certification and BELS

Subject: certification and BELS
From: Norman Grossblatt <ngrossbl -at- NAS -dot- EDU>
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 1996 10:58:00 EST

When I got back from vacation yesterday, I found a bunch of messages
about certification. None mentioned the Board of Editors in the Life
Sciences (BELS), the only body that certifies editorial proficiency, so I
thought I would. BELS certifies only editors, not writers, so much of
what follows might be of little interest to many Techwr-L subscribers;
but the principles are the same, so perhaps I can answer some
subscribers' basic questions.

BELS was founded in 1991, as a private corporation in the state of
Maryland, by 10 senior editors (average experience, about 20 years) who
saw a need for a credential in a profession that was growing rapidly and
who had been working to create a certification program for about 8 years.
To be certified by BELS, one need not belong to any organization; on
becoming certified, one becomes a member of BELS. BELS has only one
function: to certify editors. It does not license editors; licensing is
a state function. It does not give or deny anyone the right to practice
the editing profession. Rather, it awards credentials that amount to a
statement that "I have been examined by my peers, and I have passed the
examination." BELS administers examinations that permit successful
candidates to identify themselves as Editor in the Life Sciences, or ELS,
and Diplomate Editor in the Life Sciences, or ELS(D); it also awards the
status of Honored Editor in the Life Sciences, or ELS(H), to those whose
professional careers warrant such recognition. At the moment, there are
about 160 ELSs, 11 ELS(D)s, and 2 ELS(H)s. BELS has members in Austria,
Canada, England, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, Scotland, and the
United States.

The overall BELS structure and process were built and shaped with the
advice of attorneys. As long as BELS's examinations and procedures are
honest, fairly applied, and open, there is little or no likelihood of
lawsuits. BELS has given its basic certification examination (the one
that yields the designation ELS) more than 30 times to several hundred
candidates. Some candidates have passed, and some have not. BELS has
yet to be sued by a rejected candidate. BELS does have a multistep
appeals process whereby a candidate or potential candidate may appeal an
adverse outcome related to any point in the process from an eligibility
decision to an examination grade. Extensive conversations with
representatives of about a dozen other certifying bodies in diverse
fields revealed that lawsuits brought against certifying bodies are most
unusual and almost always unsuccessful. The key is to use fair and
objective examinations and to apply all procedures honestly and

To be certified, an editor must have a college degree and at least 2
years of relevant experience and must pass a 3-hour multiple-choice
examination. We acknowledge that editorial proficiency cannot truly be
examined through a multiple-choice test, but it is the only feasible
format for this level, and it is quite suitable for testing a candidate's
grasp of fundamentals--from mechanics through word choice and sentence
and paragraph structure to ethical matters--in a completely objective
way. The examination was constructed after extensive work with a
professional testing consultant who, for example, held an all-day
workshop in the construction of multiple-choice questions and reviewed
the committee's efforts at writing a complete examination.

To apply for diplomate status, an editor must be BELS-certified and have
at least 6 years of relevant experience. To achieve diplomate status, a
candidate must submit an extensive portfolio of edited material and have
it successfully reviewed (by 3 examiners) and must then sit for a
proctored written examination and an oral examination. The examination
portions take about a day.

The question of grandfathering was raised in some of the messages to the
list. BELS does not grandfather anyone (nor do most other certifying

As to the concrete value of BELS certification to certified editors, it
is too early to say. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the BELS
credentials have been useful to several certified editors and that some
publishers are inquiring about potential employees' certification status.

Finally, from the BELS introductory brochure:

Why a certification program for manuscript editors in the life

o To provide qualified manuscript editors in the life sciences a
way to demonstrate their editorial proficiency.

o To provide employers and clients of manuscript editors in the
life sciences a way to identify proficient editors.

o To establish a standard of proficiency for editing in the life

Anyone who would like a brochure or more information about BELS should
write to

Board of Editors in the Life Sciences
P.O. Box 824
Highlands, NC 28741-0824

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