Getting started as a copy editor?

Q: How can I get an entry-level copy editing position?


A: Although copy editors are in great demand, it is tough for them to show their editing and headline writing clips. You'll need a perfect cover letter and resume that follow AP style -- the standards are higher here than they will be for other journalists -- and examples of your best headlines.

A letter or two of recommendation, written by people who have seen your editing, may help more than before-and-after versions of articles you've edited. Few editors will take the time to make side-by-side comparisons.

Two strategies could put you into a job: ask for a tryout and ask to take the copy editing test, if the paper has one.

A tryout means going to the newspaper and working on the copy desk for anywhere from three to five days and proving your worth. A one-day visit scarcely gives you time to learn the computer system they use, so press for more days. Many newspapers, if they decide to invite you in for a tryout, will pay you for your time. If you can land a tryout, prepare by getting a copy of the stylebook in advance and reading a couple weeks' worth of papers to get familiar with the way things are done.

Another strategy is to ask whether the paper has a copy-editing test. Newspapers use various tests, but few are as revealing as copy editing tests. That's because editing a story or a collection of sentences or writing headlines on a deadline for a test is very similar to doing it for real. Tests for reporters, designers and photographers are nowhere near as similar to real life and are subject to so many variables they are much less predictive. If you can do well on the copy editing test, you can essentially prove that you have a good grasp of grammar, punctuation and clear writing. Good interviews and good test results can be 90 percent of the reason why a person gets hired as a copy editor. Good luck!

  • Joe Grimm

    Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website.


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