What you should know about it

  • You’ve completed a degree course in publishing studies or attended short courses in copy-editing and proofreading. ‘Where to now?’ you ask yourself.
  • Or you’ve been practising – without formal training – for years and now need to equip yourself for a career or genre change. ‘How to do it?’ you ask yourself.
  • Or you’ve moved from an in-house position to freelance, and feel you need a helping, supportive hand. ‘Who’ll be my lifeline now?’ you ask yourself.
  • Or you have the required knowledge and skills but you probably lack two important ingredients for success as a professional practitioner: actual experience and self-confidence. And add to that guidance and support.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? Then this is precisely where a mentorship through a professional association such as PEG can be a great investment in yourself.

‘My mentor has guided me through my career change in a way I would never have had the
confidence to do alone.’

So what is mentoring, and how does it differ from training, coaching or counselling?

Training usually involves one-to-many interactions, a defined syllabus or course content and a fixed course duration, predetermined exercises and some form of evaluation. Coaching normally entails an expert collaborating with an individual who needs to work on a specific problem, weakness or skill. One resorts to counselling typically to resolve a specific personal or professional problem.

While mentoring can include elements of these three interventions, it is different from them all. For one thing, an important aspect of mentorships is that they are mentee-driven. It’s you who identify your needs and then partner with a suitable mentor, who will focus on your expressed needs, iron out your weaknesses (including a lack of self-confidence) and play on your strengths.

Formal, informal, ‘semi-structured’, ‘reverse’ mentoring?

Mentorships can also be categorised as formal, informal or ‘structured’. Even ‘reverse’.

In-house mentoring schemes offered by companies with the development of their managers and staff as their objective are formal. In such schemes, HR personnel usually make the matches between managers or senior staff members and juniors or less-experienced personnel.

At the other extreme, informal mentorships, while they typically occur in-house, occur almost spontaneously between colleagues. In a publishing context, for instance, a new editor might consult their more experienced or knowledgeable colleague down the passage on an ad hoc basis regarding matters of house style or word choice, or even about something procedural, such as how to send a set of proofs to an author or who should consolidate the corrections on several sets of proofs into one set.

‘Being mentored successfully through a number of real texts and exercises has offered
me professional peace of mind.’

Associations of editors such as PEG offer a different model, one that can best be described as ‘semi-structured’. They devise a mentoring programme, find suitable mentors from among their more seasoned members (usually people who want to give back to the profession and in so doing help to uphold its good name) and then, through coordinators, help to match mentees to mentors. PEG also stipulates the fee for a mentorship and its duration, and provides a safety net should a mentorship flounder. That’s the structure within which mentorships run their course.

But, after that, it’s up to the mentee to drive the process. The mentor ensures that the mentee’s objectives are met and that the momentum of their mentorship is maintained. Many mentorships are extended beyond the formal initial period by mutual agreement, some even developing into firm friendships.

A more recent phenomenon in the field is ‘reverse’ mentoring. Here, someone with specialised knowledge that the mentee needs to acquire hooks up with them for that specific purpose. Here, the mentor may be young and generally inexperienced but nevertheless is the ‘expert’ in their field (e.g. at using MS Word Styles or Cloud storage technology, creating Macros in Word, or using MS Excel and PowerPoint). Typically, the mentee will generally be experienced but lack such technical skills and expertise: as a result, in such a relationship the traditional mentoring roles are reversed, usually to great effect for both parties.

Online or e-mentoring

With so many practitioners now working as freelancers and using electronic media such as MS Outlook, DropBox, email and Skype, a natural development from the traditional face-to-face mentorship has been either an exclusively virtual mentorship or a blend of the two. In large countries such as South Africa and Australia, moreover, it is almost impossible to matchmake mentors and mentees so that they can meet in person.

‘Having a mentor – someone who is more experienced or has greater expertise – can really
help an editor along the way.’

The result is quite advantageous for mentees: asynchronous mentoring across or between continents, where it is quite convenient to communicate with one another by email at variable times across different time zones, and where Skype meetings can be arranged at mutually suitable times, no matter where the two individuals live!

Lifelong autonomous learning

If ever there were a profession to which the concept of ‘lifelong learning’ applied, it is ours! As language practitioners we need continually to keep abreast of linguistic developments, especially those deviations from the prescriptive norms that at some point we have had to accept. And when Client A has followed the Harvard style of referencing but new Client B requires us to standardise on Vancouver, MLA or APA house style, we have to adapt if we are to survive professionally.

But we also have to be flexible enough to switch between disciplines (earth sciences to archaeology to biomedical research). In short, we as copy-editors and proofreaders should never stop acquiring new knowledge and skills. Continuous professional development (CPD) is certainly one way of going about it. Training courses and workshops do, of course, play their part. But for a confidential, nurturing, supportive experience that we can fit into our busy schedules, mentoring is the way to go.

‘I’ve been able to grow faster within a safer space than I could have done on my own.’

Much about our learning as text editors is also ‘autonomous’; and it’s on this basis that successful mentoring occurs: mentees are autonomous learners whether they are expressing their needs for mentoring or getting down to work on an editing assignment offered to them by their mentors (and comparing their performance against the mentors’), or setting the content and pace of their mentorship.

PEG’s mentoring offer

The requirements for entering a PEG mentorship are minimal: membership of the Guild and completion of some form of training in copy-editing and proofreading. Some experience is a bonus.

Duration: 10 hours of interaction time, usually spread over a maximum of five months, at times and intervals agreed upon by the two parties.

Cost: From 1 July 2017 a PEG mentorship costs R2 250. This amount is payable as a non-refundable registration fee of R300 when submitting the mentoring application and a balance of R1 950 upon acceptance as a mentee. The balance may also be paid in two instalments, 50% on acceptance and 50% at the end of the third month of the mentorship.

Winding up: At the end of a successful mentorship, both mentor and mentee evaluate their experience and the mentor compiles a report on the mentee’s performance. The mentee is issued with a certificate of successful completion of the mentorship.

Another positive outcome: The successful completion of a PEG mentorship fulfils one of the criteria when one applies for Full Membership status of the Guild. That’s a plus on your CV and your email signature! 


So, whether you’re new to the profession, changing genre, in need of expert guidance or going freelance, shouldn’t you be considering a mentorship? 


Then why not contact PEG's national mentoring scheme coordinator, Reinoud Boers, at
either for further information or to register