Content edits aren’t meant to just cover the basics.
When people think of content editors in technical writing, they might assume that editors will go over a specific work looking for grammatical mistakes, but will ensure that the rest of the document stays the same. Don Bush expresses that oftentimes, part of the frustration with editing can be when technical writers assume that their content doesn’t need editing apart from their grammar or punctuation because if it is changed, the meaning of their document might be changed. Not only can these writers have an aversion to content editing, but the editors can feel uncomfortable using heavy-handed editing in their work for fear of the writer feeling attacked. If grammar and punctuation are the only things fixed, however, that doesn’t guarantee a readable document. This is where content editors come into play.
In his research about technical editing within the engineering world, Don Bush tries to impress upon people the importance of the content editors and what their role is within the writing process in his study, “Content Editing, an Opportunity for Growth.” Bush states, “Editing requires a rare combination of perception and persistence. We need to lure people who are bright enough to understand the technical copy, but not bright enough to foresee the frustrations of the editing job.”
Bush found that both the writer and the editor need to become more comfortable with the editing process, and that there are ways to make it easier for those involved. In a study he did working with technical writers and content editors, he proposed seven principles that any technical content editor can follow to not only make their editing more effective for the document, but that will also benefit the writer in their long-term writing career. These principles direct the editors to check accuracy and be strict with any added “fluff” to the documentation, but also suggest that style guides aren’t as necessary to the technical edits as much as general understanding.
After the content editors in the study followed the seven principles Bush proposed, their writing improved, their relationships with the writers was enriched, and the writers learned what their editors would be looking for in the future.
By expanding the definition of a content editor and the roles that they fulfill, editors can understand that they shouldn’t just watch out for grammar and punctuation but also need to look at content. This way, they can improve not only the writer’s work, but also the writer’s understanding of the editing process and the goals they should have going forward within their own writing. This allows for mutual understanding to take place, and for the trust between writer and author to grow, each appreciating the work that the other brings. Writers can benefit from carefully considering editors’ suggestions, and editors can benefit from improved communication with writers.
—Cecilia Oaks, Editing Research
To learn more about principles of technical editing, read the full article:
Bush, Don. “Content Editing, an Opportunity for Growth.” Technical Communication 28, no. 4 (1981): 15–18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43094308.
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Find more research
Take a look at Rebecca Young and Abby Call’s Editing Research articles for more tips on the importance of Copy editing: “Why Copy Editors Are Still Needed,” and “What Is a ‘Light Copyedit’? Navigating the Terms of Editing.”