Interview 33: Carlanda Jones

Years editing: 11
Job title: Manager, product safety communications
Job description: Writes and edits consumer-focused content about chemicals and safety
Location: Virginia

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
Prior to my current position, I worked as an editor on a contract with the US Department of Transportation’s Office of Railroad Safety, and I enjoyed that role. I am interested in creating consumer-focused content about safety and health — in chemical safety — though, so when I came across an opportunity to write for a website focused on chemicals and safety, I researched the organization, applied for the role, and was selected. 

What training do you have in copyediting, and what positions have you held?
Most of my training in copyediting was gained through on-the-job experience. I also have a bachelor’s degree in communications, which introduced me to interpersonal skills, technical communications, mass communications, and public relations. My experience in corporate communications has also been helpful. 

In my first role as an editor, I supported the Customs side of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). I edited everything from standard business letters to reports to Congress. Taking trainings on editing gave me a better understanding of technical editing marks and different types of editing (e.g., substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading).

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
I’ve found working in different communication roles and the skills gained from them extremely helpful. In one of my first jobs in communications, I developed marketing materials for members and employees of a small credit union. This involved writing for the web and basic desktop publishing. Writing and editing for social media have been important too. 

I’ve also worked closely with graphic designers, writers, and editors, and served as an intermediary between creative services teams and clients. Working with these teams helped me to be empathetic to the challenges they may face and made me aware of how communications and marketing materials can be improved. 

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)?
PerfectIt looks like an excellent tool, but I haven’t used it. I use the editing tools available in Microsoft Word (spelling and grammar checks, thesaurus, word count, tracking, and comments). 

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
At the American Chemistry Council, I do more writing than editing. We work collaboratively to edit our writing before sharing a draft with a subject matter expert, and then we finalize it. At other organizations, I’ve worked on editing teams. On one team, a person would be the primary editor for documents generated from one part of the organization. Then an editor from another team would provide a second review and vice versa. This process was especially important for highly visible material. For both teams, we used SharePoint for version control.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I served on the board of the Washington, DC, chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) a few years ago. IABC has many resources for business communicators that are relevant to editors. I was introduced to the Society for Technical Communication (STC) several years ago, and although I am not currently a member, I would recommend them to anyone interested in technical editing. I am also interested in ACES: The Society for Editing.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
The work often does speak for itself, but editors may also need to help others better understand the value they provide. Showing someone materials that were not edited can help with this. When someone reads something that has many errors or other issues, it can give them a negative impression of a product or service. 

The editor’s value is also seen when you ask someone to think about a publication they enjoy. That publication — whether it’s a website, newspaper, book, or magazine — is enjoyable because of good writers and good editors.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Sometimes, it helps to meet with them beforehand to explain your role and why you may be suggesting changes to their content. In addition to using Track Changes, use the Comments tool in a Word document to provide feedback and ask questions about the content. It can also be helpful to schedule time with the author to discuss your edits. People are often very sensitive about their work. If you can explain that you’re helping to make their writing easier to understand, they may be more receptive to the changes.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office?
We don’t have editors here, and the diversity of my department varies by teams. At some of my previous workplaces, there were diverse teams of editors and writers (race, age, gender), while at others, the teams were more homogenous. I worked at a public relations agency where the editors and writers were women of all races, the graphic designers were both men and women, and there were more women on the program and project management side.

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others?
Yes, some industries were more difficult to find positions in or advance in than others. In my experience, working for organizations where people cared about the quality of the work and about meeting their goals and producing their deliverables above everything else minimized the likelihood of not advancing because of race or gender. It’s also important to cultivate relationships with people inside and outside of your organization to grow your network.

What lessons would you have liked to learn at the beginning of your career?
1. Take your time to discover the type of work you enjoy (e.g., the pace, the frequency, the volume of work).

2. Try to understand how your role contributes to the overall goals of the organization.

3. Learn to improve your ability to accept and give feedback. (Are your edits too severe? Can you offer alternatives for the content? If you don’t understand something you’re editing, do you ask for clarification? Are you too sensitive when you’re told your editing or writing needs to improve?)

4. When editing, embrace your role as the expert. (Be confident about the changes you’re recommending and be able to explain the reason for the changes.)

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
If you work in a communications department, on a program, or on a project, suggest that your organization add editors to the project and have someone in mind whose skills and experience might be a good fit. If they can’t be brought on as in-house staff, hiring them as contractors can still help to raise awareness about the value of editors and increase diversity. 

Employers could also encourage employees to join organizations like ACES, STC, and IABC to network and increase their knowledge about careers in editing, writing, and communications.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
There are a few, but the most recent is my work on ChemicalSafetyFacts.org, a consumer-focused website that provides information about chemicals and safety. The National Eye Institute’s Write the Vision eye health awareness initiative is another project I am proud to have worked on.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
Over the past year, I have enjoyed cooking more often, doing mini jigsaw puzzles, and working on my skills with my planner (#plannergoals).

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
I like the GrammarGirl and Poynter websites. It’s always helpful to have The Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook on your desk if your organization wants you to edit using those guidelines and rules.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
Having the opportunity to work in different industries and various communication roles has been rewarding. It is satisfying to know that your work helped to improve the clarity of written materials and made the information more accessible. Working in employee communications roles has allowed me to help employees increase their understanding of a company’s accomplishments, mission, vision, and goals. And I’d like to think that my work on consumer-facing projects and programs may have helped someone.

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