Technical editors’ responsibilities

I’m compiling a list of the things technical editors do. I’m looking at both what we do and the specifics of how we do it. Some roles are well-known, particularly in the publishing industry, but other roles are not well-defined. The term “technical editor,” for example, covers quite a range of roles and skills, from copy-editing print materials to verifying technical content to a disguised form of usability testing, to—well, you tell me.

As part of this exercise I’ve collected some advertisements for technical editors in the computer software industry. These examples show some of the types of work, and the skills and knowledge required, which are well beyond the “corrects grammar and spelling” image that so many potential employers (and writers and other co-workers) often have.

Technical Editor – Edits for organization, content, technical accuracy, and style. Exercises good judgment in assessing the level of edit a piece of documentation requires at every stage of the process. Edits multiple pieces at various levels of development. Creates an internal style guide and word lists for group use. Follows corporate legal guidelines to create accurate copyright pages and checks the copyeditor’s legal edits. Determines schedule and workflow for the team, as needed. Develops and executes internal and external review processes of documentation as needed. Reviews corporate style guide for accuracy as needed. 2-4 years of editing experience in an online, Web or print environment required. A solid working understanding of e-commerce technology. Familiarity with Windows NT, and IIS (or SQL) is required. Must have the ability to organize complex documentation and to collaborate closely with one or more writers. In addition, must have the ability to guide the work of other editors and proofreaders. Bachelor’s degree in Technical Communications, English Literature, Journalism or related field preferred.

Technical Editor – Enthusiastic editor needed for dynamically charged group. This position focuses on programming environment platform documentation. Qualified person must be familiar with developer-oriented materials, multiple builds, HTML help, and raw HTML tags in topics. This person will provide editorial support to other technical editors, programmer editors, and writers. The editor will be responsible for online documentation, layout, and pop-up glossaries. This person will also ensure compliance with corporate and group editorial style standards. Skills required: 2-3 years editing experience in an online, Web, or print environment. Demonstrated knowledge of grammar, spelling, and style required. Excellent communications skills required, as well as the ability to follow complex instructions. The ability to meet deadlines is essential. Familiarity with VB and VB script programming languages required. Knowledge of MSTP a plus. Bachelor’s degree in Technical Communications, English Literature, Journalism and/ or a related field preferred. Writing ability a major plus.

Senior Technical Editor – Act as lead editor for two or more writing groups, both editing material and organizing a peer editing process. Provide technical assistance and training to writers in areas such as FrameMaker, WinHelp authoring, HTML, and Word. Create and maintain templates. Assist in determining and communicating writing/terminology standards and style guidelines. Assist in maintaining the Acrobat Library of published documents, and guide authors through the publishing process. Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, English, Communications, or Technical Writing, as well as 2-4 years experience writing and editing software documentation. Proven writing and editing skills, preferably in a software documentation environment; HTML authoring; PC application expertise in some or all of the following areas: FrameMaker, Word, Acrobat, HTML editor, Doc-To-Help, RoboHelp.


Here’s another one.

Technical editors work with product documentation leads to analyze audience needs and to plan the overall documentation strategy for a given product line that meets those needs.

Qualifications

  • 3+ years experience editing software documentation
  • 1+ years experience writing software documentation
  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability and desire to deal with technology concepts
  • Project management experience
  • Experience with formal documentation release and production
  • Good problem-solving skills
  • Strong FrameMaker and RoboHELP template design and trouble-shooting skills
  • Object-oriented programming experience
  • Recent experience with Java, JSP, XML, or C/C++

Responsibilities

Technical editors install the company’s products and provide feedback on the consistency of user interfaces across a product line.

Technical editors coordinate with Training to ensure consistent product messages in training materials and documentation.

Technical editors own the company style guide, RoboHELP templates, and FrameMaker templates, and conduct style and template reviews every six months.


More excerpts from job ads, showing what some companies are looking for in a technical editor.

Position 1

Technical Editor needed for magazine team of large software developer. Broad responsibilities for monthly print and web publication include participating in article assignment and issue planning, reading and responding to submissions, reviewing diagrams, charts and figures, editing copy and coordinating schedules and edits with authors. Heavy contact with authors is required to move articles through every stage from conception through layout revisions. Duties will also involve publishing material to both the intranet and Internet and writing copy.

Must have at least 2 years experience editing and writing in a print or online environment. Must be able to judge articles for technical accuracy. Familiarity with two computer languages (preferably Visual Basic and C++) is very helpful.

Position 2 (not the same company)

Large software company needs a lead technical editor to plan and edit end user and programmer documentation for web products. This includes working closely with writers and other editors to ensure consistency and technical accuracy of content, with localization to ensure consistency of international versions, and working with production staff to ensure consistency of style across all consumer group products.

The lead technical editor will also be responsible for maintaining the consumer group editorial style guide, proofing online content for format, trouble-shooting build problems and working closely with production to evaluate and suggest tools and authoring templates to facilitate world-class documentation.

Must have a minimum of 4 years experience editing documentation for end users. Excellent project management, communication and problem-solving skills are essential. Must have the ability to work effectively with large and small teams with diverse needs. Experience with web tools and online production management preferred. B.A./B.S. in English, journalism or related field preferred.


