Technical Editing

Posted 14 January 2011 by

In our culture–I exaggerate only slightly–those who know cannot write, and those who can write do not know. (Norman Podhoretz, “In Defense of Editing,” various sources, retrieved 14 January 2015)

You expect documentation to do the following:

  • Use the correct and consistent vocabulary and style for the intended users.
  • Cover the subject completely but without wasted effort.
  • Present understandable content clearly, professionally, and responsibly.

The purpose of technical editing is to do the following:

  • Present information in a way to facilitate the users’ understanding.
  • Offer improvements in content, layout, and presentation.

Editing Stages

A technical editor works with you on the documentation in all stages. The following is one way to organize and divide the editorial tasks:

Developmental Editing

Completed before actual writing starts, a developmental edit sets the stage for creating your finished product.

The writer, or writing team, creates a writing plan. The developmental edit looks at the plan to find to improve it to create effective documentation. The following questions will be addressed:

  • Who will use the documentation?
  • What is the purpose or purposes of the documentation?
  • What is the style guide or style guides to be used?
  • How to distribute decisions on project-specific usage (project style sheet)?
  • Who will do the legal review, including checking trademarks and permissions?
  • What is the appropriate output format or formats?
  • What is the proposed content organization (table of contents)?
  • When are the project milestones?
  • Who addresses the accuracy of the content?
  • How could this all or some of this content be used in the future, even if not immediately planned (localization, training, white papers, blog articles)?

Additional questions could arise during the editing process.

Depending on the project, a developmental edit process can result the following or more:

  • Formatting decisions
  • Document organization
  • Style and tone
  • Content gaps identified
  • Resource identification
  • Editing expectations set for later stages

The developmental edit does not enforce consistent usage, correct spelling, cross-reference checks, or similar actions in the finished product. This occurs in later stages, mostly during the copy edit.

Taking the developmental edit of the writing proposal, the writer or a team produces a draft of the completed documentation for substantive editing.

Substantive Editing

A substantive edit offers changes to make the draft effective, when necessary. To speed up later work, some copy edit matters may be identified for the writers now.

Taking the substantive edit of the draft, the writer or team produces the draft.

  • Make any legal review with this draft. Incorporate the changes required by the legal review in the draft, and send the updated draft with the legal review for copy editing.
  • Otherwise, send the latest draft for copy editing.

Copy Editing

When the writers believe the content is publication-ready, a copy edit verifies the text is clear, correct, concise, complete, and consistent.

The copy edit corrects spelling, grammar, and style. It verifies incorporation of the changes called for in any legal review. This step can include a proofreading, but must be clearly identified in the documentation plan.

After a copy edit, your content is ready for publication.

Light editing versus heavy editing

Performing a light edit does not substantively change the format, tone, structure, or other major parts of the content. Changes made during a light edit include spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Typically, unchanged material included in a new version of an existing publication receives a light edit.

Performing a heavy edit may result in substantively changing the format, tone, structure, or other major parts of the content.

Different content within a single product may receive differing levels of editing.

Contact Possession Sound Technical Communications, LLC, to find out about editing services.

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