Features May/June 2023

What Do Technical Editors Do?

By Sherri Leah Henkin | Senior Member

Explore the levels of edit, activities, and roles that technical editors fulfill in their day-to-day life.

Though it may seem otherwise at times, technical editors and writers are on the same team. Writers focus on creating the content and cannot realistically be an objective reviewer of their own work. The technical editor acts as an extra set of eyes on the documentation, with the goal of helping the writer meet the requirements for the document/content. A technical editor matches the writer’s piece to the writing standards of the company and makes sure the content adheres to company and/or external style guides and to industry standards (Henkin, 2022).

A technical editor may also help craft the content into something better and more nuanced. In doing so, technical editors enhance and elevate the quality of the writers’ content. Ann Marie Queeney, a technical editor in healthcare in the US, believes the editor partners with the writer to “create a clear, concise document that addresses the company’s requirements and any industry regulations.”

Specific tasks that the technical editor performs vary depending on the content, team size, purpose of the content, and other factors. There’s theory and practice. To get a sense of how the theory translates into practice, I connected with technical editors and managers of technical editors in the US, UK, and India. Interviewees described common roles, skills, and the types of edits they do.

What is the Role of a Technical Editor?

A technical editor can play several roles; respondents describe their roles from many perspectives.

“In a nutshell, technical editors are responsible for the quality of information. This is actually a triple responsibility—to the reader, the writer, and the client or organization they work for.” (Winninger)

As Christina M., a technical editor in the US notes, “Technical editors improve readability, by making sure the content has a consistent voice, tone, style, and format.” When the format is consistent, readers can easily find glossaries, citations, and common headings. Technical editors may also be the go-to resource for word usage, company style, and design.

Matthew Pitman, a technical editor in the UK for Sitecore, shares that he focuses on content and provides “technical oversight to ensure that user journeys are properly captured and are understandable to the intended reader.”

A technical editor in India adds that her role “is to fine tune and polish content while also enforcing the guidelines of the company style guide, ensuring completeness and consistency, confirming that the content caters to the target audience, and keeping content error free grammatically.”

In supporting a team of writers, the technical editor may provide feedback/suggestions or direct edits, or a combination. Li-At Rathbun, a technical editor in the US for Yardi Systems considers her role “to be general support to our content contributors—specifically, to our technical writers…I provide editorial oversight and guidance in various degrees to about 40 official Docs content contributors.”

Pullquote Technical editing “is actually a triple responsibility—to the reader, the writer, and the client or organization they work for.”

Technical editors also educate the writers so that they can learn the company guidelines and incorporate those in future writing projects. According to Yvonne Kucher, a technical editor in the US for Eagle Eyes Editing and Proofreading, her “job is to educate the writers” so that their content meets company and external requirements. Education ranges from providing feedback to running workshops. Marcia Riefer Johnston, who does technical editing in her Senior Technical Writer role at Amazon Web Services in the US elaborates: “I help others at the company build their own writing and editing skills. For example, when I edit, I often include comments to help authors understand why I did what I did so that they can expand their own skills. I’ve also given workshops to user-experience designers and software developers at my company.”

Natasha Baker, a technical editor in the UK for Google (via Harvey Nash, a digital services consultancy) summarized the variety of roles this way: “Often we do so many ‘jobs’ that you could say ‘Technical Editor/Technical Writer’ is not an accurate job title! We are creators, innovators, teachers, developers, all in one!”

What is the Skill Set?

“A good editor has the ability to evaluate the big picture as well as the fine details and can play a key role on documentation projects.” (Winninger) To do this, interviewees outlined these common technical skills:

  • excellent English
  • strong knowledge of spelling and grammar rules
  • attention to detail/eye for consistency
  • excellent writing
  • style guide expertise (company-specific and external, such as Chicago Manual of Style)
  • familiarity with company products and related technical information

For technical editors who work in regulated industries, Ann Marie adds that “you don’t need to be an expert, but a general knowledge facilitates a broader understanding of the content you are editing and its importance to your company.”

Technical editors also need soft skills, such as diplomacy and tact. As Lisa Adair, Content Operations, Lead in the US for Rockwell Automation, Inc. explains: “It’s important to have the idea that they’re editing for other professional writers who have a similar background and experience. In some cases, we were editing content for writers with many more years of experience. We weren’t better writers than them—we were simply editing to our style rules so that our company’s content sounded like it came from one entity.”

Respondents described other soft skills. Technical editors need to be flexible, thorough, creative, and personable. They must pay attention to the details, have a willingness to learn new technology, and exhibit critical thinking and analysis.

What are the Levels of Edits?

Documentation format and even the content has evolved from hard-copy documents to online formats. Technical editors may edit website content, online manuals/instructions, or micro-content, as examples. And content has expanded to include video scripts for tutorial videos, test processes, blog posts, or online release notes. If the content has words, technical editors can be called upon to edit it!

Pullquote “Technical Editor/Technical Writer’ is not an accurate job title! We are creators, innovators, teachers, developers, all in one.”

There could be several rounds of editing, each with a specific purpose. Technical Communication Today outlines four levels of editing (Johnson-Sheehan, 2015).

