I was absolutely fascinated by William Germmano’s Lingua Franca post “Nonknowledge (and Why It’s Good in Editors).” While it focused on nonknowledge being a critical tool for acquisitions editors or for scholarly publishing, it expressed a belief that I have about technical editors not needing to be an expert in whatever subject they are editing.
I must call out this particular quote:
…a difference between ignorance (as not knowing about a subject) and nonknowledge, as a state of highly intelligent, nonspecialist engagement. That distanced, nonspecialist attentiveness…”
In my career as a technical editor, I have worked on products meant for programmers, physicians, network engineers, data scientists, and marketing professionals. I have used my nonspecialist engagement or my nonspecialist attentiveness, along with my natural curiosity, to learn enough about the products that we are writing about, such that I can find the logical and potential technical issues inherent in the drafts of documentation that I edit.
I think technical writers must cross over the line and become technical specialists, gathering actual knowledge of the subject, in order to write useful documentation. However, technical editors can take advantage of their nonknowledge, or perhaps the highly limited knowledge, to provide a critical review of the information, pointing out logic breaks, missing information, or areas of confusion. Technical editors must use a beginner’s mind to untangle some highly technical information. I like the label of nonknowledge even more.
Happy editing everyone.