Do editors need to be techies?

Subject: Do editors need to be techies?
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Fri, 17 Jan 1997 13:21:39 -0600

Stacey Marner wondered whether editors need to understand
the technical material they're editing. Strictly speaking,
no, but your usefulness to your authors is limited somewhat
if you don't. In theory, you can fix most grammatical and
punctuation problems by mechanically applying certain
standard rules, and you can do things like checking page
references and fixing typos, even if you don't understand
anything the author is saying. That's the copyediting or
(more likely) proofreading component of editing.

The greater value that an editor adds to a the writing
process is the ability to ensure that the structure is
sound, that the intended audience will comprehend what the
author is saying, and that the author's statements are
realistic, logical and self-consistent. That's the
substantive component of editing. It's hard to see how you
can do this without understanding at least some of the
technical details. (This relates back to the "should we
learn programming languages" thread: the more you know, the
more you can add to the process, and if you don't
understand, there's a whole class of errors and
inaccuracies you simply can't fix.)

As for getting yourself more integrally involved in the
process, you're on the right track... when people know that
they can come to you for help with their writing, without
fear of looking foolish, then they'll start coming. To make
yourself formally part of the publishing process, you need
management support to implement an editorial review stage
long before the documents go to press, and a final proofing
stage just before you publish something. More involvement
would be useful, but it may take some time to become that
involved (organisations change slowly).

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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