What is a Technical Writer, Editor, and Publishing Specialist?
Updated: Oct 17, 2019
When I tell people I’m a writer and editor, most people automatically think of books. Sometimes they think of novels. Sometimes they think of textbooks. But actually, most of the writing and editing I have done is not published in a physical way. Occasionally the work would end up printed from a Microsoft Word document on to regular 8.5x11 paper and stuck into binders. Though this is happening less as more companies move toward keeping their information online where it is easier to keep up-to-date. Most of the time, my work is published online. This can be in a few different ways, such as:
on an intranet that is only accessible by a particular company
on a secure site that needs a password to be accessed by particular users
on a website for anyone to read if they need to.
Policies are a set of rules and/or regulations that govern how things are done. These policies can cover a huge range of topics from employee conduct policies to policies regarding how much risk a company is willing to accept with their product offerings.
The company you work for has a set of policies, though they may not be written down. Has your boss ever told you that you cannot take a vacation day because two other people have already requested the day off? That is a policy. The problem companies often have when they don't write down their policies is that they are not always consistently adhered to. If people (employees and management) don't have an available reference, they may just do whatever seems right, whether it is company policy or not.
Procedures are steps to complete an action. That action can be something like how to use a product or it could be something like how to write a report. Anything that can be described as a series of steps is a procedure.
There are procedures in every facet of people's lives, but it is not always necessary to write them down. Some things are very simple. When a company wants to record a set of procedures, it is usually to explain to users how to use one of their products for sale. The products can be a physical thing like a phone or a coffee maker, or it can be software like Microsoft Word.
You might ask how are user guides different from procedures? User guides are usually documents that include procedures along with other important information about a product. For example, it could include the product's purpose or the product's intended audience. It could include reference material where the user can go to find more information about a product.
Quick Reference Sheets
While user guides can be long and will sometimes give a large amount of information about a product, quick reference sheets or quick reference cards are only one or two pages of the most important information about a product. For example, when you get a new product, you will sometimes get a set up page that is separate from the user manual. This would be considered a quick reference sheet. It tells you how to set up the device and nothing more.
What I Do
All of the things I mention above needs to be written, edited, and published. The person who is doing the writing must know how to research a product or company so that all of the important information is captured and written down. It is important for the writer to know how to effectively communicate the information to potential readers. This is also where the editor comes in. The editor ensures that the content is cohesive, consistent, accurate, and makes sense. Sometimes the editor is also the one who ensures formatting is consistent throughout a document. However, formatting is mostly the job of the publisher. The publisher understands how the document is going to be published and thus knows what kind of formatting is needed. The publisher may also create the template for the writer to work with. I do all three of these jobs. Sometimes I only do one part of the process because someone else is doing the rest. Sometimes I will take a project from the first word right through to publication. It all depends on what the client needs.