements, audio). Flag these copyright and permissions issues or bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate person; document all related efforts.

IPEd: A4.1 …Includes libel, defamation, obscenity, discriminatory language, cultural sensitivity, intellectual property, plagiarism, moral rights and copyright, privacy and confidentiality, visibility of material, the ease with which material can be copied and republished in other formats, and different copyright protections available in Australia and other countries.

CIEP: 3.1.3 Legal issues — …be familiar with the main provisions of current relevant legislation, and any [CIEP] policies …relating to libel, obscenity, blasphemy, incitement to racial hatred, plagiarism and the reproduction of copyright material…. ensure … provisions are adhered to and bring any suspected infringement to the attention of the client.

CIEP: 5.4.19 Legal issues — Report …evidence or suspicion of …contravening the laws regarding libel, obscenity, blasphemy, incitement to racial hatred or plagiarism.

CMOS17: Shop Talk about the Ethics of Blurb Editing.

CMOS17: II.14.1: The purpose of source citations; Shop Talk about plagiarism.

CP: See sections on Big and breaking news(several), Copyright (several), Corrections and Correctives (several), Cause of death, Freedom of information laws, Libel, Obscenity, and other topical mentions throughout.

Social Justice Standards

Confidentiality, Bias, Racism & the Like

EC: A8.1 Edit to ensure the content is not misleading, false or otherwise lacking in integrity. 

EC: A8.2 Understand the ethical dimensions of editing (e.g., the need to address biased, non-inclusive and offensive material; the need to respect confidentiality and privacy).

EC: A9.1 Know the history and evolution of the language being used. The use of certain terms and phrases may be inadvertently harmful.

EC: A9.2 Know who is excluded from the material because of factors such as age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, migration status, socioeconomic status, place of residence, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

EC: A9.3 Identify and either remove, amend, flag or document potentially biased, noninclusive and offensive material (e.g., culturally stereotyped assumptions or content).

EC: C4.1 Where appropriate, point out words and phrasing that can be considered harmful, either intentionally or unintentionally, and suggest alternatives. 

EC: C4.2 Understand the author’s intentions when editing language so that it does not inadvertently offend intended readers. Consider whether the language might be harmful to unintended audiences that it will likely reach.

EC: D1.5 Where appropriate, point out words and phrasing that can be considered harmful, disrespectful or difficult to understand, keeping in mind conscious language and plain language principles.

EC Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Student Texts: Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Undergraduate Student Texts; Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Graduate Student Texts

IPEd: A1.5 Professional ethics — Includes objectivity, confidentiality, conflict of interest and implications for editing academic material such as theses. ([see] ‘Guidelines for editing research theses’.)

IPEd: A4.6 When it is appropriate to remove, amend or flag potentially biased, non-inclusive or offensive material.

IPEd Code: Respect for confidentiality — maintain and respect client confidentiality not disclose information acquired during the course of professional work except when authorized to do so.

CIEP: 2.18 general knowledge – …be aware of controversy

CIEP: A4.2 When legal advice on implications for publishing should be sought. Includes legislation relating to copyright and digital rights; trade practices and trademarks; privacy and freedom of information; social justice, access and equity; sub judice matters; and parliamentary privilege. 

CMOS17: II.5.254: Bias and the editor’s responsibility (as well as sections II.5.251–260); parts of II.11: Languages Other than English; and (to date): Shop Talks about dead naming and citing AI use.

CP: See sections on Principles, Ethical behaviour, Sensitive subjects, Ethics and sources, Diverse sources, Taste and tough calls

APA: Ethical Compliance Checklist — …protected the confidentiality of research participants, clients–patients, organizations, [etc.]…

Conflicts of Interest

IPEd Code: …conduct themselves with: integrity, professionalism and competence, respect for confidentiality, respect for conflicts of interest, respect for IPEd, its principles and its members.

IPEd: Respect for conflicts of interest — openly declare potential conflicts of interest, and undertake work only where conflicts of interest will not actually or potentially threaten the integrity of their work.

COPE: Conflicts of interest / Competing interests — …clear definitions …and processes for handling …before or after publication

APA: Figure 8.3. APA Disclosure of Interests Form

Professional Qualifications & Knowledge Standards

Editors & Publication Process

EC: A1.3  Be careful not to undo the work of the editors who came before you in the process and do not do the work of those who come later

EC: A2.1 Understand how editing is influenced by the scope of a project: what the project is; the level of editorial intervention requested or required; the time, budget and other resources available; the roles and responsibilities of the key players in the project; and the lines of authority.

EC: A2.5 Make all changes while staying within the scope of the project and the stage of editing, without altering the intended meaning, and working to maintain a consistent voice, tone and register.

EC: A3. As an editor, you are expected to know your responsibilities at each stage of editing.

