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.
It’s important to find a balance between allowing an individual’s authentic voice to speak on behalf of an organization and the requirements of institutional messaging and brand preservation. […] It’s also possible that you are ahead of the curve and need to help others see ways to apply social technologies for the company.
It’s been a little over a month since we released the third edition of Technical Writing 101. The downloadable PDF version is the primary format for the new edition, and we’ve seen more sales from outside the U.S. because downloads eliminate shipping costs and delays.
Selling Technical Writing 101 as a PDF file has made the book readily available to a wider audience (and at a cheaper price of $20, too). However, we know that a lot of people still like to read printed books, so we wanted to offer printed copies—but without the expense of printing books, storing them, and shipping them out.
We have published several books over the past nine years, and declining revenue from books made it difficult for us to justify spending thousands of dollars to do an offset print run of 1000+ copies of Technical Writing 101 and then pay the added expense of preparing individual books for shipment as they are ordered. Storage has also been a problem: we have only so much space for storing books in our office, and we didn’t want to spend money on climate-controlled storage for inventory. (Book bindings would melt and warp without air conditioning during our hot, humid summers here in North Carolina.) For us, the logical solution was print on demand (POD): when a buyer orders the book, a publishing company prints a copy using a digital printing process and then ships it.
We chose Lulu.com for our first experiment with POD, and so far, we have been happy with the quality of the books from there. We are still exploring our options with POD and may try some other companies’ services in the future, but based on our experience so far, I can offer two pieces of advice:
- Follow the specs and templates provided by the printer, and consider allowing even a bit more wiggle room for interior margins. The first test book I printed had text running too close to the binding, so I made some adjustments to add more room for the interior margins before we sold the book to the public.
- Look at the page sizes offered by the different POD publishers before choosing a size. If you choose a page size that multiple POD publishers support, you’ll have more flexibility in using another publisher’s services in the future, particularly if they offer other services (distribution, etc.) that better suit your needs. Also, ensure the page size you choose is supported when printing occurs in a country other than your own; some publishers have facilities and partners in multiple countries. In an attempt to minimize the amount of production work for the third edition, I chose a page size for Technical Writing 101 that was the closest match to the footprint of the previous edition’s layout. However, I likely would have chosen a different page size if I had known more about the common sizes across the various POD companies. The page size I chose at Lulu is not supported by CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s POD arm. When you publish through CreateSpace, you get distribution through Amazon.com, which isn’t the necessarily the case with other POD publishers. (I’ve read several blog posts about how some authors use the same sets of files to simultaneously publish books through multiple POD firms to maximize the distribution of their content.)
In these tight economic times, POD publishing makes a lot of sense, particularly when you want to release content in print but don’t want to invest a lot of money in printing multiple copies that you have no guarantee of selling. The POD model certainly was a good match for Technical Writing 101, so we decided to give it a try.
I’ll keep you updated on our experiences with POD publishing in this blog. If you have experience with POD, please leave a comment about how it’s worked for you.