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Letitia Henville

The Ethics of Online Portfolios: How Should Editors Showcase their Skills and Experience?

Illustration of a laptop displaying a generic resume or social media profile with a headshot and indications of text headings and body text. (juliatim © 123RF.com)
Illustration of a laptop displaying a generic resume or social media profile with a headshot and indications of text headings and body text. (juliatim © 123RF.com)
Copyright: juliatim

Editors work in quiet confidence: our job is to help writers to speak with clarity, accuracy and sometimes even flair. In so doing, our own voices are silent, and our perspectives unheard. The best copy edits are the ones a reader can’t see.

Because of the editor’s invisibility, I’ve had folks tell me that online portfolios of work are inherently unethical. The argument, it seems, is that showcasing examples of our work would necessarily betray our clients’ confidence — as if making one’s edits visible is not just abnormal but immoral.

I disagree with such a perspective, not because I’m in the habit of putting spotlights on my clients’ draft manuscripts, but because I think that argument rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes for a good online portfolio of work. The truth is, no visitor to my portfolio wants to see a marked-up 200-page research grant application — that is, no one wants to look at actual client work. Instead, they want to see evidence of my efficacy as an editor, and maybe get a sense of my approach to my craft.

I see value in online portfolios for editors because they help our clients to understand our work, and because they enable us to observe and reflect on our own often-invisible practice. In my opinion, the benefits they bring in helping our websites to move up the Google ranks are simply an added bonus: the real wins are for our credibility, both as individual editors and as members of a profession.

What should go in an online portfolio?

In my two-part recorded webinar “Showcasing Your Skills and Accomplishments in an Online Portfolio” (requires member login), I profile 10 different categories that I’ve seen editors include in portfolios, which I illustrate with examples from the real websites of editors and freelancers in related fields like writing and graphic design.

For instance, some editors like to take a piece of sample text — say, 200 words — and show first how they’d copy edit it, and then how they’d proofread it. This kind of compare-and-contrast helps a potential client to understand the differences between these two services and thus make an informed decision about what their work needs. The editor also benefits, as clients who have read their site are, one hopes, less inclined to want to receive copy editing at proofreading rates.

Other editors will write an editing philosophy: a high-level articulation of what they understand good editing to be and do, and the methods that they use to bring their concept of editing into being. Those of you who have a teaching background will likely be familiar with the statement of teaching philosophy — those hard-to-write descriptions of how students learn and the teaching strategies that facilitate such learning. Editing philosophies operate similarly: they provide the editor with a forum in which to describe the why of their how. Clients who read such statements will see the editor’s experience and careful attention in such a statement, and editors will also benefit from taking the time to wrestle their assumptions into coherent language.

What does this look like in practice?

On my own website, I don’t have a section called “portfolio.” Instead, I think of my entire website as my portfolio: it’s my platform for establishing my credibility for potential clients, as they can see my depth of knowledge within my niche of academic editing. It’s also my filter, as clients who don’t like what I have to say about “The Politics of Pronouns” or “Doing Anti-Racist Academic Work” will likely never bother to contact me. That’s good for those clients — I’d be a poor fit for them! — and good for me, too, as my time is reserved for the clients who want the kind of service that I provide.

Perhaps my favourite section of my portfolio-website is my “Training & Resources” section, which archives my webinars and courses, and the references that I’ve used in both. Over the next few months, it’ll also contain links to the printed workbooks I’m developing for freelancers and grant writers. I tend to teach quite a bit — it’s one of the two branches of my content marketing strategy — but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I realized that I ought to collect all the links to these webinars in one place. Doing so helped me to realize that I needed to prioritize research administrators in my marketing, as these folks regularly refer academics to freelance editors, yet they aren’t an audience I’d approached with much intentionality.

In short: regularly updating my online portfolio helps me to be a better, more intentional business owner.

Portfolios as ethical marketing

In my opinion, there’s little but benefit when we make our invisible work easier to see by putting our portfolios online. Clients appreciate being able to see what our work can look like, and we likewise gain when we take a deep look into our practice and process. Our profession also benefits as we collectively amplify the Editors Canada brand and highlight the skill that good editing requires.

Good, ethical editing can be both invisible in practice and visible online.

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Previous post from Letitia Henville: “Meet Your Future Self”: Helping Student Editors Network

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