Guide to Editing Technical Documents

Understand the purpose and scope of the document

When given a technical document to edit, your first step is to comprehend the scope of the material. What is its purpose? Who is the audience? What is the audience’s knowledge level of the subject matter? If you are new to the assignment, you may be ignorant of the subject matter, so answering these questions will allow you to edit from a place of understanding.

Also, find out if there is a style guide or any other helpful materials for the document that you can obtain. If there is a style guide, familiarize yourself with it. If there is no style guide, trust the style that the document is currently in and use that as your reference.

Read it through once for clarity and order

Instead of editing right away, read through the document once for clarity. A complete read-through allows you to grasp its intent and subject matter. You may be tempted to edit, but try to hold off for now. If you spot glaring edits, feel free to take notes, but this pass of the document is for you to digest the material.

Familiarize yourself with the style of the document

If there is no style guide to reference, don’t panic. You will naturally get a sense of the style after you read through the document once for clarity. How are the headings, tables, or images formatted? What is the tone? Keep these questions in mind when editing the document so you can be as consistent as possible.

Begin the edit

Now comes the fun part: editing. There are many ways to edit a document, but a helpful tip is to edit in sections. For example, review all headings at once, and skip all other aspects of the document. Then, take separate passes to review the tables, images, body paragraphs, etc. Editing in sections allows your brain to focus on one aspect of the document at a time and can be helpful with lengthy documents. It is also essential to edit as you read along because you will be able to spot clarity and structural issues. When you finish the edit and feel comfortable with the changes, give one final read-through for assurance.