Re: what to look for in a Tech Editor

Subject: Re: what to look for in a Tech Editor
From: "Janice Gelb" <janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 7 May 2003 13:58:30 -0600

Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote:
> A *technical* editor, just like a *technical* writer must possess extensive
> subject-matter knowledge first foremost. You cannot intelligently edit a
> document without an understanding of the material. That means if you don't know
> it, you have to learn it - fast.
> Naturally, the person must have exceptional grammar and communication skills.
> But that merely gets a technical editor in the door. To win the job, a good
> editor must offer more than merely communication and grammar skills.
> Now, some places will hire pure grammar nazi types who have no subject matter
> skills whatsoever. In some environments this may work. But, as always, it is
> better to have subject-matter skills.

This is a vast oversimplification and stereotyping
to boot. First of all, this posits that there is
no grey area between someone enforcing grammar and
writing rules and someone who has "extensive subject-
matter knowledge."

Aside from that, it's incorrect. Some people even argue
that in some circumstances (mostly end-user products)
it's better if editors *don't* have extensive
knowledge of the subject matter as they then are more
likely to approach the material as a user would.

I agree that technical editors cannot be totally
ignorant of the type of material they are editing.
But I vehemently disagree that they need to be
subject-matter experts. I have been a technical
editor for a number of years and have not always
had the luxury of even being able to run the product
that was being documented. I was still able to return
extensive edits that included comments on the content
based on inconsistencies in descriptions, disagreement
between procedures and screen shots, steps that did not
seem to logically follow each other, confusing structure
that did not clearly convey information in a logically
progressive way, and so on. None of those fall into your
category of "grammar nazi" although I made comments on
grammar too.

The writer is responsible for the technical content,
working with subject-matter experts who should also
provide technical reviews to the writer to make sure
that the content is technically accurate. The editor
is there to make sure that the reader will be able
to follow and understand the writing, and that the
writing is coherent and internally consistent.
Technical accuracy comments are a bonus.

-- Janice


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