To query or not to query, that is the query

As a full-time technical editor for a team of writers, I find that I use queries (or “author queries”) less than might be expected or warranted in my markup and comments. I find that I use imperative comments directing them to make a change based on some standard or guideline, often clarity guidelines to improve the readability and ultimately the translatability of our information.

I recently read this blog post on the An American Editor blog called “The Art of the Query,” which gave me a renewed appreciation for perhaps more artfully using queries in my technical editing. Beyond the obvious reason to use a query (to ask the writer a question), he suggests that queries can be used to demonstrate your knowledge, to explain a point of grammar, or to make the writers more comfortable with you editing their work, among other suggestions. He also encourages that a query “be on point” and “identifies the problem and offers an appropriate solution.”

Linda Oestreich and I spend one full module in our Technical Editing Fundamentals certificate course for STC talking about how to write effective editing comments, one of which is a query. We encourage using more imperatives, and using queries in a similar fashion as An American Editor does. I think I need to remember the power of a query to communicate much more than just a question.

Happy editing everyone!

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2 Responses to To query or not to query, that is the query

  1. Linda says:

    Another great reference for our class! Thanks for highlighting it!


  2. Michelle,

    Thank you for raising this issue with technical editors.

    When Richard Adin published his blog post, I was already using queries as a way to communicate with and teach my junior writers. His post was on the mark. The query, while obvious and simple to use, is quite powerful when implemented judiciously.

    I have found that when I use imperative comments, writers are just following “orders”. The writer mindset is: “Just tell me what I need to fix so that I can close the loop on the editorial review cycle.” (In this case, the editor becomes nothing more than a walking style guide.) However, when writers read and understood the rationale behind my comment, they had learned how to become better technical writers.

    Technical editors should not be ghostwriters, but we can guide and counsel our writers through the use of queries and follow-up meetings. Depending on the depth and breadth of a writer’s experience, you will use one method more than the other, but the query remains a strong method for grooming both junior and intermediate writers.


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