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: Thu, 22 May 2003 10:59:15 -0600

> "Janice Gelb" <janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com> wrote
> > 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.
> And how do you expect to do that with any degree of precision if you don't
> understand the subject matter? How can you serve the reader if you have no
> understadning of the information the reader is getting?

First of all, I am not arguing that the editor can be totally
ignorant of the technical *field*. What I am saying is that
the editor does not have to be so familiar with particular
product that he or she can be expected to be responsible for
technical accuracy.

Secondly, I have (twice now) provided examples of ways in
which editors can serve the reader without a precise
understanding of the technical content. You can catch
structural problems where the information is not being
presented in a logical way. This *can* be done without
understanding the precise details of the product or
field. You can catch logical inconsistencies. You can
catch procedures where the writer has not adequately
explained consequences or choices. You can catch areas
where the writer has been expansive versus other areas
that don't seem as well covered. You can catch convoluted
paragraphs that can be reworded so that the sentences are
clear and understandable. And so on.

> I would even go so far as to say that an editor lacking subject matter
> expertise can actually CAUSE more problems then they resolve. In the process of
> imposing stylistic consistency and "readability" a content-ignorant writer
> could change the meaning of the document, thus causing information to be
> misleading or inaccurate.

Perhaps part of the problem is that you seem to be working
in environments where the editor goes in and changes text
directly, and I work in environments where I provide a markup
to the writer and the writer incorporates the appropriate
changes. The writer can ignore changes that would cause
information to be misleading or inaccurate. And any decent
editor can spot places where a correction might affect the
content and indicate that accordingly.

As for those who say that this forces the writer to read
through markup that might not be relevant, I would be
willing to bet cash that the number of marked changes
that make the document better for the reader far outweigh
possible markup that would affect content negatively.

Finally, I don't know what kind of editors you people
have been dealing with, but the changes I recommend rarely
could affect the technical content one way or another! I
have a feeling that some of these comments are made because
people have been dealing with incompetent editors, not just
non-technical ones.

-- Janice


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