Technical Editing Tips

Have you ever considered doing technical editing work? It can be a very rewarding experience. Not only do you get the opportunity to see a book before it’s out, you also get the opportunity to help the author put out the best and most accurate form of their book. At this point, I have been on both sides of the playing field. I have been a technical editor (which I really enjoyed), and I am an author.

The obvious part about technical editing is that you should be a subject matter expert. What is not so obvious is how you should interact with the author. Let’s be clear about something, you will most likely have no face-to-face contact with the author. Your interactions will be based solely on the comments that you leave on their work. A good technical editor is able to ensure accuracy while partnering with the author in their pages and taking pride in their work. The author should feel like the technical editor has offered value, but should never feel like they are being talked down to.

Here are some of my tips to become a good technical editor:

1. When you make a correction, don’t say, “Wrong!” Say something like, “Did you mean this?” or “I’m not sure that is correct.” You don’t want to sound confrontational…there is truth to the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey.” If you are making corrections that sound confrontational, they will most likely be overlooked, and to be honest it is extremely unprofessional.

2. Avoid expressing opinions unless they will enrich the technical content in some way. Opinions like “This chapter might be even better if you include a section on…” are a great example of a good use of opinions. You should never express opinions if they are confrontational (see #1) or if they are adding no value to the pages in front of you.

3. Keep in mind that the author’s only interaction with you will likely be reading the comments you have written on their pages. Leave a good impression. Be polite, and be professional.

4. Don’t be afraid to leave compliments in the pages. If you come across something that you think is a great addition, or that makes a good point, let them know. Nothing brightens a person’s day more than a compliment on something they have worked very hard on.

In short, as a technical editor you are not in a competition to prove the author wrong. You are in a partnership to make the best possible product. The author has most likely spent months pouring their heart and soul into their work.

Build them up, don’t tear them down.

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