Re: What to look for in a technical editor

Subject: Re: What to look for in a technical editor
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 May 2003 08:37:02 -0700 (PDT)

"Michael West" <mbwest -at- bigpond -dot- net -dot- au> wrote in message news:198858 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> It has long been standard practice in technical publishing
> to distinguish between content edits and style edits, and
> to use different specialists to perform the two functions.
> I am aware that some publishing organizations
> are oblivious to, or choose to ignore, this standard
> practice, and it certainly shows up in their publications,
> But it is really the only way to run a technical publishing
> operation.

That's great, except very few technical writers work in publishing companies.
They work at defense contractors, pharmaceutical companies, and software firms,
etc. None of which are interesting in becoming publishing firms.

> Expecting subject-matter experts to be
> intelligent and capable style editors, or expecting style
> experts to have detailed technical knowledge of an
> emerging technology, usually ends in unsatisfactory
> outcomes for the consumer and, somewhat less
> importantly, frustrating working conditions for writers.

Here we go - another in the endless series of "ignorance is an asset"
arguments. Except this one has no explanation of why. Just a blanket "usually
ends in unsatisfactory outcomes." Whatever that means. Perhaps it means,
usually ends in the editor being fired for gross incompetence.

Michael, why don't you explain how an editor who has no subject matter
expertise is going to be more valuable that one who does? How can ignorance of
the content be MORE useful?

> When it works best for everyone is when there is the
> added, unexpected benefit of having a content editor
> exhibit a facility for clear, concise language, or of having a
> style editor develop an easy familiarity with technical
> detail. These things do happen -- but to *expect* them is
> to set up both writers and readers for disappointment.

What consistently disappoints readers is when technical manuals are full
worthless information. And if the writer and editors don't understand the
material, they are much more likely to fill a tech manual with useless
information and omit or miscommunicate important information. Lack of content
knowledge leads to poor editorial decisions. It leads to people doing
bone-headed things like trying to correct the spelling in source code.

Everybody agrees that editors (as well as writers) need to have a base set of
language, tool, and grammar skills. Those basic skills are easily acquired.
Therefore, to be of real value to an employer, a writer or editor must
demonstrate that they have MORE than that basic set of skills.

Furthermore, most editors do not work in publishing environments. They work in
technical and scientific environments performing some publishing-related
duties. To be of most value to a scientific or technical environment, the
editor needs to understand the concepts and language that are important to that
environment first and foremost and then use his/her grammar and language skills
to ensure concepts are communicated effectively.

Andrew Plato

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