Technical Editing Responsibilities

This is a brief description of what technical editors provide to their clients and how important their work can be to helping laypersons understand the subject matter.

Technical editing is not very different from general editing with the exception that the subject area (and thus, the vocabulary) requires knowledge about the specific terminology used. In addition, the editor may need to approach the assignment from two different perspectives. These perspectives include writing for the experts in the area — which requires a high level of expertise, or, writing for the layperson, which means rewriting the document so that the information is more clear to an individual who may not know the terminology as well.  The editor may be called upon to develop a glossary or descriptions to help individuals without the technical knowledge to understand the information.

The latter requires rewriting the information so that it can be easily understood by individuals without the high level of technical knowledge. Areas that use technical writing include engineering, computer science, graphics, architecture, medicine, and the sciences. Also, the manufacturing industry also relies on technical writers.

Editors in this area of writing often become subject matter experts, or SMEs.  They learn the technical vocabulary, jargon and often the language of science that is associated with the subject area. Because of the scientific and technical backgrounds, these editors must be well organized and able to interpret the wording with both an eye for detail and a much broader perspective to ensure that the entire description or process is outlined in a logical order.

Examples of projects that a technical editor may work on would include manuals for tools and equipment from putting together and using a new drill to wiring an electronic circuit to installing new software. If you have ever put together a gas barbecue or put together a child’s bike on Christmas Eve,   you had the experience of seeing a project that was most likely reviewed by a technical editor.

I still laugh when I reviewed the wording of a gas drill that I was putting together.  The instructions went something like this:

  1. Place the metal tray over the gas hose, securing it for four #4 threaded screws – I assumed the wording was stating to secure the screws in the hole of the plate, not screwing the screws into the gas hose.
  2. Make sure that the nozzle of the hose is inserted through the opening before tightening the screws.
  3. Fasten the hose to the side of leg B with  5 with metal clips (part 1245).
  4. Before fastening the hose (in number 3) place the tank holder in through slots A and B.

As you can tell, these instructions are not in the right order. Most of us would have completed item 3 before reading 4.  A good technical editor would have caught this error.

Technical writing and editing is a good career and if you specialize in certain areas of growth (e.g.,  green technology), a technical editor can be in high demand. If you have an editing project that requires a technical editor, asking for an individual with expertise in that subject area.  If you can, submit a glossary of terms and illustrations (if appropriate) with the assignment. Ask for a sample edit so that you can see if the editor is knowledgeable and if the returned items are clearly and accurately written.

First, for example, is a service that will provide you an editor with the knowledge of the subject area, and a free sample to see how materials would be edited.

Having a good technical editor is a requirement when developing technology materials, especially in working with information that will be used to assemble expensive machinery or computers.  If the directions are not clear, the process will not be effective.

Subject:  technical editor, technical editing, subject matter experts, business editing.

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