EC: A3.1 Know the core roles within the editorial process…

EC: A5. Be aware of your role in content creation, editing, design and production processes. Be aware of the basic principles, practices, conventions, terminology and tools used to accomplish each task. 

IPEd: A1.7 The need for ongoing professional development. …ensure that they have the skills, training and experience necessary …when they need to acquire and apply specialised knowledge from other sources or professions. …    

IPEd: A3.5 Stages of the editing and proofreading process, including which stages need to be repeated to ensure consistency.

IPEd: A2.5 Respective roles of editor, author and client in decision making. … 

IPEd: 3.1.2 Continuing professional development (CPD) — …maintain, improve and update their skills and knowledge, especially where new technology creates changes in publishing practice. …

CIEP: 1.3 understand publishing workflow and production – who does what, when and how, and how this may differ among non-publishers, self-publishers, journals and others


EC: A11.3 Maintain competency in software and software features relevant to editing (e.g., finding and replacing items, marking revisions and checking consistency).

EC: A14.1 Expand your knowledge and skills through continual learning (e.g., reading, taking courses, volunteering, attending webinars and conferences, listening to podcasts, participating in online groups and discussions).

IPEd: Professionalism and competence — maintain a working knowledge of the Australian standards for editing practice and adhere to those standards

IPEd: Professionalism and competence — maintain and update their skills through ongoing professional development.

IPEd: A1.7 The need for ongoing professional development. …ensure that they have the skills, training and experience necessary …when they need to acquire and apply specialised knowledge from other sources or professions. …

IPEd: 3.1.2 Continuing professional development (CPD) — …maintain, improve and update their skills and knowledge, especially where new technology creates changes in publishing practice. …

CIEP: 5.1.1 Application of general editing [5.2.1 …proofreading] skills — …ensure …they are competent to fulfil the expectations implied by the use of the words ‘editor’ and ‘copy-editor’ [proofreader]. …appropriate, secure, up-to-date computer and communications equipment and software….

Work Practices

These are only those points which might be considered ethics related; the guides are much more detailed on standard “work practices”:

EC: A12.2 Use judgment about when to query and when to resolve problems without consultation. Do as much work as you can to minimize queries to reviewers.

EC: A11.4 Know how to create and maintain a style sheet, and how and when it is used.
EC: D2.1 Develop a style sheet, or follow one that is provided, to track, identify and consistently apply editorial style (e.g., abbreviations; treatment of numbers; vernacular usages; Canadian, British or American spelling).
EC: E1.3 Adhere to the editorial style sheet for the material and add to it if necessary. If no style sheet is provided and if applicable, prepare one and update it as proofreading progresses.

EC: E1.5 In each subsequent round of proofreading, refrain from reading the entire text (unless instructed to do so) but check that all changes have been made as requested and that they do not introduce new problems.

EC: E1.7 At all rounds of proofreading, flag or correct egregious errors but refrain from undertaking structural, stylistic or copy editing tasks unless authorized to do so.

EC: E1.8 At each round of proofreading, choose changes that will be the least costly or the most appropriate, given the production process, schedule, medium, purpose and type of material.

EC: E2.1 Query, or correct if authorized to do so, inconsistencies and errors. Use judgment about the degree to which such queries and corrections are called for.

IPEd: E2.1 An editing style sheet specific to the publication to ensure a consistent approach…

IPEd: Integrity — conduct all work with honesty, integrity and objectivity, and in good faith
accurately represent their qualifications
, training and experience.

CIEP: 1.17 are aware of the typical elements of a house style – what can be expected, what is usually essential …and can extend or create a systematic style sheet for a specific job 

CIEP: 5.4.8 [intelligibly] Raise queries for the author…

CIEP: 2.3 typical styles/variations, … understand and apply coding …and cues …to follow [or] create a style sheet or house style

CIEP: 3.1.9 Original material and records — …ensure the safe keeping of documents and …use the method of dispatch suggested by the client. …keep copies of query lists and important correspondence …for at least six months after publication….

APA: Ethical principles of publication forbid any intentional misrepresentation of images in exactly the same way that fraudulent data manipulation is forbidden.

Business Practice Standards


CIEP: 1.7 …manage …time successfully – understand and respect [interaction of] schedules and budgets.

CIEP: 3.1.6 Responsibility to clients — …making the best use of the time available …to the required standard within …schedule….

CIEP: 3.1.12 Subcontracting — …not subcontract work to others without the knowledge and consent of the client. …remain responsible for the terms …and …quality ….

CIEP: 3.1.13 Independence — …take full responsibility for …their businesses …taxes…. make their self-employed or limited company status known to clients.

CIEP: 3.4.4 Relating to documents — …ensure the safe keeping and subsequent disposal or return of confidential documents….

