Technical Communications Terms

Subject: Technical Communications Terms
From: Wendy Phillips <wendy -at- SYNERGEX -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 08:34:35 -0700

Thanks for your input! I appreciate everything that was sent.
My goal was to try and determine the common--not definitive--usage of
these terms: review, copyedit, substantive edit, and proofread, in the
technical writing business.
The reference material was very helpful as a standard, but since we all
know how people just plain _love_ to ignore standards when it's convenient,
my goal is to try and understand what another writer may mean when, for
example, they say they're doing a copyedit. I've found that different
people do different levels of editing and still call it a "copyedit".
Thanks again!
P.S. If anyone has more to send on this topic, please do!
Here's a summary of the information I received:
> my understanding, FWIW (in the order that we do them):
> technical edit/review
> ------------------------
> Developers/QA/tech support/product management make sure info in doc is
> technically accurate. (Example: check syntax of code examples)
> substantive edit
> ------------------------
> Editor/peers check structure of information/quality of information.
> (Example: evaluate book organization and usability)
> copyedit/line edit/proofread
> ------------------------
> Editor checks for grammar/spelling/usage mistakes. (Example: correct its
> vs it's ;-)
> copyfit
> ------------------------
> Writer/production person preps files for printer. (Example: eliminate
> strange page breaks)
> proof
> ------------------------
> Writer/production person checks blue lines from printer. (Example: make
> sure no broken lines, smudges, PS problems)
> Each task is critical. In larger shops, a different person might be
> responsible for a task or part of a task. In smaller shops, one or two
> people might be responsible for several tasks. Plenty of room for
> flexibility.
> > What do you mean when you use the word "copyedit"?
> Our copyeditors check for grammar, spelling, style, and formatting
> errors.
> > Substantive Edit
> In my organization, the project manager does a substantive edit. This is
> not checking for technical accuracy or spelling/grammar errors (although
> they may be caught at this time), but more of a "is this going in the
> right direction" edit... does it cover everything it needs to cover, is
> it instructionally sound (which probably won't apply to your situation),
> and other things specific to our products.
> > Proofread
> Our proofreaders check the copyedited copy against the final formatted
> copy and make sure all marked corrections have been made.
> The way we were taught the terms in school (93-95) was
> copyedit -- To make corrections (both grammatical and stylistic) to a
> piece of writing
> substantive edit -- To _really_ edit a piece of writing, all the way
> to the organizational level. This takes a lot of time.
> proofread -- used to mean to compare the printer's proof with the
> copy editor's markup to make sure the changes got in there,
> but now mostly means to do a quick check of a piece of
> for spelling errors and missing words and such. Where a copy
> editor would suggest changes, a proofreader can only note
> obvious mistakes like repeated words, missing words, and
> review -- to have someone, even the author, look over a piece with a
> critical eye. Can be for technical information, style,
> whatever.
In the year and a half that I worked as a proofreader, we not only compared
the printed documents to the original manuscripts, we also performed all of
the functions often defined as copyediting (correcting spelling,
punctuation, and grammatical errors; looking for typos; checking for
consistency of format and usage; etc.).

Technically, copyediting involves much more than proofreading, which really
means to compare a printer's proof against the original manuscript. But
because none of our stuff is typeset, and because until recently we simply
gave the printer a printed manuscript to photocopy, we often used the terms
interchangeably (perhaps incorrectly so, but that's the way it goes). Now
that we *do* need to check the printer's proof, we may want to return to
real definition of proofread to differentiate between the two tasks.
2. Mary Fran Buehler wrote "The Levels of Edit", published
> by Jet Propulsion Labs, 1980 -- publication no 80-1. See also Buehler's
> article in Technical Communication Vol 28 No 4 (4Q81).

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