What Does a Technical Writer Editor Do?
Many technical writers look to step up in their careers. Most of them do it in one of three ways: hunt for promotion inside a company, move on as freelance writers or start their own technical writing company.
But in almost all cases, the natural next step for a technical writer is to become a technical writer-editor. While technical writers hone their scientific writing skills, technical editors need to take it further. Like a regular editor, a technical writer-editor vouches for technical documents and technical information quality.
But unlike for a regular editor, there's more responsibility on the line for a technical editor. Although any technical writer knows what a technical editor does, many don't know what exact responsibilities the job title brings. The uncertainty creates hesitation, so to help you out, the article will go in-depth on what a technical writer-editor does, required skills, knowledge, and most importantly, how to become a technical editor. If you're interested in learning more via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.
Who is a Technical Writer Editor?
First of all, an individual can be both a technical writer and editor at the same time. Depending on the job position, you might do both jobs at the same time. That's why some professionals use the "technical writer-editor" job title to showcase their expertise in both positions.
To maintain clear communication, we'll use the term "technical writer-editor" when describing elements related to both job positions. Accordingly, the following content will focus on the technical editor role.
A technical editor can work both for a single company or on a freelance basis. Their central role is to proofread user guides, web content, journal articles, technical documentation, etc.
It's impossible to use a single umbrella term for all the content that a technical editor oversees for one main reason. Companies from different industries hire both technical writers and editors to create content. Meaning, both a healthcare journal and a SaaS startup need a technical writer. For the former (journal), technical editors must ensure that technical documents are correct and ready for online publications.
The latter (SaaS) will supervise other writers creating user manuals that explain software programs in a user-friendly way.
From the two examples alone, it's clear that a technical writer-editor needs a different set of skills and knowledge depending on their profession.
In simple terms, a technical writer-editor ensures that complex technical documents are understandable by individuals who lack expertise in the given field. The individuals can be product users or company teams that don't work in the same department but require a basic understanding.
Average Salary for Technical Writing Editors
Similar to how the responsibilities of a technical editor vary, so does the salary range. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for technical editors in the U.S. is $65,137 per year.
Similarly, based on 260 different profiles, Payscale notes that the average technical editor salary goes between $42,000 and $93,000.
There are two main reasons for such a high fluctuation.
- Geographical location - Like for most other jobs, salary depends on the location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two highest paying states for editors are New York and California.
- Industry - Mentioned earlier, the industry is the salary bellwether for technical writer-editor jobs. Heavy machinery, software, car manufacturing, healthcare, and aerospace are some of the most well-paid sectors.
As beginners become subject matter experts, their value (and salary) increases accordingly.
Technical Writer Editor Role
A technical writer-editor writes and/or reviews technical documentation and readies them for general reading. With the industrial variety also come different task sets, a technical writer-editor might have. Some of the most common tasks are:
- Editing written technical documents
- How-to guides
- Training Manuals
- Research papers
- Science papers
- Marketing materials
- Proofreading research topics
- Gathering user feedback
These are some of the most common technical writing and editing tasks, but many technical writers will focus solely on a couple of those. Meaning, one technical editor might create research papers in biology, while another technical editor can create technical content for engineering.
But in general, technical editors review technical content submitted by writers for clarity, grammar, punctuation, and most importantly, correctness and understandability.
An editor occasionally writes and even creates supportive visual graphics, but the main focus is on ensuring the written content meets the industry standards and needs.
To ensure the quality, editors work closely with technical writers on one side and researchers, developers, and engineers on the other Technical information must follow strict guidelines. In many industries, information has severe security limitations.
A great example is online healthcare publications. More than general online content, healthcare material needs to follow strict rules. The inability to follow these rules both in publications and marketing can have adverse outcomes for healthcare websites.
Technical Writer Editor Responsibilities
While technical writers focus on creating technical content, the editor's primary responsibility is to oversee written technical documents. Technical writing can be hard to assess objectively for writers. That's why the editor serves as a gatekeeper between the writer and the final publication.
Some of the most common responsibilities listed in job descriptions are:
- Reviewing written technical documents
- Ensuring that written content meets the company's standards
- Creating templates for technical writers
- Maintaining technical content on websites
- Communicating with the product team
For a better overview, let's take a deeper look at the three key responsibilities of a technical editor.
Editing Technical Documentation
The content can come from technical writers or directly from the product team. Some companies have dedicated engineers who specialize as technical writers and editors. This often depends on the quantity of work. If a firm creates only the actual product content, they will likely have one person acting as a writer and editor or even an engineer doing the final review.
On the flip side, if a company creates a significant quantity of content, it will have an entire technical writing team consisting of several technical writers and an editor.
