Re: What to look for in a technical editor

Subject: Re: What to look for in a technical editor
From: "Janice Gelb" <janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 16 May 2003 14:36:00 -0600

> From: "Andrew Plato" <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
> :
> : Simply put, an editor cannot make intelligent editorial decisions from a
> : position of ignorance. As such, product and subject matter knowledge is of
> : primary importance.
> This is why some contend that the editor's job does not require less technical
> understanding. If I am going to spot a writer's error in describing how
> complex routing rules work in a telephone system, I'd better know how they
> work, myself, or I'm deluding myself that I am adding value to the product.
> Editors in technical milieus, in large part, do the *technical reviews* that
> SME's are supposed to do.

First of all, this statement assumes a lot. I have been
working as a technical editor for a long time and in the
environments in which I've worked I've never been responsible
for technical accuracy, nor expected to do a technical review
of a document. I have often found technical inaccuracies
anyway, but those were considered to be an added bonus to
my primary function. My primary function is to make sure that
the document serves the reader well, is organized in a way
that best presents the information, does not contain errors
of factual inconsistency, is not lacking in sufficient
information to explain a concept or task, uses language
correctly, and follows the style guidelines determined by
our company.

A technical review and an edit are not the same thing.

Subject matter experts and the writer are responsible for
technical accuracy every place I've worked. With the volume
of work the editors typically have to do, and the number of
different projects and documents the editors are expected to
edit at those companies, they could not possibly become familiar
enough with all aspects of the products to be responsible for
catching technical errors.

That said, I agree that the editor should be familiar
enough with the *general* subject matter area that he or
she does not waste the time of the writer with elementary
questions in that area.

As for the example above, I might not spot a technical
inaccuracy in how complex routing rules work in a telephone
system but I probably would spot either gaps in the
explanation or inconsistencies with other explanations
that might lead me to a query. But again, it's never
been my job to spot technical inaccuracies. That has
been the job of the writer and the SME, plus whoever
else does the technical review.

Bonnie said in a follow-up message that ignorance of the
product could cause the editor to raise grammatical issues
hat change meaning or introduce errors when giving feedback
to writers. That sounds to me like bad editing in general
and has nothing to do with whether the editor is an expert
on the particular product or technology.

Finally, as anyone who has been reading this list for any
length of time knows, "technical documentation" and "technical
writer" do not have universal, uniform definitions. The same
goes for "technical editor." Expectations and situations are
varied, so I don't think anyone can make a flat, blanket
statement about what "the editor's job" is or is not.

-- Janice


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