Titles vs. Duties

Subject: Titles vs. Duties
From: Jean Weber <100241 -dot- 2123 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 1997 00:38:52 -0500

Carolyn Haley asked,
> what's the difference between a Technical Writer and a Technical Editor?<

I consider myself primarily a Technical Editor (with around 20 years of
experience), and prefer that role to Technical Writer, so I will attempt to
answer Carolyn's question. A Technical Writer (TW) has primary
responsibility for a document, or a help file (or sometimes a part of one
of these, if it's a big project). The TW does the research, deals with the
relevant technical people, responds to review comments, and is generally
responsible for getting the specific document done on time and meeting
quality standards. He or she needs intimate familiarity with the tools of
the process (WP or DTP, graphics tools, online help tools, whatever is
relevant) as well as researching, negotiating and writing skills.

A Technical Editor (TE) typically works on a range of documents and
sometimes several projects, more or less at the same time. The TE acts as a
reviewer of the documents, acting as the "reader's representative" to see
if the documents' logic, structure, language, style, presentation etc. are
appropriate for the audience (the technical reviewers look at technical
issues such as accuracy). The TE may also (but does not necessarily) act as
a copy-editor and/or production editor. She or he should be involved in the
planning cycle, looking at the range of documents for a product or project
(especially if several writers are involved) and review the proposed tables
of contents before writing commences. TEs set and maintain standards and
style guides, and they train TWs in writing style, grammar, etc.

In practice, there is a lot of overlap between these roles (also the TE may
overlap with the project planner or manager), and one's title often does
not reflect what one actually does. I find that most non-writer/editors
have no idea what a TE does (at best they think of a copy-editor, checking
for grammar mistakes), so I will often market myself as a TW and then do my
best to make sure that the TE works gets done, even if not by myself.

Regards, Jean Weber, Sydney, Australia

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