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Technical Editing - How NOT to Edit Your Colleague's Work

Written communication often requires the input of more than one writer, especially on large projects where there are many contributors. For most editors, ensuring that all contributions are correct, adhere to standards and in logical sequence is a challenge. 

These guidelines cover the main areas you need to consider when editing your colleagues work.

1. Don't alter the meaning

This is worst mistake you can make. Be very careful when substituting, deleting or adding new words. Editing is like surgery – one wrong mistake and the patient croaks! Even modifications to the punctuation can change the entire meaning of a passage. Also, be very cautions about making changes when you don’t understand the material, such as complex technical documentation, as this could significantly alter the meaning.


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If you're not certain when editing, mark the section and go back to the writer. Always keep an original version of the document. You can refer to this document if you ever get muddled or confused about the meaning of the text.

The original copy is invaluable for verifying facts when discrepancies occur. Make sure that each draft is clearly marked with a version number and/or revision date. Also, in collaborative editing, make sure to include each respective editor’s name, so you can speak to the correct person if required.

2. Don't change the style

Though standards are required across a company, make sure you don’t remove the writer’s voice, particularity in sales material where the tone and style are very difficult to modify without affecting the voice.

3. Don’t over-edit

All changes that you make have to be justified. Don’t alter the text, or change the sentence structure, just for the sake of making your mark.

A good editor makes the revised material read better, not just look different.

4. Be Considerate

When editing on hardcopy (i.e. printed material), use a light pencil to write your comments. Use a bright green or purple pencil to make your comments stand out. Try to avoid the dreaded red pen, as this usually looks very intense and negative on the page.

An editor’s role is to assist, not to impose. Edit with consideration and patience and you will build up trust in your team members.

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