What editors do (long)

Subject: What editors do (long)
From: Jean Weber <jean_weber -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 Mar 1997 17:15:51 -0500

Carolyn Haley asks, "What does it take to become a full-time copyeditor?"
and mentions "a need, although not necessarily a demand, for nitpickers
like me".

Carolyn, I wonder why you want to limit yourself to copyediting? You also
contribute (probably unintentionally) to the misconception that editing
(especially copyediting) is primarily "nitpicking," when it should be so
much more (read on).

Tony Rocco expresses some common misconceptions about editing when he says:

>> If you ask me, writing is where the action is. You get hands on with the
technology, with the people who develop it, and with the users of it. The
writing end is multifaceted and offers a very wide range of opportunities.
The editing side will always remain pretty much the same regardless of the
subject matter, i.e., editing is editing is editing.<<

Editing is (or should be) also "multifaceted." As an editor, I have been
"hands on with the technology, with the people who develop it, and with the
users of it." Indeed, without doing that, I could only do part of my job!

Tony continues,
>> Full-time editing is a dead-end route, IMHO. <<

Unfortunately, many writers and managers are unaware of the skills and
knowledge that editors can bring to a writing group, and the varied things
that editors can contribute. They (and some editors) think only in terms of
"copy editing" and so consider editing less valuable than writing, and pay
accordingly. Their viewpoint also limits an editor's career path, with
negative effects for both the editor and the department.

Editors therefore need to aggressively educate writers and managers about
their (the editors') true value. Here's some information to start with.

Technical editing is (or should be) much more than just copy-editing,
although that may be part of the job.

Technical editors are primarily concerned with how well the document is
presented to the intended audience. They should be able to judge a
manuscript on the basis of whether it tells them, as representative
readers, what they need to know -- and only what they need to know --
completely, concisely, clearly, and accurately. Editors should be able to
learn about the subject from what the writer has written (just as the
intended reader should).

An experienced, skilled technical editor can contribute much to a technical
writing department. Many of the following tasks are often done by people
with other titles, but can properly be part of the editor's job:

* Plan the documents necessary for a project: content, cost, timing, other
resource requirements

* Coordinate the production of several books on one product (often written
by different people)

* Set and enforce standards for the company's publications and (in
consultation with writers) for a particular project

* Be involved with the design of the user interface (if a software product)

* Assist writers in the development of material, particularly its logical
order and structure

* Advise writers on the appropriate use of graphics, wording of headings,
figure and table captions, page breaks, index and glossary entries

* Provide whatever levels of edit are necessary (including, but not limited
to, copyediting) -- see the classic articles on levels of edit for details

* Review, edit and rewrite copy as necessary, in cooperation with authors

* Assist with translations, usually in the idiomatic English expression of
technical concepts

* Organise reviews of material for technical accuracy

* Supervise editorial assistants and graphic artists

When dealing with online materials (help, or anything with hypertext
links), the editor's role expands to include these tasks:

* Edit online help online, preferably with the software it supports, to
determine if it is actually helpful in context (rather than merely stating
the obvious, or telling the users things they consider irrelevant at the

* With hypertext, check whether the links work; indexing and search
facilities work and are useful; illustrations, tables etc. display okay,
and so on

The editor might also be called upon to:

* Help people prepare speeches, select visual aids, and rehearse

* Maintain a reference library on writing and other communications

* Design and present in-house writing, editing and indexing courses.

Those departments that feel they can't justify a full-time editor should
consider either a part-time editor or a freelance editor.

Jean Weber
Technical Writer, Editor and Publishing Consultant
Sydney, Australia
jean_weber -at- compuserve -dot- com

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