Technical Editing (Professional & Technical Writing Program)

Logo for course called Technical Editing

When you hear the word “editor,” you probably picture a desk-bound grammarian scrutinizing manuscripts for errors in subject-verb agreement and punctuation. We need to put this stereotype aside where it belongs. In fact, “proofreading” and “copy editing” belong to just one type of “level of edit” in a quality-assurance process that has become increasingly layered as specialized information is communicated to different audiences across multiple media. This layered process is evident in technical editing – a subfield of technical writing that has evolved as both an academic discipline and a distinct occupation supported by its own field-based literature and professional organizations. This course will introduce you to the world of technical editing and take you, layer by layer, into the quality-assurance process that distinguishes it.

What is the difference between technical writing and technical editing?

The primary distinction is that technical writers often create content from scratch whereas technical editors work to enhance the structure, design, accessibility, and public-facing impact of pre-existing content. They also determine editorial style procedures to ensure consistency of organizational documentation. Many even oversee how information is managed internally for easy access, retrieval, and reuse by writers engaged with topic-based authoring. That said, in industrial and professional settings, the two fields sometimes blend together with technical writers assuming editorial responsibilities and vice versa. In addition, the practice of technical editing extends well beyond technology sectors. Search results for technical editor on bring up jobs (some pretty lucrative) across a variety of fields:

What should I expect if I enroll in this course?

Technical Editing is “co-convened” as both an upper-division undergraduate elective and a graduate-level course. Whether you’re an undergrad (436) or a grad student (536), you’ll develop a skill set pertinent to editorial occupations in technical, medical, legal, scientific, business, and academic fields. You’ll learn how to apply key UX (User eXperience) and document-based UI (User Interface) principles in the editorial stages of a publication cycle to ensure the quality of human-information interaction. You’ll also learn how to prepare for, pass, and create employer-administered editing tests; finesse the author-editor relationship; create taxonomies for shared content management systems; develop facility with “types” and “levels” of edits applied to both print and audiovisual documentation; and revise style guides in support of digital readability, accessible and inclusive design, and best practices in “Global English” for international audiences.

Although the course’s subject matter is identical for both groups, 536 participants will be asked to acquaint themselves with key scholarship in the field, including theoretical trends that inform research in pedagogy and workplace applications. So, if you’re a grad student, at semester’s end you’ll be asked to submit a research-based essay — a literature review, perhaps, or the draft of a potential article composed “as if” for publication — on a disciplinary area that intersects with your own scholarly interests.

What textbooks will we be using?

The primary textbook designated for this course is Technical Editing: An Introduction to Editing in the Workplace (Cunningham, Malone, Rothschild, Eds., 2019). This text is available online through VitalSource and may be rented for the semester at $39.99. We will dip into New Perspectives on Technical Editing (Murphy, Ed., 2010) — available for free through UArizona’s library — which describes the development of the field as both a professional practice and academic discipline. We’ll also individually draw from some supplemental readings at times. One key text that 536 participants will work with (also available free through UArizona’s library) is Editing in the Modern Classroom (Flanagan & Albers, Eds., 2019), a research-based collection that defines the current state of technical editing pedagogy and plots a roadmap for its future.


Well, I have answers! Please feel free to email me at any time: