Re: Technical editing

Subject: Re: Technical editing
From: Judyth Mermelstein <Judyth_Mermelstein -at- BABYLON -dot- MONTREAL -dot- QC -dot- CA>
Date: Mon, 7 Dec 1998 16:46:37 GMT

Harvey <harvey_jordan -at- EXCITE -dot- COM> asked:
>Hi everyone. I'm curious to know: what is the difference between "technical
>writing" and "technical editing"?

This is my quick, off-the-cuff answer--flame privately if you must.

Most (not all!) technical writers on this list describe their work in terms
of the on-site work of dealing with engineers and SMEs, the types of software
they use, product usability research, "good enough" documentation, formatting
of materials for print and on-line use, etc. Generally speaking, they have or
seek a lifestyle which involves a hefty paycheque, benefits, perks, and a
relatively non-abusive corporate environment.

Most technical editors I know are EDITORS who specialize in technical areas.
They don't much care which software was used to produce a document as long as
they can crack it open and work with the contents, or how many people had to
be interviewed for or made changes to the document in question. Their
definition of their work is focused on the clarity and correctness of
explanations, logical organization of complex instructions or statistical
data, consistency of language both internally and with what is intelligible
to the user. Generally speaking, they are working toward the best possible
final version of the content, keeping in mind both the reader and the demands
of the material itself. They may or may not have much personal contact with
the author(s) or the client.

Most (except within large technical publishing environments) are freelancers
working on an hourly rate or a fixed price per project, with no perks or
benefits and often without even the courtesy of a copy of the finished book.
Many (myself included) are neurotic perfectionists who work more hours than
they can bill to ensure the finished manuscript is right, but enjoy NOT
having to deal with in-house politics and managers breathing down our necks.
We are often loners and some (myself included) prefer working in extremely
casual dress, next to the coffee-pot and far from the maddening disruptions
of the normal working environment of the techwhirler.

>And also, what are the "must have" books for someone (such as myself)
>wanting to make a career out of technical editing?

Short answer: as many as possible. One "bible" is _Scientific Style and
Format: the CBE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers_, 6th edition, by
the Council of Biology Editors, Cambridge, 1994. ISBN 0-521-47154-0
(hardback). It is primarily geared toward the life sciences but includes
mathematics and physical sciences. Few people in the software racket know it,
but it is an excellent comprehensive guide to current ISO guidelines and a
model of clear expression itself.

However, as an editor, you will often have to work to whatever standard the
client uses: the _Chicago Manual of Style_, the _Microsoft Manual of Style_,
the _Associated Press Handbook_ (!) or an in-house style sheet, plus whatever
dictionary or combination of dictionaries and lexicons are needed for a given
project. Some clients know exactly what style they want, some have no clue,
and some will provide conflicting information which you will have to

My advice: buy all the books you can afford relating to the area in which you
plan to specialize. If you're not that specialized, buy what you can afford
now and prepare to acquire whatever you need for each project. In either
case, read (or at least skim) any other reference material available, try to
keep good notes on what you've done on each project and why, and prepare to
get a new bookcase and a bigger apartment every couple of years.
Read as much as you can of what is being published now, thinking about what
is good about it and what you would have done differently and why. Practice
marking up drafts with the appropriate symbols, recasting sentences, revising
tables for clarity, etc. If you don't enjoy doing these things, you weren't
born to be an editor.

Best of luck,

<judyth_mermelstein -at- babylon -dot- montreal -dot- qc -dot- ca>
NOT speaking for the Editors' Association of Canada

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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