EFA: Ch1. Client-Freelancer Relationship — billing the client fairly and accurately, according to the agreed-upon terms, keeping confidential …resolve problems fairly

EFA: Ch2. Guidelines for Fees — Specific Fees,Rush Fees. …may, with the client’s knowledge, subcontract all or part of the project….

EFA: Ch3. Guidelines for Project Terms, Subcontracting, Disclosure — …subcontract work to another freelancer indicates this prospect in negotiations and in the contract with the client.

EFA: Ch2. Guidelines for Fees — Specific Fees,Rush Fees. …might also cancel a project because of a violation of professional standards [or being not ready for editing]

EFA: Ch3. Guidelines for Project Terms, Schedules and Estimates — ensure that the job can be completed comfortably within the time available, [with…] other jobs …anticipated delays, and …unexpected problems.

EFA: Ch3. Guidelines for Project Terms, Scope of Work — Both [client and freelancer] can expect that schedule and budget estimates might need revision …during the early stages….

EFA: Ch3. Guidelines for Project Terms, Location of Work — On-site freelancers also need to offset the cost, in both time and money, of commuting to the client’s office on a regular basis.


EC: A12.3 When writing queries, memos and author letters, ensure they are clear, tactful, succinct and actionable. If applicable, offer your best solutions.

EC: A12.4 Clearly and diplomatically, request clarification of meaning and intent, explain changes as appropriate and propose or negotiate significant editorial changes.

EC: E1.6 Incorporate alterations from authors and other individuals, using judgment and tact, ensuring that the changes are easy to spot. Where comments conflict, use judgment or consult the project owner to mark appropriate alterations.

CIEP: 2.24 …(when, what and how) and how many queries…; judging how and when to [look it up], and …trust the results; …alerting client to problems of content 

IPEd: Professionalism and competence — communicate respectfully with clients, editorial colleagues…

IPEd: B3.1 The project’s progress against budget, schedule, scope of work and required quality.

IPEd: A2 …communicate clearly and diplomatically with clients and colleagues. …

IPEd: A2.6 Negotiation techniques to apply when differences of opinion occur, and understanding of when to bring in an appropriate arbiter.

CIEP: 1.5 communicate well – responding promptly, raising queries or problems as soon as they become obvious, taking care to communicate politely in a sufficiently clear, detailed, comprehensive and timely way, avoiding errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation

CIEP: 2.4 know how to collaborate – with good practice in communication, consideration for others and responsibility in meeting requirements

CIEP: 3.1.7 Presentation of work — …present their work in a professional manner consistent either with normal trade practice or with a convention agreed with the client. …

CIEP: 3.1.10 Communication — …keep clients informed of their availability…. Urgent communications should be made by telephone….


This whole section is a new with the 2024 PES.

EC: A1.1 Effectively manage and resolve disagreements in editorial judgment.

EC: A1.2 Understand the collaborative nature of editorial work and receive the input and judgment of everyone on the editorial team graciously.

EC: A1.3 Be careful not to undo the work of the editors who came before you in the process and do not do the work of those who come later.

EC: A1.4 Support your own choices when asked (for example, with reference to style guides, project goals, best practices, user feedback, current references).

EC: A5.5 Take initiative in collaborative editorial processes. Always flag potential issues as you see them.

EC: A5.6 Be flexible in collaborative editorial processes (e.g., defer to subject matter experts, allow for legal review).

EC: A8.3 Avoid conflicts of interest by not using your relationships with any of your professional associates to profit financially or professionally without explicit approval.

Marketing & Promotion

EC: A8.3 Avoid conflicts of interest by not using your relationships with any of your professional associates to profit financially or professionally without explicit approval. [also filed under Interprofessional]

IPEd: Integrity — conduct all work with honesty, integrity and objectivity, and in good faith accurately represent their qualifications, training and experience.

IPEd: A1.6 Standard business practices in the publishing and communication industries, whether as a freelancer or as an in-house editor responsible for contracting work. Includes knowledge of acceptable rates and methods of quoting; types of contracts and conditions; and the different types of insurance that may be required (such as public liability and professional indemnity) and the circumstances under which insurance may or may not be necessary.

CIEP: 3.1.4 Self-promotion — …give a true and fair representation of their qualifications, experience and skills….

EFA: Ch1.Client-Freelancer Relationship — The editorial freelancer is responsible for: accurately representing skills, knowledge, and background agreeing only to terms that the freelancer believes to be feasible informing the client of any problems that arise, especially those involving changes in schedule or budget

In addition to the professional organizations, most style guides (even those aimed primarily at writers or publishers) contain ethical considerations. These are included below.

Professional Editor/Publisher Organizations
Style Guides
  • Canadian Press (CP)
  • Associated Press (AP [USA])
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS17)

Featured image “Forest Glade Enlightenment” by David “FunkyFocus” from Pixabay.

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