Could Editing for the Reader Improve Documentation Quality?

What might be the hardest part for you when it comes to writing and editing? I think that one of the more challenging aspects of writing for me is editing and revision. Knowing how to edit for your audience might be challenging. Luckily, researcher Yoel Strimling has written an article for this purpose. 

Strimling wrote the article “Editing for Quality-from the Readers’ Point of View” where he went over several aspects of editing and revision that readers might be looking for. Readers are typically looking for neat and clear writing with minimal error and are able to notice even small errors. Strimling gives us four areas of editing to focus on: accuracy, relevance, ease of understanding, and accessibility.

Editing for accuracy means making sure that the information provided is accurate for the readers. Typically, the editor has a unique point of view and can see accuracy issues that others might miss. One of the interesting points that I found was that Strimling wrote a section regarding out-dated screen captures. Using screen captures for procedures is great for documentation. However, if you are using screen captures that are out-of-date, then that can affect the accuracy of your information. I never thought about the idea of out-dated screen captures before reading. Readers are able to pick out different accuracy mistakes so editing for accuracy can ensure that readers know the content in your document is correct and up to date.

Editing for relevance is also important for readers because you want to make sure that the information is relevant to the target audience. The content you provide must be understood by the audience and this takes knowing your audience. I think of this through the lens of a technical writer coming up with a set of instructions for a product. The writer has to make sure that the information they are providing is relevant to the product and make sure that instructions are clear. Readers are looking for relevant information to help them get the task done.This takes knowing the target audience and how editing for relevance from their point of view can help the writer stay on target. 

The next piece of advice that Strimling provides editing for ease of understanding. When I’m looking for help in documentation, I am looking for the information in a neat and concise manner. If the language is formatted badly then the audience will probably not understand what I am trying to write. Visualization is also a  crucial aspect that I look for in documents. For example if I am reading a “how-to” guide I am looking at both text and appropriate images showing me how to complete the task at hand. Overall, editing for ease of understanding is one crucial aspect of being a writer and an editor. 

The last piece of advice that Strimling gives is editing for accessibility. The audience likes information to be quickly retrievable. They should be able to take a quick glance at the table of contents and easily find information they are looking for. These days I am mostly using my phone when it comes to reading. I find that if the information is presented neatly on a mobile device then I’ll be more inclined to understand the information present. Phones are an example of accessible devices so I believe that being able to make your information easier for these devices can make it more accessible for a wider audience. 

The information that Strimling has provided is very useful for both writers and editors. I found that I learned a lot about being able to edit for the appropriate audience while reading his article. This shows that editing itself goes beyond correcting grammar or spelling and that a lot more is taken into account when you are editing from a reader's point of view.

Resources

Editing for Quality – from the Readers’ Point of View, by Yoel Strimling


Viewpoint Written by Jason Brown, Old Dominion University

Viewpoint Edited by Jonna Sharp, Texas State University & TC Camp Volunteer


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