Re: Do editors need to be techies

Subject: Re: Do editors need to be techies
From: Jean Weber <100241 -dot- 2123 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 15:35:47 -0500

Geoff Hart wrote,
> 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.<

Well, I've done a lot of that for over 20 years, and people have been more
than happy with the results. I agree that one needs "some knowledge of the
subject matter" but in my experience that can be very little. It's also
relevant whose work you are editing.

I have frequently edited material written by subject-matter experts, not
technical writers who have good writing skills in English and who have
already got most of the high-level problems out of the manuscript.

I've found that I can do a lot about editing structure simply because,
whatever the subject matter, I can usually tell when something is grossly
illogically organized. Sure I'd probably be more help at the detail level
(and thus more useful to the skilled techwriter) if I knew more about the
subject, but I usually find so many problems at the higher levels that I'm
sure I add plenty of value.

Mind you, I don't accept work where I am totally ignorant of the subject
matter, but (as an example) I edited soil physics papers for several years
without having more than a vague notion of what they were about (my
background was in botany) and got started in editing computer manuals
before I had much of a clue about computing.

On the other hand, I've worked with allegedly-skilled editors from
non-technical backgrounds who couldn't seem to deal with scientific or
technical material in any sensible way. From this I have concluded (a) it
depends a lot on the person, and (b) it's advantageous (possibly necessary)
to have some related background or experience, ie anything scientific or

Cheers, Jean

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