(Note: The following material is based on guidelines provided by a major publisher of computer books. It is a good example of a clear set of instructions to editors. Your situation may require a different set of responsibilities; but whatever those responsibilities are, they should be set out explicitly as in this example, so everyone involved understand the editor’s role.)

The primary responsibility of the technical editor is to make sure the book is technically accurate — no errors in the text or in any non-text elements (for example, illustrations and tables).

Editors should be dedicated to making the book technically competent in addition to technically accurate. A technically competent book is one that does not cause the reader to stumble or to seek other references for the information that is supposed to be in the book.

Overview of editorial tasks

1) Check and verify all facts and references.
Ensure that every text and non-text element is correct. Accomplish this by:
* Testing every example
* Checking each non-text element for accuracy and ensuring it matches the text and is appropriate
* Investigating any references to ensure they are correct and valid
In short, put yourself in the shoes of the intended reader and scrutinize every detail.
2) Ensure consistency.
Consistent terminology is an important element of a well-written book. If you encounter differences (command versus option, for example), determine which term to use and stick with it.
Keep the book’s editorial style sheet handy and updated to ensure that consistency throughout the entire book.
3) Check and verify all graphics, figures, listings, tables and other non-text items.
Non-text items are as important to the work as the text itself; the rules for accuracy and consistency apply to non-text items as well. Scrutinize each non-text element as you would the text.
The book’s style sheet also applies to non-text items, so use and update the style sheet as you would for text.
4) Process and track all screen shots.
Check the images against the text and against the software, recapture any screens that need corrections, crop any screens that require it, and convert the final images to the appropriate output form (file type). Make sure the files are properly named.
Keep a tally sheet for each chapter, showing the name of each screen shot, whether it is full, partial, or labeled, and its status.
5) Answer all queries of a technical nature.
The technical editor is the backstop within the book team for all technical questions, issues, and requests for clarification. Therefore you must respond to every query with a response sufficient to meet the needs of the person asking the question.
If the response to the query includes information that may be helpful to the other members of the book team, communicate that information to the rest of the team.
Keep in mind, however, that the content of the book belongs to the author and it is the author’s responsibility to provide the technical content. The technical editor should attempt to gather all of the relevant facts and to provide a solution when possible, but it is up to the author to resolve any problems with the technical content of the book.
6) Ensure the work meets market and audience goals.
Before you begin editing, you must have a clear understanding of the book’s goals and audience. A book’s goals include everything from scope to physical size; the audience is the level of skill assumed for the typical reader. A book’s goals encompass all elements, including terminology, presentation, and examples.
The editorial team’s responsibilities include ensuring that the work remains within the guidelines set for goals and audience.

A reader sent me the following job ad, which I’ve amended to remove identifying details.

The Editor/Writer will:

  • Advise managers on all aspects of written presentation, to include: structure, organization, argument, tables and graphs, and matters of non-technical document content.
  • Review and comment on study design documents, outlines, reports, and presentations.
  • Edit (substantive edit or copy edit) documents.
  • Assist in the desktop publishing of those same documents.
  • Contribute to the development of editorial and production policies, procedures, and guidelines as appropriate.
  • Provide staff members with informal coaching and formal training in writing, editing, and desktop publishing as needed.

Work Performed by Incumbent

The editor is responsible for tracking the development of individual studies and for timely interaction with managers to sustain and manage the editorial work flow.

The incumbent will handle a large volume of work by using the full potential of MS Word, Excel, Power Point, Lotus Notes, and the Internet. The position requires an understanding of (a) the policies, operation, and institutional structure and objectives of the [organisation], (b) the aims and working methods of evaluators, (c) the needs of a well-managed publishing process, and (d) the aesthetics and techniques of design.

The position requires a thorough knowledge of editing and writing and an ability to exercise that knowledge firmly yet diplomatically in negotiations with managers and other writers.

Principal Accountabilities

Assists in establishing, monitoring, and reinforcing editorial standards to ensure that the department’s publications are of the highest standard appropriate to their format and to cost and time constraints.

Supports the Group Manager in his effort to ensure timely delivery of high-quality written products.

Duties and Accountabilities

  • Consulting with writers on any issue of content or style that might influence the quality of a work and its acceptability to a diverse clientele drawn mainly from developing economies.
  • Assisting team members in revising/editing/proofreading their written products.
  • Advising authors about the publication formats that are most appropriate for their products.
  • Writing Precis, Lessons and Practices, and other communications products as requested and as the editorial workload permits.
  • Providing training and coaching in writing and editing, especially for non-native English speakers.

Selection Criteria

  • Graduate degree with 10 years of professional experience as an editor/writer.
  • Strong record of accomplishment with an international publisher.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills, and a strong client orientation.
  • Experience working for an international organization and knowledge of third-world development issues is preferred.
  • High-level writing and editing skills; an ability to convey complex ideas in a clear, direct, and lively style.
  • Demonstrated organizational skills and abilities in time management and negotiation with writers.
  • Experience with writing and editing material on evaluation/technical subjects.
  • Knowledge of MS Word, Power Point, Lotus Notes, and Excel. Web knowledge an asset.

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Last updated 20 July 2002

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