Skills of an Editor

Editing generally means different things to different people. It is also true to say that no two editors edit a document in the same way. It is difficult to define the exact duties of an editor and it is even more difficult to define the skills of an editor. Editing is a craft and an art, and practice makes it perfect. So it is helpful to follow certain rules and guidelines and polish the skills required to make a good editor.

If you look at the advertisements, you will see a variety of titles: technical editor, copy editor, editorial assistant, editorial specialist, documentation editor, etc. This makes it very difficult to understand what the organization is actually looking for and the skills they are looking for in an editor. It is equally difficult to say if they have invented such titles just to lure the candidates to do some boring and mechanical job.

Actually each of these titles have a specific definition. The candidates in these posts have specific tasks to perform. But we shall not go into these details here. Considering all these factors, we can generalize that the technical editors should have the following skills:

  • Ability to make style related decisions rather than choices.
  • Ability to enforce these decisions.
  • Be a team person with good communication skills.
  • Be well-versed in grammar and punctuation.
  • An instinct for recognizing patterns, creating categories, and organizing ideas.
  • Have an eye for detail, layout, organization, and page design.
  • Think logically to re-write any technical material following the defined document templates, styles, and standards.
  • Willingness to question assumptions, theories, and facts.
  • Ability to recognize what is missing in content, argument, or presentation.
  • Ability to improve the skills of the writers to a certain extent.
  • Ability to edit fairly without any personal feeling (friendship or rivalry) affecting the work.
  • Have adequate time management and project management skills. Editors usually work on multiple projects. Very often they write their own document and peer edit others work too. So there should be fine balance of time and priority.
  • A basic understanding of the subject that is being edited. Without such a background, editors will be limited in their ability to address the technical accuracy of the document.

Some technical communicators suggest that technical expertise might limit the effectiveness, of an editor making it harder/difficult for them to remember how little a layman might know about the subject. However serious problems can arise when editors do not understand the subject at all.

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