Re: Independent Editors - What do they do?

Subject: Re: Independent Editors - What do they do?
From: Jean Hollis Weber <jean -at- wrevenge -dot- com -dot- au>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 17:23:03 +1000

Anthony Markatos wrote:
>I reviewed your web site with great interest. In it, you say that editors
>determine the suitability of material for the target audience in terms of
>organization, usability, word use, completeness, correctness,
>comprehensiveness, etc.
>Jean, none of the editors that I know or have read about perform an end user
>task analysis. They spend very little time on-site with the end user (or
>subject matter expert). Often, practically none. So how do the learn about
>their target audience? And how do they gain an understanding of the
>essential tasks that the end user performs? Both of these are required to
>do the things that you mention.

As others on this list have pointed out, there are many and varied ways of
working, as an editor or as a writer. Certainly no one editor does
everything I mention in my Web site, in all situations -- usually because
the client decides what the editor will do, not necessarily because the
editor isn't skilled in a particular area.

To answer your specific questions, here are some observations from my

1) Many independent editors form quite long-lasting associations with the
companies for whom they do editing work, although they (the editors) work
for more than one company. The editor sometimes has been with the company a
lot longer than the writers and may be at least as familiar with the
company's end users as the writers are -- sometimes more so.

2) In many cases, an editor does not need to do an independent end user
task analysis. She can use the analysis provided by the writer or whoever
did do one. In other cases, the writer _didn't_ do a task analysis, so the
editor has to ask a lot of questions to find out what she needs to know.
Remember, not all editors work with professional writers who do all the
right things. (In my experience, very few _writers_ ever get a chance to
spend time on-site with a real live end user, however much the writer may
want to do so.)

3) In many cases, no detailed task analysis is really necessary, beyond
sitting down and working through the software. For example, if the audience
is accountants, and the software does whatever for accountants, I can
usually work out what the essential tasks are without talking to a user. Of
course, some software is sufficiently specialised (or aimed at an audience
with whose needs I am not familiar) that I would need a task analysis.

Christine Pellar-Kosbar comments on the need for "close and long-term
relationships" with editors and says, "You need a lot of coordination, or
freelancers who have been with you a long time, or preferably both." I
agree, and would point out that the status of an editor (freelance or
staff) is less relevant than other factors, like the length of association,
that contribute to the editor's knowledge of the company's style, products
and audience.

Christi Carew remarks,
>I would not expect a contract
>editor to be able to review a doc for correctness. How are they supposed
>to know the material. I think one of the reasons they are a great
>resource is that they _don't_ know the material, so they have a fresh,
>unbiased view of the docs.

In cases where I haven't been involved early in the project (for example,
when editing third-party books), I test the book against the software. I've
done this for Microsoft Office and related products, for which I'm a fairly
good example of the audience (if, perhaps, a bit more knowledgeable than
some, though the products weren't ones I normally use); I caught a bunch of
incorrect things, where the book didn't describe what was actually
happening. But other people (more familiar with the s/w) were also checking
the same things, from a different point of view. Mostly my job was to see
if the book made sense from the user's POV, asking questions like "are
steps left out?" "does this assume knowledge that the reader might not
have?" etc.

In such cases, an independent editor can definitely do all the things
mentioned in Anthony Markatos' quote from my Web site, given at the top of
this note.

Regards, Jean
Jean Hollis Weber
The Technical Editors' Eyrie
Avalook at Australia: Travel site
mailto:jean -at- wrevenge -dot- com -dot- au

Re: Independent Editors - What do they do?: From: Anthony Markatos

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