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A First-Timer’s Experience at the Technical Editing SIG Progression: Editing Challenges and Opportunities

by Dan Riechers, Supervisor of Technical Documentation and Multimedia at Eaton Corporation’s Raleigh, N.C. location

Dan Riechers
Dan Riechers
As a first-time attendee of the STC Summit, I wasn’t sure how a progression worked. A helpful person at the STC information booth explained the concept. Topic presenters simultaneously host tables in one of the conference ballrooms. Attendees join the table with the concept about which they would like to learn. Every fifteen to twenty minutes a bell rings, signaling attendees to change tables. This pattern continues for 75 minutes. All conference attendees, not just SIG members, are welcome to attend. At the Technical Editing SIG progression, I participated in four mini-sessions.

I began at Jeffrey Japp’s table, whose sign-tent read, “When Everyone is an Editor.” I thought, “OK, that sounds like my team.” Turned out Jeffrey is from Asheville, N.C., which is approximately 160 miles from my home in Raleigh, N.C. He began the session with a brief discussion about accepting criticism from colleagues with varied experience levels, using standard stylistic guidelines, reaching consensus, and choosing your battles. Participants shared anecdotes and suggestions. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of not having a dedicated editing staff, and it was time to move on to another table.

Next up was Andrea Wenger’s “Strategies for Simplicity.” Andrea quickly reviewed technical communication editing and writing principles in sentence structure, grammar, parts of speech, punctuation, and word choice. She also provided a reference list, available on the Technical Editing SIG web site. Andrea’s handout will serve as a useful review tool for my technical writing team, which is ironically, located just 3 miles from Andrea’s in Knightdate, NC.

After a brief look at the remaining topics, I joined Patricia Moell from SAS Institue Inc., which is located in Cary, NC—only a few miles outside of Raleigh. At Pat’s table, we discussed “Achieving Consistency among Editors.” She offered best practices and advice from her experience with a team of editors. Pat’s presentation was tightly focused on consistency—when to use it, when to be flexible, and why it is important.

Finally, I joined Kathleen Mohar’s table “Section 508 Compliance—What Editors Need to Know.” My employer does some work with the federal government and this session provided a quick entry point into the topic. First, Kathleen educated us about this federal law, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 508 requires that federal agencies’ documents are accessible and applies to most documentation paid for with federal funds. Kathleen shared some of her experience with compliance at RTI International, located in Research Triangle Park, NC—just around the corner from Raleigh. Participants related their experiences and lessons and asked questions.

In 75 minutes I was able to learn from folks who work with teams of editors and those who share editing duties among the writing team. In addition to reviewing technical communication best practices and learning new information from presenters, the participants in the mini-sessions also offered valuable tips and insights. For example, one participant offered a book reference, another offered a story about a difficult interaction with a fellow writer/editor, and another relayed her experience with Section 508 compliance.

Attending the STC Summit was an invaluable experience. The learning opportunities provide a real return on investment to my current employer, and the chance to meet fellow communicators from around the world and share a sense of camaraderie provided a renewed sense of the field. Valuable in a different way was the fact that I happened to sit at the tables of four folks from my current home state of North Carolina. Small world.

For summaries of the sessions “Section 508 Compliance—What Editors Need to Know” and “When Everyone is an Editor,” see the attached files below. And, for the best practices on “Achieving Consistency among Editors,” see the article:
Achieving Consistency Among Editors.

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