European Science Editing 46: e53691, doi: 10.3897/ese.2020.e53691
The intentional search for meaning: developing technical editing skills
expand article infoTom Lang
‡ Tom Lang Communications and Training International, Kirkland, United States of America
Open Access

The purpose of technical editing is to prepare specific information, for a specific medium, to help a specific audience, accomplish a specific goal. What defines technical editing is its purpose—to help readers act—not the scientific discipline in which it is found. Still, traditions of technical editing differ greatly by subject matter (nuclear physics, field biology), document types (scientific articles, computer user manuals), audiences (regulatory agencies, consumers), and specific publication conventions (writing instruction manuals, documenting experiments). Because technical editing developed in the physical sciences and engineering, the term often refers only to editing in those fields. However, whereas technical editors in industry often enter the profession with degrees in technical communications, editors in other scientific fields typically receive little or no professional training in editing. Accordingly, I describe here four techniques proven to be effective in training technical editors in any branch of science. A basic technique involves applying 12 specific and evidence-based ‘edits’ that improve comprehension. In an intermediate technique, ‘structured editing,’ described here for the first time, editors follow a structured process of analysing and revising a text by completing four sequential tasks. An advanced technique—shortening a 250-word abstract to 100 words without losing content—will develop critical thinking and sharpen language skills. Finally, I describe a collaborative technique based on ‘deliberate practice,’ in which a small group of editors discusses a text in detail, in long sessions, over extended periods, to develop a high degree of skill. 


editing, training technical editors, technical writing, education