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New Perspectives on Technical Editing

Previously published in Sound Views. The Newsletter of the Puget Sound Chapter of STC. 10 (2): 7, November/December 2010.
David Kowalsky
David Kowalsky

This past September, Baywood Publishing released New Perspectives on Technical Editing, an impressive collection of essays by leading authorities in the field of editing. The editor of New Perspectives is Avon J. Murphy, a familiar name to readers of Technical Communication, the Society for Technical Communication's (STC) quarterly journal, where Murphy is the book review editor. He also wrote the introduction (Chapter 1) and co-wrote with Thomas L. Warren the annotated bibliography (10).

The audience for the book is practicing editors, researchers, and teachers and students in upper-division undergraduate and graduate technical communication courses. The "stand-alone" essays (one per chapter) are organized from general to more particular, discussing issues, trends, and best practices.
This is not a step-by-step guide on how to edit.

If you want to be selective about what to read or not read, the Introduction includes chapter summaries. And to prevent any incorrect assumptions, Murphy states right away that for this book, technical editing refers to: "the planning, analysis, restructuring, and language changes made to other people's technological or scientific documents in order to make them more useful and accurate for their intended audiences" (p. 1). Also helpful is to know what editing is not: "editing excludes revising, which involves changing one's own writing, a related but very different activity that lacks the elements of negotiation and seeing documents through the eyes of someone besides the original author " (p. 2).

A final thing to point out from the Introduction is that all chapters are organized in the same format, including the following:
  • Introduction to the perspective
  • History and review of the specialized literature
  • Where we stand today and the future
  • Special approaches and concerns, best practices, and tips
  • References
As a technical writer who does much more writing than editing, I was most interested in reading the two chapters that concentrate on editing practices and trends: Michelle Corbin's "The Editor within the Modern Organization" (5) and Jean Hollins Weber's "Copyediting and Beyond" (6).

For anyone that has not already read Geoffrey J. S. Hart's book Effective Onscreen Editing (Second Edition, Diaskeuasis Publishing, 2010), and uses modern editing tools (which should be everyone, yes?), I recommend "The Editor And the Electronic Word: Onscreen Editing as a Tool for Efficiency and Communication with Authors" (7).

Although "The Teaching of Technical Editing" (4) is a self-explanatory title, note that it was written by Carolyn D. Rude, a name familiar to many for her authoring of the frequently used textbook Technical Editing (Fifth Edition, Longman, 2010). Another familiar name to STC members is George F. Hayhoe, editor until 2008 of Technical Communication. He wrote "Editing a Technical Journal" (9). At first I thought the day-to-day details of editing a professional journal are not so relevant to my own current position, but it wasn't long before I realized this chapter is actually applicable to me because it provides a wealth of information on the roles of all the people involved in submitting an article for publication, something I hope to do in the future.

Another chapter that changed my attitude after the first few pages is Barbara Gastel's "Editing Within the Pure Sciences" (8). I was glad to get for really the first time such a complete overview of the diverse field of science editing.

Editor Murphy’s great quote motivated me to read Thomas L. Warren's "History and Trends in Technical Editing" (3): "If you enjoy historical mysteries, this chapter is for you" (p. 3).

Now the last noteworthy chapter is Angela Eaton's "Conducting Research in Technical Editing" (2), which has the lofty sounding goal of inspiring us to perform technical editing research after introducing research methods and summaries of research studies performed.

New Perspectives is not light reading. There are no headings to tell you "this is what you will learn in this chapter." But I won't hold back: this book deserves lots of praise for its excellent in-depth coverage of such a wide variety of topics in the technical editing discipline.



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