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Editing - A Fun Game and A Learning Opportunity

Tasha Fowler
Tasha Fowler has won the 2011 Diane Feldman STC Technical Editing SIG Undergraduate Scholarship.

This past month, a professor in the communication studies department asked me to help format a chapter for his book. He’d submitted his text to the publisher, and the publisher responded with a mega-list of formatting issues that needed to be addressed before the chapter could be resubmitted.

This poor professor—he had so many interesting things to say about his subject—but he didn’t know the difference between an em dash and an en dash or when to use either, but those were the issues holding up publication. Clearly, he was frustrated.

But why shouldn’t he be frustrated? He’s a communications professor, and he was writing about cross-cultural crisis management. His role was to put the information down on paper; it was his editor’s job to insert the proper dashes where necessary.

Editing is Always Fun

I’d wondered for a long time what drew me to the field of technical communication and, more specifically, the specialization of technical editing. Sure, I can write. But there’s a difference between being able to write and enjoying writing. Sometimes writing is fun, but I find that I lack the patience to really pursue it. Editing, on the other hand, is always fun. It’s like a game: a seek and find game where you try to find all the missing items or point out the things that don’t belong.

Creating a Communication Style

I edited long before I began my studies at Texas Tech University. I started by helping friends with papers, and then I began editing documents at work. I worked for an environmental consulting firm who prepared environmental site assessments and federal applications. From the beginning, the firm lacked consistency in document preparation. An application or report prepared by one consultant looked entirely different than a report submitted by another consultant. Missing page numbers, inconsistent fonts and formatting, and simple errors defined the lackluster professionalism of the firm. Overall, the company lacked credibility because it had no strong written communication style.

So, I began to create a uniform layout for most applications, and I established a company style guide with rules for fonts and formatting. All correspondence would follow the same design, employees’ electronic signatures would be identical, and all text—internal and external—would be edited. This was a change in direction from what was happening before, and I found that the company was reluctant to implement such guidelines on its written work.

Dealing with Change

It took me only a little while to realize that the resistance I faced from the company was more about overall change and less about the particulars. Once I explained the benefits of tighter written communication internally and—more importantly—for our customers, the rest of the staff began to see the method to my madness.

Because we were a small company (nine employees on a good day), it was unrealistic to have a dedicated technical communicator or editor. Usually, that responsibility fell onto my desk along with my normal workload. So, when time permitted, I educated fellow employees on how they could improve their own written communication: page numbering and header/footer formatting along with styles and tables of contents. Soon, I noticed that coworkers were merely asking for assistance rather than asking me to do everything for them.

Of course, I’d love to be that person, the one who spends all her day editing, and one day I will be. But for now, I balance my time between a job that pays the bills and school. I am lucky to attend a school with a good technical communication program, actually. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I really enjoyed design and layout, which pointed me in the direction of graphic design. But I also found writing easy and loved to edit, which typically meant getting an English degree. However, it wasn’t until I took Style in Technical Writing that I realized technical communication offered a combination of everything I wanted to do. And then when I took Technical Editing, I fell in love completely. I never would have imagined that an editor had so much say regarding the design aspects of a document, but it makes sense.

Learning New Things

Another aspect I enjoy about editing is that I get to learn about things—sometimes very foreign things—that I never would have learned about before. I’ve edited pieces ranging from cross-cultural communication approaches to impacts of cubic mass density. My editing ability has opened new doors for me, as well. In the upcoming semester, I will assist the communications professor—the one with the big list of formatting issues—with the rest of the chapters he is compiling for his book. I’ll have the opportunity to edit text from interesting people all around the world—an opportunity very few undergraduates get to experience.

My interest in technical editing will take me places I’ve always wanted to go. For now, though, I’m enjoying my path of learning. My education has and will continue to prepare me for a future of successful editing, and I owe much of that to my professors at Texas Tech. However, I also owe a lot of my success to random opportunities and practice. No matter what field I land in, I know my skills will bolster my career so that I can always approach editing with the same game-like strategy I do now.

Page last modified on Tuesday, September 06, 2011 08:11:28am EDT
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