By Kelly Schrank | Associate Fellow
I am so excited to be the Guest Editor for this special issue on Technical Editing. The last issue that I could find in the archives having technical editing as a focus was in July/August 2017. So it’s long overdue!
When I first proposed this issue in mid-2022, I had two groups of articles in mind. The first group would have an article on how to become an editor, what does an editor do/why have one on your team, and then a wildcard (something interesting or unexpected). And the second group would cover the past, present, and future of technical editing. Many of these articles have come to fruition, but others have unexpectedly not.
For the articles in the first group, I recruited two knowledgeable and experienced editors to gather wisdom from our profession about how to become an editor and what editors do. Linda and Sherri have provided interesting overviews of how people come into this profession and what people do once here. I appreciate the insight from them and their networks. While those two articles came into being easily from my perspective, my wildcard did not materialize. So, two out of three ain’t bad, right?
In the second group, I had a similar level of success. For the past, Paula has researched the history from editing’s beginnings to 2010, providing an interesting perspective on our history up until the recent past. I have surveyed and spoken to my peers about what they are doing now, in an attempt to give people a view of what technical editors are doing in the present. Which leaves us with the future. Much has changed since the summer of 2022. Our vision for the future has changed in 2023 with the advent of ChatGPT, which has dominated conversations of how artificial intelligence (AI) will steal everyone’s job in every industry, including ours.
What I am hearing so far (consider this a snapshot in time) is that editors will still be needed because AI-generated content needs to be fact checked because what it puts together reads well, but the accuracy of the content and transparency of the data cannot be trusted. Adrienne Montgomerie, a science editor who has been playing around with ChatGPT, has other ideas for how editors might fit into the process: she thinks technical editors of the future may find themselves running prompts in AI to help us edit, and that those who don’t want to keep up with the technology will retire or move out of technical editing. She likened it to early in her career when Word with track changes was coming into workplaces; those skilled in editing on paper who did not want to learn and adapt to the new technologies retired. With that said, it seemed premature to dive into what all these changes will mean given how much has changed from the media frenzy around ChatGPT at the beginning of the year to the continuing conversations around the technologies incorporating generative AI and the new version (GPT-4) before I sent this off for publication in March.
As often happens with these types of projects, not everything goes as planned, but some of my plans worked out, and for that, I have many folks to thank! I want to thank all the contributors, who quickly and enthusiastically said yes to my request for an article and then spent countless hours talking to their networks; poring over books, articles, and surveys; and synthesizing the information into interesting, helpful, and relevant content for this issue! And a huge thank you from the contributors and from me, to all of those who stepped up to fill out surveys and have conversations with contributors to inform all the articles in this issue! This issue would not have come together without the participation of everyone involved.