Question: A friend is translating Dutch/English documents and often finds problems in the English text (e.g., inconsistent or vague word usage). Is there a market for technical editors? Is there another name for the job position? If there is such a market, what does the job entail? Any suggestions I could pass along?
Here is how several people responded:
Yes, there is a market for technical editors. I just got home from such a project as a senior technical editor for “a global software security” corporation. The duties were to snag all the problems you mention, and enforce a corporate style to munge the output of 70 writers scattered all around the world (really: New Zealand, Tahiti, etc.), the majority of which belonged to one of several small companies that had just been sold out from under them and did NOT want to change.
In general, the sentences must be set up for translation, with certain wording (secret) and punctuation conventions, but with one other stipulation: all these paragraphs are to be able to live on their own, like Help “topics.” That’s not easy. Furthermore, they are to be popped in and out of a database and edited in “word processor” software in XML. Translation costs are key because each word costs 25 cents, and the stuff is translated into 23 languages. Ireland seems to have a lot of translators.
There is a company in Troy, Michigan called Iterotext. I have a blurb from the upcoming STC local meeting, where a representative will speak, or you can visit http://www.iterotext.com/. The blurb has a good summary of the theory, in case you or anyone else would like it. It really is interesting.
At one point, I interviewed at Volkswagen. They had translators, but they weren’t car people, so they’d come up with things like “carburetor-rope-pull” for choke cable.
I’ve been doing technical editing for many years. Some large companies employ full-time tech editors; large and small companies (the ones that understand the value technical editors can provide) also hire contractors/contractors/freelancers.
The work can take a number of forms, from basic copyediting of a technical document to partnering with the writer on developing the documentation suite for a product and being involved with user testing of the documents. Fact checking in a formal sense isn’t usually involved, at least in the jobs I’ve had, but editors use our knowledge of a product line to query material that seems wrong or incomplete and work with the writer to get the latest information from the development team.
STC has a Technical Editing SIG here: http://www.stcsig.org/te/
I have been an independent consultant for a couple of years. I do both technical writing and technical editing, but more of the latter. I focus on materials for international audiences, but I think of that as a reflection of my interests, rather than the demand in the market. I suppose it is a happy coincidence of the two.
One of my ongoing contracts is to do “globalization editing” for a large software company. My job is to make the English as clear and concise as possible. There are several reasons for this:
Increased accuracy in localization/translation
Lower costs for localization/translation
Increased usefulness for non-native speakers (and, for that matter, native speakers)
As globalization editors, we also look for anything that would be hard to understand or likely be offensive in a cross-cultural setting.
One can make the case that paying a technical editor is cheaper than translating wordy, inaccurate materials in many languages — especially if it is necessary to make changes in the translations. Also, simplifying the wording usually reduces word count and therefore costs. In short, there’s an economic case for the value of technical editing. I’m not sure how many companies could justify a full-time editor, but that should make consulting all the more viable.
You could bolster that case if your company/client was doing highly regulated work. At Bechtel, we built a nuclear plant, and the NRC was all over it looking for problems of any kind. As a result, there was a team of 4 editors that handled every project document from memo to 47-volume report. We assumed that these could be analyzed at any time, so even a hint of ambiguity was reworked.
I just heard about a technical communications quality assurance product that a company I work for is using. It is called “acrocheck”. It is made by a company called acrolinx. It appears to address just the problems you’re raising. According to their website it checks style, terminology consistency, grammar and spelling and integrates in Word, Framemaker, XmetaL, Arbortext Epic and TRADOS. Does anyone have experience with it?
I believe it (acrocheck) also integrates with AuthorIT but I haven’t used it. However, it has a hefty price tag so for me as a lone writer it’s off the agenda.
I use a piece of software – StyleWriter – that integrates with Word. It costs about $160 USD. You can get it an evaluation version from http://www.editorsoftware.com, or, if you want to go through me, I get a small affiliate fee if you download then later buy via my site http://www.cybertext.com.au/editorsoftware/affiliate_index.html.
I’d like to second the suggestion for StyleWriter. I purchased a license shortly after reading a review in Intercom, and it was well worth the price. Like SnagIt, the cost is small, and it doesn’t do too much — but what it does, it does very, very well.
I’m not affiliated with them, but I am definitely a happy user.
There is a lot of work available for technical editors (as others have stated). Another area your friend may not have considered is linguistic usability reviews (different from an in-country technical review where you see both languages; in this case I only see the English translation and have to figure out what it means; sorta like reading a VCR manual that was translated into English). I’ve done several (mostly for Asian companies). These reviews help companies evaluate the quality of the translations and to ensure that the translation is technically, linguistically, and syntactically accurate.
Your friend may be interested in joining the International Tech Com SIG (http://www.stcsig.org/itc/). The list is getting almost as active as this one, and is a great resource for technical communicators, translators, and localization vendors (I’m the current manager).
Take a look at Jean Hollis Weber’s site: www.jeanweber.com — it’s pretty much all about tech editing!