Re: Online vs paper-based editing

Subject: Re: Online vs paper-based editing
From: Diane Haugen <WhiskeyCreek -at- wcdd -dot- com>
To: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>, Diane Haugen <WhiskeyCreek -at- wcdd -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 22:52:12 -0500

At 12:06 PM -0700 6/21/07, Ned Bedinger wrote:

>Ordinarily, I don't think many tech writers get to work with
>editors, but I do think the editor's role needs to be filled in tech
>writing, even for developmental and substantive editing of tech
>writing, because it gives us a dedicated resource with a fresh
>objective eye toward good documentation. I can't count on that from
>other busy team members, so an editor would be a good fit.

I think what you are talking about is the "knowledge effect." I
understand that technical writers who are writing about technical
subjects from an engineer's notes are going to need to understand the
whole enchilada.

One value of an editor is the ability to spot holes in explanations
because an expert assumes the reader knows what the expert knows.
Experts sometimes tend to discount this as a problem, but usability
testing has shown the value of checking if the audience really
understands what's going on.

>As an editor who started writing, I think it only fair to warn you
>that tech writers are rather chauvanistic about our vocation. I've
>seen this from both sides, and I know that many tech writers don't
>want to work with editors because editors tend to value prescriptive
>rules of writing over audience-driven communication styles.

I'm not sure that sentence-level prescriptive rules ever hurt anyone
much, but at the same time, I too have little patience for
denigrating "comprised of" when everyone uses it anyway. Is this what
you mean by "audience-driven communication styles"?

> a tech writer who spends a lot of time grappling with the
>language and the subject matter, I welcome the prospect of an editor
>who comprehends the subject matter and is prepared to improve my

I've written directions for how to install a satellite dish, but I do
not understand the physics of why they work. From my perspective, a
good editor can often follow the logic or the development of an
argument without necessarily understanding the invisible details.
Maybe this goes back to Chomsky's deep structure. In this sense, I'm
not sure an editor must always be a subject matter expert, although I
know many technical writers would disagree.

>... I'm pretty sure I've never seen an editor go to such lengths
>(i.e., to the source) to get the information needed to write...

Most editors will tell you they are not brought in to working
sessions because they are not considered important to content, only
to window dressing. The prescriptive rules, if you will.

>... so maybe the implicit writing work of substantive editing is the
>writer-editor frontier, where job descriptions control who does what.

Which will only exist when editors have some contact with working
sessions, yes?

>>In a sense, the whole issue of online editing as opposed to paper
>>editing sort of detracts from this underlying basic difference
>>between a writer and an editor.
>Because it points up the wrong differences between editors and
>writers? Elaborate on your point, please.

The concentration on online vs paper doesn't deal with the underlying
differences between the writer and the editor or the collaborative
nature of their interaction. The focus is on the medium, something I
still have a hard time considering the message.

>I don't have a good idea of how writer/editor collaboration would
>work. Would it be like this?

It seems to me this is more of a collaborative writing effort, not an
editor/writer collaboration. Both are writing code sort of in the
manner of books written by two authors.

>So own the final draft--you're making changes the author won't see
>before the document is printed?

They see the changes before printing, but as individual pages run off
my laser printer already formatted for printing. They do their edit
from the formatted hardcopy pages.

>...The edit log should, in the recently aired theory of on-screen
>editing, be cast as an inefficient use of time and effort.

Interesting. Again, an indication that the issue of online vs paper
has lost connection with the underlying differences between levels of

>...Is this portentious for the writer-editor collaboration you
>mentioned earlier?

I have worked with one or two technical writers who understand that
talking with editors about ideas before the writing begins can make
their writing job a lot easier. But in my experience, the writers
who have come to recognize this as a valuable editorial contribution
are few and far between.

Or perhaps editors need to simply reinvent themselves in the manner
of award-winning marketers. Would technical writers be more willing
to accept help from "coaches" than "editors"?


Diane Haugen
Whiskey Creek Document Design

Create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to Help file formats or
printed documentation. Features include support for Windows Vista & 2007
Microsoft Office, team authoring, plus more.

True single source, conditional content, PDF export, modular help.
Help & Manual is the most powerful authoring tool for technical
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Online vs paper-based editing: From: Jeannine Klein
Re: Online vs paper-based editing: From: Diane Haugen
Re: Online vs paper-based editing: From: Ned Bedinger
Re: Online vs paper-based editing: From: Diane Haugen
Re: Online vs paper-based editing: From: Ned Bedinger

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