Self Editing Tips

This article will help you when editing your own work. Most of these tips are equally relevant when peer editing.

  • Before you start editing ask yourself when, where, why, and how the document will be used.
  • Even if you prefer editing online, take a printout of the document when you are doing the final edit. You may miss certain things as you edit online.
  • Editing requires extreme focus and concentration. So perform edits when you are not pressed of time or have no deadlines to attend to. The best time to edit any document is when you start your working day in the morning. You are back to work after a break and it helps you see the matter with a fresh mind and perspective.
  • Edit in small doses. The longer you edit without a break, the less effective you will become. Divide big projects into sections you can edit completely without tiring your mind.
  • Don’t try to find everything at once. Skim for some things (such as fonts, spacing, missing illustrations). Then, go back to check out some other thing. That is, do a few rounds of edits, each focusing on a particular type.
  • If the document is too complex, read the draft several time. First read the content to check the user level and general organization of the information at. Later look again for other problems such as clarity of language and other intricate details.
  • Add to your checklist any common errors you know you make and anything you feel needs to be checked or verified for that particular document.
  • Use a style sheet and a checklist as you edit. Keep them handy and refer to them when required.
  • Don’t overlook the obvious. Pay attention to the document title, document number, version number, and chapter or section titles, page numbering, and so on.
  • If you have used materials from another document or chapter, check that any required changes (such as the product name) have been made.
  • Check the line breaks and page breaks. Transitions to the next line or to the next page are common problem areas.
  • Look for symbols that come in pairs—parentheses, brackets, and quotation marks.
  • Double or triple-check equations. Check calculations.
  • Avoid language-edits at the same time as you perform substantive editing. It slows you down and will also distract you.

Spare some time to write a summary of your thoughts, observations, impressions, criticisms, or feelings about the draft. Categorize your comments according to the type of problem or error.

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.

Importance of Technical Editing

Regardless of how remarkable your document is or how well organized the material is, if it contains grammatical and spelling errors, the reader will probably not trust the document. A misspelled word or incorrect use of a word can take away the credibility of the entire document you have written. Little errors and inconsistencies in the usage of words can confuse your readers. Editing is the process of checking information to correct content, language, and stylistic errors.

Technical editing is revising a document that presents material related to science or technology to make it communicate more effectively. The main purpose of editing is to make sure that the audience gets an error free document. It is the process of reviewing a document to improve its language in terms of content, accuracy, coherence, and consistency.

Editing is very subjective term. If you ask five people to describe what it means to them, you will get answers as varied as the parabled five men who described different parts of an elephant. The truth is, good editing goes unnoticed, but even a single spelling mistake in a document brings in a lot of negative comments. Take a look at the following cartoon and poem. There are no spelling mistakes (typos), but are they error free? On the contrary, it is full of errors/mistakes.

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 The poem and the cartoon speaks volumes about the importance of the human eye taking a look at the document to find the mistakes. Though the spell checkers can be useful for finding some errors, they will not find correctly spelled wrong words (e.g. wait instead of weight) or double words such as “the the”. Some desktop publishing tools perform grammatical checks and may locate errors like double words.

Good editors know that they do a thankless job and this makes them even better. Remember, being a good editor is like being a masked superhero (or super girls) working behind the scene.

  • Writers don’t take editors seriously—Some writers have a very great self opinion and resent being edited as they feel that their writing is being questioned. As a result, editors must occasionally deal with stubborn writers who make not even incorporate the edits. The life of editors become rather difficult in such scenario because as professionals they trust the writers to do their part of work—incorporate the changes in the documents.
  • Good editing is invisible—The problem with writing is that no one appreciates good writing when they see it. The users are probably not aware that they are using a good document. But they quickly come to know that a document is not good. Good editing goes invisible, but bad editing stands out like a sore thumb. So, if you are not criticized for your editing, it means that you have done an excellent job.
  • No appreciation—Unfortunately most of the time, there is no appreciation for the work done by the technical writers as compared to the development teams.
    • When a document is error free and well organized, the writers may walk away with the recognition and the praises. Many a times, the editor had to make a few passes of edits to make the document remotely accurate, user friendly, and usable.
    •  After the product releases, the development team may sometimes include the writers for the release celebrations, but the editor is conveniently forgotten!