Re: What to look for in a technical editor

Subject: Re: What to look for in a technical editor
From: "Richard G. Combs" <richard -dot- combs -at- voyanttech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 May 2003 11:23:52 -0600

Andrew Plato quoted Michael West and responded:

> > 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
> ends in unsatisfactory outcomes." Whatever that means. Perhaps it means,
> usually ends in the editor being fired for gross incompetence.

Andrew, I'm usually on your side, but I think you're reaching here. Michael
is describing a simple division of labor: different people with different
skills/knowledge working on different parts of the total task. Like having
writers responsible only for content, while someone else takes care of page
layout, font fondling, etc.

I've never worked in a company so large that the tech pubs dept. could
benefit from that much division of labor (and I don't think I want to), but
it's appropriate and efficient when you reach a certain scale (division of
labor always is). You don't expect the person who fitted the leather seats
in your car to know much about automotive engineering; you just hope he
didn't mess with the engine or suspension. :-)

I think Michael overstates when he implies that technical knowledge in style
editors is harmful. That's true only if the style editors acquire such
knowledge -- or apply it -- to the detriment of the job they're being paid
to do; and in that case, they're bad style editors.

Michael is flat wrong when he says that having separate content and style
editors "is really the only way to run a technical publishing operation."
Below a certain volume of work, you can only justify one editor. Below
another threshold, you can't justify any, and you rely on peer- and

Heck, in a big enough operation, you could probably justify hiring someone
just to find and fix widows and orphans -- but it's probably not the best
solution in most situations.

There is no "only way." As is so often the case in our field, "it depends."


Richard G. Combs
Senior Technical Writer
Voyant Technologies, Inc.
richardDOTcombs AT voyanttechDOTcom
rgcombs AT freeDASHmarketDOTnet


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