Course Content
Technical Writing Certification Course
About Lesson

The way you go about editing technical materials will depend on multiple factors. You will need to consider the artifact you are editing—is it mostly text? does it contain visuals? is it mostly visuals? is it paper-based or in electronic format? does it contain multimedia content? is it static or interactive?—and the type of edits that you are responsible for making. Even so, you can use the same general strategy when approaching most technical editing projects: 

  1. Analyze the materials’ purpose, audience, format, and uses. 
  2. Evaluate the materials to see if they fit. In particular, consider the materials’ 

— contents: completeness; appropriateness 

— organization: order of contents; signals about order 

— visual design: text; lists; tables; aesthetic appearance 

— navigability: findable, working hyperlinks; section breaks 

— style: writing style; authorial persona; sentence structures; cultural biases; grammar; mechanics 

— illustrations: type; construction; placement 

— accessibility: ADA compliance 

  1. Set up objectives and plan your project’s sequence.
  2. Review the plan with the author. 
  3. Edit the materials. 
  4. Evaluate the outcome. 

Editor-Client Contracts 

Sometimes, you and the technical materials’ creator will work inside the same organization. In this case, your job title and job description likely already define your relationship with the creator, and both you and the creator will have set responsibilities and deadlines. 

Other times, you may be editing materials for a client, a person who is not your coworker. In this case, you need to write a contract that defines your professional relationship with your client. 

At the least, a contract should specify: 

— the type of materials you will edit 

— the number of items 

— the length (or size) of the materials 

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— the format of the materials 

— the level of edit 

— the deliverable (what you will return to your client) 

— a schedule for completion

— your compensation 

A clearly written contract benefits both yourself and your client. You will not be overworked or underpaid, and both you and your client will know what to expect and when to expect it. 

As a general rule of thumb, if you are an inexperienced editor, double your estimate of how long it will take you to edit a project, and charge a per-hour or per-page rate. Once you are more experienced and know how quickly you can actually edit, you can charge a per-project flat fee. 

Levels of Edit 

When you begin an editing project, avoid the temptation of diving in and making any-and-all changes that you think will be valuable. Instead, find out what “level of edit” you need to perform, and stick to it. 

A “level of edit” defines how “deep” you should go with your edits. Levels range from superficial to extremely deep. Many different levels of edit can exist; experts disagree about how many levels of edit are necessary and what the different levels should involve, and some types of materials may not require specific levels of edit. Even so, you can use three basic levels for most technical editing projects: 

Consistency and correctness. Edit for surface-level issues such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, word use, page numbering, cross-references, and color consistency. Changes from these edits will not deeply impact the document as a whole. 

Visual readability. Edit for substantive issues such as typeface choices and consistency; graphic elements’ locations, sizes, labels, and captions; and document layout. Changes from these edits may have ripple effects across a document and create new errors with consistency and correctness.

Content and structure. Edit for deep issues such as internal organization, sentence structures, logical flaws, image appropriateness, and overall meaning. Changes from these edits often require fundamental changes in the document and may create entirely new problems with other levels of edit. 

When you edit any technical materials, do multiple passes through the material, moving from the deepest to the most superficial level of edit. That way, you will avoid wasting your time on marking up or correcting surface-level problems that will be deleted anyway. 

If you see a problem that is outside your responsibility as an editor—for example, if you see a logical problem but you’re only responsible for fixing comma splices—note the issue and contact someone with the authority to correct the problem.