I ignored her advice. To me technical writing and editing meant computer documentation. I wasn’t interested in computers or technology. I was interested in reading, words, and navigating big ideas through writing. Literature, not technical writing, was all about those things.
I didn’t consider that technical communication is about reading, words and navigating big ideas through writing. Technical editors are creative collaborators with subject matter experts (SMEs) in an incredible array of fields.
Sure, computer documentation is part of it, but the field is much broader than you might imagine.
Technical documents include any genre that helps the reader take an action or make a decision
Much of what used to be called business writing is now considered technical writing. Training materials, handbooks, budget reports, blog posts, white papers, guidelines, evaluations, job descriptions—these are all considered technical writing.
Even what we consider more dynamic types of communication fall under the umbrella of technical communication: PowerPoint presentations, scripts for podcasts or webinars, interactive online curricula.
Technical editors are important members of teams producing all these forms of communication.
Technical editors look at the big picture and the fine details
What does it take to be a technical editor? Good editing skills, for a start. But there’s more to it.
Technical editors are big picture thinkers who look at the whole of the document. They consider audience, purpose, and context, in addition to the minute details of language and writing.
So, even if your job is to copyedit or proofread, it’s important to have a strong sense of how the final deliverable will do its job out in the world. Decisions you make on copyediting individual sentences can have a huge impact on how that document is interpreted by decision-makers down the line.
Technical editors don’t necessarily have to be SMEs
Though it always helps to look for work within your area of expertise, clients often want to reach a broader audience. Editors who are not SMEs can help clients translate technical or complex material for a general readership.
A long-term client hired me because I was not familiar with the theoretical foundations of the discipline. My job was cutting jargon and adapting sentence structure for an audience reading on the fly. My roles included substantive editing, line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Because I could shift among these tasks, I helped the client in more ways than they’d anticipated.
Technical editing is collaborative and creative
A few years ago, I reminded my mom about our long-ago conversation. These days I teach technical communication, and my editing gigs fit under that wide technical communication umbrella.
“Well, you were right. Look where I am now,” I said. She laughed.
I still love literature. But I also love the challenge, creativity, and collaboration involved with helping clients create tools that allow readers to go out into the world and take action, make decisions, or learn something new.
Join Copyediting on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, for the Master Class “Getting into Technical Editing” with Mary-Colleen Jenkins for a more in-depth discussion of how editors are crucial for good technical communication. Registration closes Tuesday, June 5, 2018, at 10 pm ET.