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What does a Technical Editor do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A technical editor reviews and revises user guides, instruction manuals, and articles that describe specialized or industry-specific information. He or she works closely with writers to develop accurate, easy-to-understand pieces that are worthy of publication. Editors are responsible for proofreading works to ensure proper grammar and syntax, and for confirming the veracity of the information presented. Some professionals are full-time employees of publishing companies or manufacturing corporations that produce their own manuals, other technical editors perform freelance services for many different clients.

Proficient technical editing is essential to effective communication in many settings, including engineering firms, retail businesses, scientific research institutions, and health care facilities. Depending on the nature of a job, an editor may work in a physical office at a company or complete tasks from home on a freelance basis. Freelance editors primarily rely on e-mail and other forms of online communication to discuss projects with employers and writers.

In order to ensure quality documentation, a technical editor needs to be intimately familiar with the subject matter of written pieces and the audience who will make use of the information. He or she must make sure the language used by the writer is accessible by a particular group of people. For example, a technical article about recent nuclear research that is written for scientists can include highly-specialized terminology on the assumption that readers will understand the content. A similar article written for the general public, however, would need to explain terms and procedures in vastly more simple language. The technical editor makes the ultimate decision about the appropriateness of a piece's content and style.

When reviewing an article, a technical editor typically makes note of confusing sentences, grammatical mistakes, unsupported facts, and other errors the affect the quality of the piece. He or she may explain problems to the original writer and suggests revisions that should be made. In some circumstances, the editor may be able to make simple corrections to a document without needing to send it back to the writer. After a document has been thoroughly revised and deemed acceptable by the editor, he or she normally puts it in the proper format and submits it for publication.

The requirements to become a technical editor vary between employers. Many editors hold college degrees in writing, journalism, or a particular language. Others have degrees and experience in the specialized fields in which they work, such as chemical engineering or aeronautics. Editors often begin their careers as technical writers in order to gain familiarity with a certain subject matter and build their credentials.

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Discussion Comments
By Pharoah — On Sep 19, 2012

@eidetic - I don't think you necessarily have to work in a field in order to be a technical editor. A friend of mine got a post-bachelor's degree in technical writing, and then got a job doing that in a field she had never worked in before.

Eventually she worked her way up to editor, and then went freelance.

By eidetic — On Sep 18, 2012

I wonder if a lot of technical editors start out working in the industry they eventually edit for. After all, some industries are so specialized you would have to work in them for years just to know and understand all the terminology!

So I guess if you want to work as a technical editor, you could work in the field for a few years and maybe go back to school for some sort of editing certification?

By JaneAir — On Sep 18, 2012

@indemnifyme - Wow, I never thought about technical editing in terms of knitting patterns. But knitting patterns are pretty similar to instruction manuals in that the directions need to make sense so people can follow them!

By indemnifyme — On Sep 17, 2012

I think technical editors can be employed in a bunch of different fields. For example, I knit, and I know that most knitting patterns that are published in magazines or books are edited by a technical editor.

And I'm sure this technical editor has to have some knowledge of knitting. Knitting has it's own terminology that you would have to be familiar with in order to make a pattern make sense.

Also, I'm not sure if this happens in other industries, but most designers have someone "test knit" the pattern after it's edited, to make extra sure that it makes sense and doesn't contain mistakes.

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