But in both instances, the editor needs to ensure two things when editing created content. First, the content needs to be 100% correct, and second, the content needs to be understandable to the general audience.
Overseeing Technical Writers
Since technical editors are the leading subject matter experts, they also oversee technical writers besides editing articles and occasional writing. This can also mean developing content templates, team management, and ensuring that technical writers easily apply the given templates.
If there are remote technical writers on the team, the editor also provides online help and guidance.
In some cases, the editor will overlook multiple technical writing teams. One team might write training manuals with clear technical information, while the other will create in-company content.
As such, the editor must have the in-depth knowledge necessary for such content.
Communicating with Engineers & Researchers
Although a technical editor doesn't need to be an engineer or a researcher, they should have a basic, technical understanding of what an organization does. If you work as a full-time technical editor, you're likely working in a more prominent firm. Meaning, it's your job to maintain a streamlined flow of information between the engineering team and your writers.
Remember, your technical writers are writing for non-technical audiences. Meaning, if you fail to maintain a clear communication flow, the written content quality will suffer.
That's why it's crucial to communicate clearly with other teams, including non-technical teams such as the marketing team.
How to Become a Technical Writer Editor?
To become a technical editor, first, you need to assess the educational and skill requirements. Although not every technical editor has a bachelor's degree or a technical writing certificate, degrees help, especially when looking for your first job as a technical editor.
If you have experience as a technical writer, it helps with becoming an editor as well. Not because you have the required skills, but you also have connections with companies and employers interested in offering you a job.
Finally, the editor needs to stay up-to-date with trends. For example, previously, product copies were product-oriented. Meaning, marketing materials would usually focus on describing how good the product is.
But currently, materials should be user-oriented, describing how helpful the product is for the user. Missing such changes can result in employers being less inclined to hire you.
Here are the primary educational and skill requirements for a technical editor.
For formal education, a technical editor usually requires a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in journalism, English, computer science, or engineering.
You can get additional education and certificates via online education. Usually, technical editors get further education in online publishing, multimedia web content, and advanced editing skills.
Although a bachelor's degree or a master's degree helps find jobs and impress employers, formal education becomes less valuable further down your career. As you specialize and gain in-depth knowledge, the more you know, the more job alerts you'll get.
This brings us to the required and highly valued skills for a technical editor.
The required knowledge depends on related jobs, but every technical editor should have some general soft skills and technical skills.
A technical editor needs strong computer and word processing skills. This includes writing, editing, proofreading, fact-checking, and writing software expertise such as Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, or Google Suite.
Besides editing materials, an editor also needs a high understanding of the best publishing practices and basic web coding knowledge such as HTML or XML.
Soft skills are additional vital requirements for a technical editor. The critical soft skills you should develop are a detail-oriented mindset, critical thinking, communication skills, and proactivity.
Remember that a detail-oriented mindset is a requirement for technical writers, while other soft skills are valuable additions. But for a successful editor, all of the mentioned soft skills are a requirement.
A technical editor needs to have a clear understanding of user persona targeting. Before a product goes out to the market, the editor and their technical writers act as test users. Meaning, technical writers need to put themselves into the user's position before writing content.
Similarly, the editor needs to do the same when editing, but they also need to oversee technical writers. Meaning, the editor has the challenging job of ensuring both their and writers' objectivity.
The job of a technical editor isn't easy. No matter if you're editing and/or writing articles for a science magazine that requires deep research or user manuals for SaaS companies, you need a deep understanding of the specific field on the top of the necessary editing skills.
But that's the exact reason why you might decide to be a technical editor over other related careers and jobs. You start developing an in-depth understanding of the corresponding field by specializing yourself (even as a technical writer).
Since employers always search for professionals, you can offer services that average technical writers can't. Most technical writers have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and some have a higher college degree. But that rarely means that the technical writer knows how to handle a team or communicate with engineers or researchers.
The key to becoming a successful technical editor is core editing and writing skills and exceptional communication and team management skills. Do you have what it takes?
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a technical writer-editor:
What does a technical editor do?
A technical editor reviews content and other material submitted by technical writers. Besides editing for clarity and grammar, a technical editor also ensures that the content is 100% correct and utterly understandable to an average user.
What is a senior technical editor?
On top of usual editor duties, a senior technical editor also reports to the reports manager or senior technical editor. They develop reports, proposals, and improvements to the existing content management. In some cases, a senior technical editor might have an assigned co-editor to take over the usual editing duties.
What is technical editing?
The basis for technical editing is consistency and correctness. Besides checking spelling, grammar, and punctuation, technical editing requires that the content presents the product naturally and ensures it's correct.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He is considered one of the top product influencers in the world by Product School and one of the top technical writers. He has been writing software tutorials, manuals, handbooks, and white papers for over eight years. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.