  • Level 1—Revising. In this initial level, the editor and writer evaluate the breadth of the subject, determine if the content achieves the purpose, serves the intended audience, and fits the intended context.
  • Level 2—Substantive editing. Also known as developmental editing, this level is an in-depth edit of each section, to make sure the design and layout support the way the content is organized. Each of the components should add to readability.
    • Li-At offers that she can partner with the writer in “evaluating a section they’re having challenges with. For example, I might look at a challenging concept (or written paragraph) and help the writer evaluate if the information would be better as a table or list.” As part of this stage, she may also point out sections of the content to the writer “where they deviate from our preferred language, don’t use parallel phrasing (in a list), or have murky sentences or other elements that might limit the users’ comprehension.”
  • Level 3—Copyediting. In this level, technical editors review layout, heading styles, and graphics, and look for factual correctness. They edit at the sentence and paragraph level, to make sure that each statement supports the subject.
    • Marcia revises “for clarity, conciseness, accuracy, grammatical correctness, consistency, and adherence to corporate style.” She makes sure headings “let readers know instantly what type of content they’ll find in a given section.”
  • Level 4—Proofreading. In this level, technical editors review grammar; punctuation; spelling; acronyms; proprietary names; word usage; and the format of dashes, bullets, and tables. They also eliminate errors and incorrect terms. Proofreading is the last chance to make sure the entire piece has consistent format and style (Henkin, 2017).
    • Rachel Musicante, a proofreader in the US for The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute may perform two levels of proofreading, depending on the author’s request: A basic level (checking the content for spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and consistent language use) and a second level where she will “check for gender-neutral language, flag citation issues, and look out for content that might trigger audience sensitivities.”
Are all Projects Created Equal?

Based on the interviewees’ responses, no. Editing levels ranged from a single editor performing all tasks to a team conducting the edits. In some cases, all stages are done at once. As one respondent put it, “We generally didn’t have time for deeper content development edits.”

The best scenarios are when the project plan includes time for each type of edit. Editors may include notes within the document. The document is returned to the writer for review and further edits. In Matthew’s company, there are iterations with the writer. An editor might return the content to the writer asking for clarifications, and then the editor will review and edit the changes.

Other editors conduct collaborative sessions between the writer(s) and editor to explain the changes requested, understand the writer’s intention, or determine what enhancements are needed to the content (such as graphics).

  • Ann Marie reviews “the document for clarity, completeness (of instructions), grammar, relationship to other documents and forms (if used), and conformance to company requirements and government regulations.” Then she copyedits, reviewing for “consistency (terms, job titles, and so on), spelling, confirmation that appendices, other documents, tables, and other items referenced, actually exist.”
  • Marcia helps “align our content with legal requirements, such as treating our company’s product and service names properly.”

In some cases, companies added automated editing/terminology tools such as Acrolinx to assist with editing. Lisa describes how Acrolinx changed their editing process. “Writers now run Acrolinx checks on their content before any review and make the corrections themselves. Before the final review, they send their publication for a quality review. This quality review is completed by managers who base their reviews off a checklist of items that Acrolinx cannot check for—like headers or footers or proper placement of logos, tables of contents, warning statements, etc.”

Why Include a Technical Editor on the Team?

A technical editor brings specific skills that enhance the writing team. Having a technical editor on the team:

  • Adds accuracy, consistency, and clarity, and builds a stronger writing team (Henkin, 2022).
  • Enhances the professional image of the company/client (Henkin, 2022).
  • Saves the organization time and money. With updated and easily understood content, this can reduce calls to the call center for instructions (Henkin, 2022).
  • Cuts work interruptions and increases employee safety (Ann Marie).

As Christine Christiansen, a technical communication manager in the US, says, “The value that [a technical editor] brings is that we publish better content. It’s well thought out, it’s consistent, and it meets the needs of our customers.”

Ann Marie adds that “when I edit in a regulated environment, I am facilitating compliance to regulations and standards and successful audits.”

The Last Word

As Marcia Riefer Johnston sums up: “In the editor role, I’m basically an information midwife. I aim to help authors deliver their creations—blog posts, deployment guides, slide decks, proposals, and more—in a way that makes the authors and the people they care about (the customers) happy.”


Henkin, Sherri Leah. “Why Do We Need an Editor on the Team?” Lightext Newsletter, January 28, 2022, Issue 102.

—“When to Hire a Professional Proofreader.” Content Clarified (blog). July 4, 2017, updated February 2021. https://contentclarified.com/2017/07/04/when-to-hire-a-professional-proofreader/.

Hollis Weber, Jean. “Working with a Technical Editor.” TechWhirl. Accessed March 2, 2023. https://techwhirl.com/working-with-a-technical-editor/.

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard. “Chapter 19.” In Technical Communication Today, 499-508. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2015.

Winninger, Peter. “Foundations: The Role of the Technical Editor.” TechWhirl. Accessed January 11, 2023. https://techwhirl.com/foundations-the-role-of-the-technical-editor/.

Headshot Sherri Leah HenkinSherri Leah Henkin (sherrilhenkin@gmail.com) has worked in tech comm for 20+ years, honing her skills through on-the-job boot camps. As a technical editor, Sherri collaborates with her teams to produce error-free and user-friendly procedures, work instructions, and user guides.