Ensuring Product Quality Through Good Grammar

Editing graduate Justin Loughrey hones skills, enhances career in science

Michigander Justin Loughrey has always loved science. He also enjoys working with people, either face-to-face or in a team-type environment. The word “service” resonates with Justin: His joy in building interpersonal relationships is reinforced by his strong outgoing personality and years of volunteering in service-oriented community projects. At one point in his academic career, he strongly considered pursuing a medical degree to serve patients, but as everyone knows, career goals can change.

“At the last minute—right before I graduated from Central Michigan University—I decided to not pursue that path,” Justin says. “I knew my skills were with people and science, so I had to get creative in what I was looking for.”

His first post-college, science-related job found him working as a quality-control laboratory technician for Absopure Water Company in Plymouth, Mich. While this quality-control role provided him with employment in a science-related field, it didn’t provide him with an environment in which he worked directly with other people outside the laboratory.

“For the laboratory work, which was mostly about the quality control of water,” Justin explains, “I had to make sure that the product was safe for consumption and met Absopure’s high standards—and that it did indeed meet the rules of science.

“I’ve always been a stickler for the rules and I pride myself on consistently following every standard operating procedure by the letter. It is very important to be consistent and correct, especially with something as important as a product that will be consumed by children and adults.”

As Justin’s career evolved over time from lab work to communications, he discovered that similar to science, there are rules to grammar. And eventually that would lead to our Professional Sequence in Editing.

Following Absopure, you transitioned to client services at JB Ashtin, a medical communications agency for which you still work. How have your experiences there kept you growing and evolving your career path?

Absopure was indeed a fantastic place to work, but I wanted to do something more. I wanted more human interaction where I could combine my science background with my love of working with others.

From a manager of client services, you then became a data technology lead. What led to this career move within the company?

Because I was so good at quality control, I became JB Ashtin’s designated data technology lead. Most of our clients had technology that needed oversight, and as most deliverables had to be passed through one of these technologies, I became the point person.

So when did honing your editing skills become something you considered for career enhancement or advancement?

Oddly enough, working within Veeva Vault is what made me initially start to pursue editing. I was catching many grammar, punctuation and usage errors produced by outside vendors. Because I was able to spot egregious errors, I was able to correct them and in turn help our clients receive a far superior deliverable. So, what do you do after you realize you can spot an error in punctuation or grammar a mile away? You start to look at ways you can improve that skill. I had to figure out a way to move forward with this newfound skill and I thought, “What’s next?” That is when I decided I wanted to investigate editing as a new career path.

And that led to a mentor at JB Ashtin and to our Professional Sequence in Editing.

Our resident editor at JB Ashtin is so fantastic and I figured I could learn a lot from him. He started working with me on the inner workings of the editorial process.

I also knew that I wanted to get a strong foundation in editing, as I was not an English major in college. After searching online and shopping around for education in the field, I found UC Berkeley Extension. Based on the messaging and courses, I thought this would be the best place to enroll. The lineup of classes is perfect for novices and experts alike to get better at editing.

After being enrolled in the courses and working closely with my mentor at JB Ashtin, I realized editing was such an incredible career path. I love grammar, syntax and usage and I have read several books to help improve my grammar skills. You don’t realize how important grammar is until you read sentences that are so poorly constructed.

It sounds like Grammar, Mechanics and Usage for Editors has made a big impact in your career.

This course became all encompassing. You learn all the grammar rules. I still use some of the course’s required reading materials to this day. In fact, I use A Writer’s Reference, Ninth Edition, about once a week. Overall, the course was challenging yet engaging.

How was the online course experience for you?

The instructors were fantastic—very accessible. They were always available to answer questions. They also provided me with detailed comments on my written work and exams to help improve my skills. 

By the time you completed the editing sequence you were on your way to becoming an associate editor at JB Ashtin. How did you put the skills you learned to immediate use on the job?

The skills I learned at UC Berkeley Extension were almost instantly useful and unlocked a whole world of potential.

Grammar, Mechanics and Usage for Editors set me up for success very early on. At JB Ashtin, I could begin answering writers’ questions regarding grammar and was editing with more confidence after this one course alone. I think I was immediately put to work editing abstracts and meeting materials. One of the biggest takeaways from the course is that I learned how to use resources. I may not always have the right answer, but I know something is wrong when I see it, and I know the appropriate reference to consult to arrive at the precise answer to correct the problem.

Last year, you were promoted from an associate editor to staff editor, a position you currently occupy. How are you combining your undergraduate background with your editing skills in your work now?

In addition to traditional editing, I also perform data verification on all deliverables. Our editors are required to double-check medical writers’ basic statistics and scientific facts for accuracy, and because our deliverables are heavy in science, I find that my undergraduate science background makes reading a lot of academic articles much easier.

What would you say to a student wondering how they can enhance their career by honing their editing skills?

Editing is important for every aspect of your life. No matter what industry you are involved with, you will need to convey information concisely and correctly. From daily written communication you prepare and send to customers, associates and peers, to complex data you provide to clients, the ability to prepare cogent, informative materials is paramount. To take information—even very complex data—and present it in a readable, grammatically correct context that can be understood and acted on by anyone shows true mastery of written communication.