The abundance of information today forces content consumers to filter out redundant and unworthy information—much like an editor would. That, however, doesn’t mean content creators can throw up their hands and send out unreviewed content for readers to sort through. Instead, authors (and particularly their managers) need to understand how editing skills can ensure their information doesn’t get filtered out:
[A]re we getting any better at editing in a broader context, which is editing ourselves? Or to rephrase it, becoming a better critic of our own work? Penelope Trunk (again) lists the reasons why she works with an editor for whatever she writes in public:
- Start strong – cut boring introduction
- Be short – and be brave
- Have a genuine connection – write stuff that matters to the readers
- Be passionate – write stuff that matters to you
- Have one good piece of research – back your idea up
They have one thing in common: difficult to do on our own.
Granted, some of those bullet points don’t completely apply to technical writing, but it is hard to edit your own work, regardless of the kind of content. For that very reason, folks at Scriptorium get someone else to review their writing. Whether the content is in a proposal, book, white paper, important email to a client, or a blog post, we understand that somebody else’s feedback is generally going to make that information better.
The same is true of technical content. A lot of documentation departments may no longer hire dedicated editors, so peer reviewers handle editing tasks. Electronic review tools also make it easier than ever to offer feedback: even a quick online review of content by another writer will likely catch some potentially embarrassing typos and yield suggestions to make information more accessible to the end user. (You can read more about the importance of editing in a PDF excerpt from the latest edition of Technical Writing 101.)
With so much competing information out on the Internet, companies can’t afford to have their official documentation ignored because it contains technical errors, misspellings, and other problems that damage the content’s credibility. Even if you don’t have the time or budget for a full-blown edit, take just a little time to have someone do a quick technical review of your work. Otherwise, end users seeking information about your product will likely do their own editing—in their minds, they’ll delete you as a source of reliable information. And that’s a deletion that’s hard to STET.
PS: Software that checks spelling and grammar is helpful, but it’s not enough: it won’t point out technical inaccuracies.