Get a refresher on the ins and outs of technical editing 

Ask any technical editor exactly what constitutes technical editing and you’re in for a wide range of answers. The interpretations of what constitutes this varied and nuanced profession are vast, but STC Fellow Linda Oestrich’s session “Basically, It’s Technical Editing,” gave insights on important aspects of technical editing for those looking for a refresher or looking to update their editing toolbox.

Traits of Editor and Writers

Oestrich provided some general information about what defines a technical editor:
  • They can spot problems in a wide range of topic areas, not just language.
  • An editor may review documentation for many projects concurrently.
  • An experienced editor can evaluate technical documents effectively with only a basic knowledge of the subject matter.

Editors are often generalists by nature and are more conservative about language use than writers, meaning editors often follow rules more closely than writers.

Oestrich also described technical writer traits, which included a narrow focus on topics, long project cycles, and more.

But, these traits are relative, according to Oestrich; some editors may exhibit writer traits and some writers my exhibit editor traits.

Editorial Toolbox

Oestrich asked attendees what was in their “editorial toolbox,” to see what they may be missing and broke down what she thinks technical editors need in their toolboxes.

These included real-life tools that live on your desk and tools that live in your brain. Desk tools should include general (Chicago Manual of Style) and industry-specific style guides (American Psychological Association style guide). She also noted that checklists are a go-to for editors to ensure consistency in edits and support collaborative and team projects.

As for what should live in your head, according to Oestrich, this will vary by editor but will include editing styles and level (i.e., how in-depth the edit will be on the material with which you’re working), data presentation, people skills, and more.

Oestrich spent time dissecting the concept of edit levels, describing the origin of this categorical scheme for revising text. What started out as a tool to help standardize communication between writers and editors at a government laboratory has become common use for the public and is often found in the technical communication profession. Levels refer to the higher or lower “levels” of attention and quality an edit requires.

The mere concept of edit levels is an embodiment of technical communication, rooted in efficiency with the goal of establishing a common language for writers and editors to lessen time to edit and facilitate budgeting and labor-tracking.

For those who are new to technical editing and looking to discover just what technical editing is, this session proved an important point: technical editing is a broad and specific profession at the same time. While it encompasses many skills, those skills are specific and focused on efficiency. Established technical editors may find themselves interested in exploring a new tool to add to their toolbox—real or proverbial.

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