Technical Writing: Tips for Self-editing

Surya Nair

by Surya Nair (Technical Editor @ ASCENT)

A good writer may not be as good an editor, just as not all good editors can write from scratch.

In creative or journalistic writing, the person who reviews and edits the material is almost never the same as the author. In technical writing, however, it is more common for people to double up as writers and editors, particularly in small and lean organizations.

As people who create characters and entire fictional worlds from their imagination, creative writers naturally feel a sense of possession toward their work of art, which makes it more difficult for them to view it with an objective eye. Technical writers are less at risk because of the nature of the subject they deal with, which is always technical and factual in nature and often prepared from research and analysis of topics or by interviewing subject matter experts. This naturally allows for some distance and objectivity. Even so, self-editing lends itself to reduced objectivity.

As a technical writer who has needed to edit and proofread my own technical writing, the mantra I follow is - “be a mindful editor”. Throughout the editing process, I remain mindful of the fact that as the writer, I am intimately familiar with the text and the likelihood of skipping over errors is high. I re-read sentences carefully where I feel even the slightest ambiguity.

Here are a few tips that have helped me in self-editing:

  • Compartmentalize - Have a plan on how to go about the editing process and break the task into manageable chunks, so you can stay focused.
  • Wear your editor’s cap - Make a conscious effort to set your writer-ego aside and stay focused on the objective of the document and the intended audience.
  • Take breaks - Take breaks and step away from your work to maintain distance and to improve objectivity.
  • Read out - This may sound silly, but this has worked for me. I can pick up spelling errors, typos, and other inconsistencies when I read out content instead of eye-reading.
  • Be aware - Be aware of your own writing habits because one tends to overlook them while self-editing (examples - repetitive words or phrases, run on sentences, etc.).

To share your experiences in self-editing or to learn about ASCENT's technical editing services, please email us at tech.writing@ASCENTed.com

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