The making of a profession: Why do editors need a national association?

David Harrison, secretary on the Editors’ Association of Canada’s national executive council, spoke at Wednesday’s EAC-BC meeting about the making of a profession. Are editors there yet? And can EAC be considered a true professional association? In addition to exploring the answers to those questions, Harrison also gave us an update on some of EAC’s initiatives at the national level.

What defines a professional?

Harrison was in a good position to speak to this issue, since he spent much of his career developing the program of professional studies for the Certified General Accountants Association. He explained that according to the Canada Revenue Agency, only select groups of people—doctors, lawyers, accountants, and the like—are recognized professionals. Harrison distilled the definition of a profession down to these attributes:

  1. Use of skills based on a body of knowledge
  2. Education and training in these skills
  3. Competency ensured by examinations
  4. Continuing professional development
  5. Code of ethics/conduct
  6. Self-governing body
  7. Identity, shared values (i.e., a community)
  8. Portability of designation

So where do editors sit? Over EAC’s thirty-four-year history, the organization has grown from a small group of freelancers to an association of more than 1,500 members, it has established a set of professional standards of editorial excellence, it has issued publications and regularly offered professional development opportunities, and it has developed a rigorous set of certification exams and created the designation of Certified Professional Editor, which is portable across the country. What we don’t have is a professional code of ethics. What’s more, a few pockets of editors have organized themselves outside of EAC’s umbrella—including the Professional Editors’ Association of Vancouver Island and the Manitoba Editors’ Association, and so in some ways the EAC isn’t a fully national professional association. Unlike most professional organizations, EAC doesn’t require its members to have a certain level of competency, nor does it have the power to restrict people without a certification designation from taking on certain work. Frances Peck pointed out, however, that you do need a certain number of years of experience before you can be a voting member of the organization.

Anne Brennan, in the audience, asked why EAC doesn’t have a code of ethics. I jumped in at that point, because I was on the code of ethics task force that explored the issue about a year and a half ago. The Professional Editorial Standards do include some ethical aspects—including being respectful of authors and fellow editors, adhering to deadlines, etc.—but if we established a code of ethics that we expected members to follow, then we’d have to enforce it, and as an organization we simply don’t have the policing power to do that. What we may do, in the next revision of the PES, is pull out those ethical elements and flesh them out into a more explicit list of ethical principles that people can choose to honour. (EAC does have a code of conduct that governs how members ought to behave with one another.)

What’s happening at the national level at EAC?

Volunteer relations

This is a high priority for the organization, which wants to make volunteering rewarding enough that it truly becomes one of the perks of membership. Ideas being explored include establishing a volunteer database that matches people to interests, as well as training, support, and recognition programs.

Training and professional development

Webinars are a proposed addition to the association’s professional development programs. These will allow members to attend training sessions no matter where they are, freeing the professional development chairs at each branch from having to reinvent the wheel.


An ebook edition of Editing Canadian English (3rd edition) is in the works.

l’agrément en français de l’ACR

The francophone members hope to develop a French version of certification.


A governance task force is redrafting association bylaws and procedures to meet new federal government legislation for not-for-profit organizations.

Membership survey

EAC will soon release the results of the 2012 membership survey, which will give us a clear picture of the membership’s demographics, as well as members’ typical fee structures and rates. Harrison couldn’t share much with us, but he did mention that EAC members most valued branch seminars, followed by the Online Directory of Editors, followed by EAC’s publications.


A couple of years ago, EAC was restructured such that the national executive council no longer had representatives from each branch or province. Although the executive council now includes a western regional director and an eastern regional director, I think that not having a B.C.-based representative at the national level last year made our branch feel as though it was in the dark about what was happening elsewhere within the organization. David Harrison’s involvement on the national council and his updates at our branch meeting have helped me, at least, feel a bit more engaged.

3 thoughts on “The making of a profession: Why do editors need a national association?”

  1. Hi Iva,
    So sorry I didn’t get to meet you while I was there. This is a lovely summary of what I’m sure was a very nice talk. I hope it’s okay to share with the executives of the other western branches since it’s such a well-formed reference. I’m also glad to hear you’re feeling more engaged this year. With David as your main point of contact, I’m hardly surprised. He’s quite a catch for the NEC executive: I hope we’re able to keep him around for a while.
    Very best,
    …Arden Ogg
    EAC Regional Director of Branches and Twigs (West)

  2. I’m so glad to see webinars on the agenda. Since moving to the Okanagan three years ago, I’m now in a position to afford seminars but I can’t access most of them. Webinars, Skype, or recordings would be valuable to hundreds of members outside the big cities and a good source of revenue for the EAC.

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