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 10:14:39 -0700 (PDT)

"Brian Das" wrote ...

> I have a question for you (a serious one, not a facetious one). Does the
> technical knowledge and writing skill have to reside in the same person? Or
> can a technical expert collaborate with a skilled writer to produce a
> valuable document?

Mutually exclusively, no. A writer (or editor) with no technical skills
whatsoever is almost totally useless. They will not be able to effectively
manage information and make informed decisions.

Of course, a technical person and a writer collaborate to share information and
ensure details are accurate. But if the writer has no idea what the technical
person is talking about, then the exchange will be difficult. This is why many
engineering types often dislike working with tech writers. They can't stand
having to teach those writers basic technical and science concepts. Its time
consuming and frustrating.

It also is impossible to effectively collaborate if both parties don't have
common frame of reference. If the engineer only spits out technical details and
the writer only talks about styles and fonts - then there really isn't much
collaboration happening. Therefore both parties must share. Engineers generally
know how to write and communicate, just not with a high degree of expertise.
Likewise, the writer must generally know the technology and science behind the
subject matter, just not to a high expertise level.

> Ok, here's a facetious question :) When was the last time you tried to learn
> a language or teach someone grammar? Language and grammar skills aren't
> easily aquired, any more than technical knowledge is.

We all learned grammar and language skills in grade school. Some people are
obviously better than others at language skills, but every single person in the
world who has attended grade school has language and grammar skills. Thus,
language skills are common and easily acquired.

Also, presumably you are writing in your native language. Hence, your point is
moot. You're not required to learn or use a foreign language.

However, this is not the case with, say, database programming. Did you learn
about stored procedures in 7th grade? Probably not. Thus, technical skills are
rare and more valuable.

> > 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.
> I agree with you completely here. Audience analysis -- one of the basic
> tenets of tech writing -- includes learning about the audience's technical
> expertise.

I wasn't talking about audience analysis. I was talking about work environment.
If you work in a technical environment, and you have no technical
skills/knowledge you aren't very valuable to that environment.

Andrew Plato

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