Even though I have not posted to my blog in a very long time, I have been pondering technical editing processes. Most notably, as I play on my iPad putting together jigsaw puzzles made from my favorite vacation photos, I have pondered whether most technical editors like putting together jigsaw puzzles.
Technical editors spend their time analyzing words, sentences, paragraphs and topics, making sure that everything fits together correctly and adhering to a set of guidelines. In substantive editing, we sometimes have to take apart what is written and put it back together again. In copy editing, we have to make sure that the text is grammatically correct, logical, and presented well.
I’m sure that most people at some point in their lives have put together a jigsaw puzzle. You usually look at the box lid, examine the picture that you are trying to put together, and then start sorting out the pieces in some way. Many people likely put all the outside edge pieces together, and might even sort those pieces by color or picture. They might start putting pieces in their proper orientation, based on reviewing or looking at the picture on the box lid again and seeing that it is in the right place. Once the outside edges are put together, and the structure of the puzzle is in place, you work at sorting all the inside pieces, by color and picture, and maybe by the shape of the puzzle piece. Then, you pick a part of the picture to focus on, and you start piecing the picture together.
Technical editors need to be able to see the big picture, the overall organization and flow of a piece of writing, and know where all the pieces fit. Technical editors use standards and guidelines to ensure that the writing comes together and delivers that big picture. At the same time, technical editors must know which words will convey the right meaning in the context of that big picture. They must ensure the syntax and grammar of all the sentences make the meaning apparent on the first reading of the writing.
For example, think about long noun strings, such as “input message destination transaction code.” Each noun is like a piece of the puzzle, similar in color and shape of puzzle piece. They’ve been lined up as if they go together in a certain sequence, but the pieces don’t quite fit. You need an intervening preposition piece to bring clarity and connect the pieces together, such as “transaction code for the destination of an input message.” (That long noun string is courtesy of the book, Developing Quality Technical Information: A Handbook for Writers and Editors, 2nd Edition, by Hargis et al, 2004, in chapter 5 on Clarity guidelines.)
Another such puzzle that technical editors solve is the organization of information overall, such as where to place conceptual information in relation to task information. As you put together the inside pieces of the puzzle, you get a set of puzzle pieces put together (say a short concept topic might be a set of 5 or 6 pieces) but those are not yet connected to the outer edge pieces or to other inside pieces (say a task topic might be a set of 8 or 10 pieces). Technical editors see the overall picture from knowing the guidelines and standards (that jigsaw puzzle box lid), and can tell that the concept topic comes just before the task topic (its puzzle pieces are to the left of the other puzzle pieces, connecting together and connecting to the left edge of the puzzle).
I love jigsaw puzzles. I love seeing a picture come together. I love knowing that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to give us that picture.
Happy editing everyone!