We often flirt with technical editing in the Professional Writing and Publishing program, coyly introducing themes familiar to technical editing and other professional writing settings alike but never fully committing ourselves solely to the world of technical documents. We discuss concepts crucial to writing and editing in any context, technical or otherwise, such as writing with purpose, with a consideration for our audience, and with understanding of how that audience might approach the text. But while I long knew I enjoyed these considerations when writing or editing poetry or a short story, I only recently learned to find the fun in editing technical content.

An upper-level course gave me the opportunity to edit the Undergraduate Degree Planning Guide for UW-Whitewater’s College of Letters and Sciences. This guide, long overdue for revision and routinely stuffed with extra bits of information, was, quite frankly, a mess. Competing parties had frequently made additions without any regard for the overall organization or purpose of the document—for example, the section on registering for courses came after the section on applying for graduation. Students couldn’t find the information they needed and too quickly turned to their busy professors for guidance.

At first overwhelmed and intimidated, I quickly learned to find pleasure in the project. The first steps—determining a primary vision for the guide, analyzing our intended audience, and discussing how the guide would be used—helped shape how I think about any new project, whether it’s designing navigational tools for users on the hunt for specific information or deciding to store cups near the fridge since that is where I’ll likely be pouring drinks.

Working to edit the degree planning guide gave me the chance to puzzle over questions great and small. I was able to create a completely new organization and structure for the document, and I was able to settle in and tune up sentences and phrases, searching through complex source material and turning it into clear, simple instructions. I looked forward to each class discussion when we could debate questions at any scale, such as whether we should eliminate entire sections of the guide or whether the college should use “advisor” or “adviser.”

As I prepare for the final leg of my undergraduate degree and look toward searching for a career, I hope to use my technical editing skills to continue helping causes I care about. In my current position with the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, & Letters, I’m able to use the skills I’ve learned from technical editing to support research about my state as well as help residents connect with local artists and writers. Through projects as simple as revising an art gallery’s listed hours and location to projects as involved as creating a new information architecture for a redesigned website (still in progress), I’ve learned that technical editing can help industries sometimes overlooked by this profession and industries that may not think to seek out this skillset.

I didn’t expect revising the degree planning guide to give me such a sense of accomplishment. Technical editing gave me a chance to take a confusing and frustrating document and make it easy to use and understand. I felt good knowing that I could make a small part of the world easier for someone to navigate, that I could make someone’s life just a little bit less confusing, and that I could bring clarity to just a tiny bit of chaos. That’s work worth doing.