Online Editing Pilot Web Survey Results

Subject: Online Editing Pilot Web Survey Results
From: David Dayton <ddayton -at- TTACS -dot- TTU -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 11 Dec 1998 14:28:33 -0600

Back in April of this year, I announced a pilot survey published on the Web
to learn more about the online editing practices and attitudes of technical
communicators, and principally of technical editors. I promised to report
back to the list on the results.

The survey attracted 66 respondents. Based on their responses to four items
related to job functions, I classified 27 respondents as editors, 15 as
writers, and 12 as writer-editors. I put the remaining 12 in a miscellaneous
category. The questionnaire contained 56 fixed-choice and short-answer items
and 3 open-ended questions. I have now published a complete report on the
results on my project Web site at The
complete report is quite long; there's also a summary report that leaves out
the tables with data tallies on each item. And there's an executive summary
published as a Web page.

Here are some highlights from the executive summary, available at

The vast majority of the respondents have been using computers for over 10
years. About three out of four use the computer to edit others? work as well
as to write. Most receive documents to edit via email or a shared network

Word processors are the type of software most often used by the respondents
to edit others? work. About three-quarters use Microsoft Word. Almost as
many respondents at least occasionally edit documents that are published in
some form of HTML, for which type of editing respondents report using a
variety of software products.

The respondents' overwhelmingly positive attitude toward online editing does
not translate into a disparaging view of hard copy. This is consistent with
the high percentage of respondents indicating that hard copy has an
important role in their online editing practices. Even when editing online
documents, most respondents in the three categories of interest report that
they use hard copy to about the same extent, or more often, compared to when
they are editing paper-based documents.

Of those who do online editing, about seven out of 10 respondents in the
three groups of interest use revision marking/tracking and commenting
features in software at least occasionally; more editors and writer-editors
use these features than writers.

Almost two-thirds of the 66 respondents have experienced one or more health
problems associated with their use of the computer to such a degree that
they have missed work and/or consulted a health professional. One in four
has been diagnosed with a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

I send sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey.
It helped me figure out what sorts of questions are truly worth asking on
this subject. Based on what I have learned, I will be conducting a hybrid
mail/electronic survey, with a much shorter questionnaire, early in the
coming year. My research is sponsored by the Society for Technical
Communication, and I plan to report preliminary results at the STC annual
meeting in Cincinnati next May.

David Dayton
Instructor, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (on leave)
Ph.D. student in Technical Communication and Rhetoric
Texas Tech University
David Dayton
ddayton -at- caribe -dot- net

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