Editing Online Documents

By  Brooke Galbreath

In the field of technical writing, good editors can be more important than good writers, in terms of the finished product. As one enters the field of technical writing, you are likely to work with online documents. It is always important to consider your audience and the needs of your readers before beginning your project. Putting documents online makes a lot of sense, because the volume of material in print would require extensive storage space and online publication makes information available electronically, through the internet or an intranet, floppy disks, CD-ROM, or software installed on a hard drive or network server.

The editorís expertise is helpful because they have the ability to think from the userís perspective and knowledge of organization, style, and design in terms of how usable the document will be and creating documents that work. Style, organization, and tone, etc. are some things that constitute effective online editing.

If an organization wants readers to visit and revisit the document, it will have to meet the readersí needs, not just the organizationís (Rude 2002). Some possible questions you can ask when considering your usersí needs: what are we hoping to accomplish with this document, what will readers do or know as a result of this document, what will the reader be able to accomplish after reading this document, and who are the readers, and what do they know about the subject we are putting out there.

Beyond the usual tasks, online copyediting also involves checking consistency in visual design, testing links, and ensuring accurate reading (Troffer 1999). Editors will often times refer to a style manual that gives them various grammatical and structural guidelines to follow. Sometimes the organization that you are employed under will have a set style guide for the company or another style like the Chicago Manual of Style.

Style refers comprehensively to the impression and coherence created by words and sentence structures. The same principles of good style that apply to print also apply to online documents, but the requirements for conciseness are greater because of limitations of screen and window size and difficulty of reading from screen (Rude 2002). Style guides and/or style sheets can be created to use as a reference tool for the editor. They also, like style manuals, set standards for the outcome of the document. They may come in handy while editing letters, manuals, memos, proposals, reports, trade publications, etc.

Editors can also serve as formidable usability testers, usability testing contributes to seeing how well a user can navigate a document or how well the user will be able to read and comprehend the document, it is important for editors to be part of this process (Troffer 1999). It is important for editors to take part in usability testing because authors can be too familiar with the text in a document and need assistance from the editor. The editor can help make improvements or corrections the author might miss.

Often times an online document must be updated frequently to keep attracting readers. The editor may not be responsible for maintaining content over time, but may play a role in this processóespecially when content changes arise (Troffer 1999). It is important to remember to play very close attention when editing anything, whether it be hardcopy or online.



 Rude, C.  2002.  Technical Editing, 3rd ed.  New York: Longman

 Troffer, A. 1999.  "Feature: Editing Online Documents: Strategies and Tips." http://www.contentious.com/articles/V2/2-4/feature2-4a.html. Retrieved on April 20, 2005.