Summit Panel Discussion: Why Technical Editors Are Still Relevant

By Kelly Schrank

At the STC Summit 2012, the session “Why Technical Editors Are Still Relevant” drew a big audience. The distinguished panelists were all well known in the Technical Editing SIG and STC.

  • Pat Moell, SAS Institute Inc.
  • Michelle Corbin, IBM
  • Carol Lamarche, Healing Tree Communications (moderator)
  • Mary Jo David, Write Away Enterprises
  • Jenifer Servais, IBM

Michelle began by discussing how her job has changed over the years. While the crux of her job is still what she considers technical editing, she is now an information architect. What she would like to see other editors do is “step out of language, out of words” and into other things.

Like Michelle, Pat’s job is constantly changing. Lately, she has been editing books and videos, text for mobile devices, and “embedded user assistance.” She considers her basic job as one of quality assurance for documentation.

Jenifer is in marketing communications, and she described her job as communicating shared experiences in a consistent corporate voice.

As a consultant, Mary Jo has a somewhat different experience than other panelists who are employees of large corporations. Her reason for participating? She was surprised that anyone was asking the question of whether technical editors are still relevant. She saw so much need for editors. She made the point that errors are easier than ever to find, but they are now distributed and therefore multiplied.

When asked why editors are still needed and how we could prove that to companies, Pat had many ideas:

  • With well-written documentation, technical support costs are decreased.
  • With well-edited documentation, translation costs are reduced.
  • Poor documentation can limit how well customers learn to use products, which ultimately affects their happiness with a product.
  • Technically inaccurate documents can lead to lawsuits.

Michelle’s advice for justifying the editorial position was: “You don’t send software out without it being tested; you don’t send docs out without them being edited.”

Mary Jo said that editors can ensure that documentation captures people’s shorter attention spans through shorter text, bulleted lists, links to more information, and subheadings.

Pat said we should be looking for best practices, guidelines, and style guides for mobile devices.

Mary Jo said editors should be curious and go looking for information.

In reiterating her belief that we should move “beyond words,” Michelle said we should now be reviewing user experiences and user interface design. New contexts include YouTube videos, which require us to use our personal experiences as backdrop for evaluations.

Though their experiences show that technical editing is changing, shared experiences and stories made it clear that technical editors are indeed still relevant.

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