Like any activity, technical editing has its own set of languages and tools.

Technical writing today can happen in a variety of different programs and languages. As a tech editor, you need to be versatile and tech-literate because you edit where the writing is. If your author is a developer, they’ll write using the toolchain they’re most comfortable with. Tech editors today need to be comfortable stepping into a variety of different landscapes, and you’ll need your own tools for editing once you get there.

Tools for content

Writing programs and text editors

Technical writing today can happen almost anywhere: Google Docs, Word, an editable PDF, plain text editors, and any number of note-taking tools like Notion or HedgeDoc. I’m keeping a keen eye on Almanac but haven’t used it yet.

(I’m not mentioning documentation because that covers a whole universe of tools too large to list here.)

Languages and markups

Technical content is often created using a lightweight markup language. You can’t be fluent in everything, but it’s good to brush up on the basics so that you can add value when you edit (and not trip up on some of the semantic elements).

Also worth mentioning are static site generators (SSGs) like Jekyll, Hugo, and Sphinx. It pays to have a mental model of how some of the popular SSGs hang together so you can traverse a repo, fix a link, or understand how blog posts work on the site.

File sharing, version control platforms, and CMSs

How is your author sharing their files with you? It’s good to know your way around Google Drive and Dropbox.

You might be expected to edit in version control software⁠—so get familiar with how to review a pull request in GitHub and a merge request in GitLab. There is a bit of a learning curve here.

You might be required to edit directly in a content management system (CMS) as part of a structured workflow. It’s good to have an understanding of some of these tools, like Drupal, Sulu, TYPO3, WordPress, etc. Also consider other content platforms like wikis (think Confluence) and knowledge bases (like Zendesk).

Tools for editing

Language checkers and linters

There are many browser-based assistants for reviewing writing, such as Grammarly and Hemingway App. There are also linters (like Vale) to check prose in the command line.

Style guides and dictionaries

There are a plethora of writing and style guides available today. Ultimately, what you edit to depends on the client, organization, or project; but it helps to have an awareness of what guides are out there. I like these curated lists by Write the Docs and which feature the biggies. See also the Conscious style guide for conscious and inclusive language.

Editing markup conventions

Last but not least, tools for the task of editing itself. You need to be aware of how to add suggestions and comments in different programs.

  • In Word, are you using track changes?
  • In Google Docs, are you working in suggestion mode?
  • In GitHub, are you just adding commentary or are you making suggestions to the file?

Also consider if you’re going to add semantic markup to your editing comments, for example Conventional Comments or Editing Codes.

The all-knowing editor

You can’t know everything all the time. There’s a lot of tech out there!

BUT, technical editors do need technical aptitude. Not only does it add to your domain knowledge, it makes you good at your job. If you feel comfortable with the technology you’re working with, you can get straight to work adding value to a written piece.

Image credits: Teacups image by NEOSiAM 2021 from Pexels.