Nine Steps to Improve Technical Editing Skills

Francis_Bao_thumbnailBy Francis Bao

Technical writers always want their work to be recognized by the audience. Technical writing and editing skills are highly associated with each other. Effective editing will help make bad writing good and good writing better. Experienced editors will catch both factual and grammatical errors in copy before it is published, preventing embarrassment, additional costs, and possible legal action. Follow these simple steps to improve your editing skills.

Step 1. Develop a Mastery of the English Language

It is important for technical editors to learn and understand the basic rules of English, such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. Technical editors also need to develop advanced skills for editing the style and context of technical writing documents.

Step 2. Know the Purpose of the Work You are Editing

Technical editors need to define the goal of a document or the nature of its content. Define the audience and the focus for each technical writing document. Once the editors understand the purpose of the writing, they can correct problems and help technical writers create sharper documents.

Step 3. Familiarize Yourself with the Necessary Style

Each type of technical writing has different standards and expectations that the piece must conform to. For example, user manuals, such as hardware guides, software guides, and product operational manuals, are written in an instructional style. These documents teach users how to operate technical products. Informative materials, such as scientific testing reports, annual reports, and organizational manuals, are produced in a factual style. They provide information of function of products or organizations to the public. Promotional materials such as advertising flyers, product campaign pamphlets, and marketing brochures are designed in a commercial style. They help the sales department of a corporation promote and sell its products and services.

Step 4. Have the Confidence to Spot and Fix Errors

An experienced technical editor should have the skills and capability to search for and correct syntax errors and logical mistakes. Many companies use technical documents to market their technologies; any illogical error in the content will cause negative effects to these companies. Good editors will help the organizations increase their profits.

Step 5. Give Yourself Time to Do the Job Right

Rushing to edit a piece of writing work will cause missed errors and make the document look unprofessional. Technical editing experts have provided several guidelines to create a sharp looking document. They include putting away writing for a day, reading it out loud, using a text-to-speak program, building a checklist of writers’ most common mistakes, customizing spell check, and reading back to front, bottom to top, right to left.

Step 6. Read It Through Once for Comprehension

Technical content always contains vital information on technologies and other important technical elements. Editors should always read documents carefully before editing to understand all important information. This will guide the editing process in a logical direction and avoid major editing flaws.

Step 7. Reread Each Sentence Individually and Make Corrections as Needed

Editors should make sure a sentence states its meaning clearly by using the right words. Ensure that each sentence is in the right place in the paragraph. They need to eliminate redundancy by deleting duplicate or unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs. Also they should check relevant facts and correct misspellings, syntax errors, incorrect punctuations, and superfluous emphasis.

Step 8. Review the Work Again by Paragraph or Section

Technical editors should ensure clarity by reviewing the content thoroughly. A well-edited document will help the audience locate technical information from paragraphs or sections without difficulty.

Step 9. Run an Electronic Spell Check

Technical editors should use a spell checker to catch any missed typographical errors. An electronic spell checker will be able to catch misspelled words, but it cannot catch correctly spelled words used incorrectly.

These steps provide great value to editors to help improve their editing skills. Technical editors and writers should work together to produce well-polished documents that will assist corporations market their products and help the audience learn about today’s new technologies.


Francis Bao is a senior member of STC Chicago Chapter, for which he has served in several offices, including president. He is currently the sponsorship committee manager, member of the nominating committee, the Chicago eLearning and Technology Showcase Advisory Committee, the STC International Technical Communication SIG, and the Technical Editing SIG. He has written for the Chicago Chapter newsletter Byline, the STC-ITC SIG blog, Corrigo, Intercom, and the STC blog. He has won a number of professional awards and received Associate Fellow honor in 2015. He owns his technical writing and translation consulting company in Chicagoland area. You can learn more about him on LinkedIn




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