Notes for a talk with an undergraduate editing class
If you like the work as you understand it so far and you’re wondering whether this might be the career for you, you’ll want to know something about the range of possibilities in the marketplace. I’ll give you a thumbnail sketch of some of the roles I’ve worked and talk briefly about where you might go from here to further prepare. Then we’ll get into a Q&A.
Train-the-trainer documentation and workshop assets
Currently, I work with a small publishing team for a professional services organization that helps companies move their infrastructure to the cloud. They also make their own training and consulting materials available to certified partners.
I edit facilitator guides, workshop presentations and workbooks, detailed descriptions of the various workshops and their benefits, various planning docs, pitch decks, and customer success stories. Basically any and all documentation needed to support the organization’s work before, during, and after the customer workshops. So from pre-sales through post-workshop.
What it looks like. I can’t show you any of these pieces—the work is confidential—but the span of what we work on would look similar to any well-rounded set of technical training materials and the planning docs that support them.
Business process cards
For about a year, I edited business process cards, some of which also have accompanying customer stories to exemplify these processes in action. I also worked to revamp the backlog of older cards, developed by various groups of people. The writer and I went through the entire set, consolidating and streamlining. We redefined the categories and revised all the old cards. I rewrote scores of customer examples.
These cards provide brief, high-level overviews — “suggestions” — for ways to accomplish everyday tasks in an enterprise (large corporate) setting using a particular suite of products. The point is to give customers ideas for how to use these products, with a focus on helping them get their own work done. The products serve that function. The benefits statements are focused on the customers and their needs.
The salespeople use this gallery of cards when they’re talking with potential customers. Some customers themselves have come to use it, particularly in the industries most robustly served. It’s a creative way to engage the consumer beyond just the standard documentation, even the online help. In that sense, it too is something like branded content.
If you’re interested in tech editing, and you want to do something besides straight API doc, you’ll want to look for opportunities like this one. Across the industry, I’m not sure how common non-API editing jobs are now. That would be a Barbara (of Editcetera) question.
What it looks like. These cards are published in the Transformation Gallery. What’s interesting about this for you is that it’s an example of tech writing outside the standard doc set. (Which for us these days in the US has become more about API doc.)
Digital content for brands
I also work through a content marketing platform and content development service to help businesses develop high-quality content to scale. These are companies that might not have a background in developing content, they might not have the resources to develop content, or they might not have the resources to develop as much content as they’d like.
I work directly with clients as the managing editor for the team of writers and designers we put together for them. There’s a whole range of tasks a managing editor might do on any given account — evaluate writer portfolios, solicit and evaluate pitches, determine assignments, develop briefs — depending upon the needs and wishes of the client team. At a minimum, I manage the editorial calendar, I write up guidelines, I evaluate and edit submissions, I track status and meet with the client team weekly, and I handle all routine communication with writers and designers.
We produce a range of content. Blog posts, feature articles, profiles, whitepapers, ebooks, static and animated infographics, videos.
What it looks like. Contently works with a number of large corporate clients: GE, American Express, Forbes, Chase, Coca-Cola, Lego, IBM, Google, Facebook. They handle, for example, GE Ventures, American Express Open Forum, and Forbes BrandVoice. And they work with hundreds of smaller businesses too. Anything you see up on a corporate website — particularly anything having to do with brand positioning through content — is an example of the kind of work Contently does.
Contently is one of several reputable content facilitators. When searching for these, be sure to avoid the content mills, which produce poor quality work and pay rock-bottom prices.
Arts and culture (print) publication
This is a noncorporate job. I worked three years for a publication that covers the “innovative and creative culture of Silicon Valley.” Historically, the focus had been primarily on San Jose, but the publication rebranded a couple of years back with an eye to broadening that focus.
This is pretty much your standard magazine work, except that it’s a nonprofit. There is a lot of hands-on editing involved. I developed the editorial processes and the standards, and I managed a team of between five and eight editors, some of them new to the work. I also worked directly with writers. It was a great experience. Very soul-satisfying.
What it looks like. Although Content is designed as a print publication, you can also find it on issuu. For the work I was doing, look no further back than 7.0. Update: And now no further forward than 9.5. (Yes, you’ll find a few gremlins in that first year, when I was handling the editing of each issue almost entirely on my own, from developmental through copy and then also the proofing, in a compressed timeframe.)
If you’ve an interest in working with magazines, you might check out this list of magazines based in the Bay Area.
Tech doc and related, super quick summary
I’ve done lots of work in corporate settings, primarily in documentation groups, but also work on marketing materials. It amounts to a wide collection of things. Journal articles. Position statements. Explainers. Training materials for both self-paced study and instructor-led courses. Whitepapers. Web text of various sorts. Cue cards. Online help. Quickstarts, user guides, developer guides, API doc. And lots and lots of style guidelines.
What it looks like (well, some of it). This is the stuff you find everywhere online, anytime anyone is explaining how to do something or explaining what their company or products or services are all about or strutting their stuff. With technical documentation, the goal is to convey information. With content marketing, the ostensible goal is often to convey information, but the primary driver is positioning the company and attracting customers or clients. With marketing, persuasion is out in the open.
In terms of technical documentation, you might look at this set from GlassFish or these sets from Oculus. That’s developer doc, of course. Much of the developer doc these days revolves around APIs, as with this Google Play for Work API doc. You can find other Google API doc linked from the Google Developers site.
There’s also plenty of technical documentation for users, like this user guide from Magento or any of the many user guides from the tech companies whose products so thoroughly structure our lives now, like these from Apple.
Is editing for you?
Editing might be the career for you if you love words and playing with words — and, really, never tire of that. If you love reading. If you have some inclination towards teaching.
Editors also tend to have —
A deep and abiding curiosity
A love of learning
An analytical bent
An eye for detail
An urge to organize
The ability to focus both wide and narrow, zoom out and in: see the forest, see the trees
The ability to sustain intense focus
Flexibility, an appreciation for nuance
A desire to communicate, or at least, no aversion to it
Strong writing skills
And, ideally, compassion
With respect to the editorial skills themselves, editors must have judgment. It’s just as important to know what should be left alone as to know what should be changed.
In that case why not be a writer?
Only you can decide that. Some editors move between the two. If you find you have more things you want to say yourself, you may find that writing is the more natural fit.
Writers also tend to become experts in various types of stuff. Editors tend to become experts in writing. Though this is an oversimplification, and by no means true of all contexts.
How I got to where I am / what you should be doing
I wandered into editing. While I was in school, I thought I might teach or I might write — and I do both of those as well — but editing, helping others to say what it is they want to say, has become the core of what I do.
Rather than talking about how I got where I am, I think it makes more sense (particularly given the time constraint) to talk about what you should be doing. You’ve got a link to a piece that explores this in greater detail, but to call out some of the highlights . . .
You should be reading. A lot.
Read the best literature. Read fine essayists. Read poetry. Study it. Critique the ideas and the writing.
Take writing classes. And do lots of writing.
If you’re going to help other people write better — if you’re going to do more than simply correct mistakes — you’re going to have to know a good deal about writing yourself. You’ve got to have the knack of it, feel the poetry of it.
Take editing classes. Practice!
You’ve made a start with this class. Following this, maybe when you’ve finished your course of study at Davis, explore what Editcetera has to offer with their workshops, explore what UC Berkeley Extension has to offer with their professional sequence in editing. You can’t take too many classes. There are many principles to be learned, and editing well takes practice.
Explore the marketplace.
As you’ve already been doing, read job descriptions to help get a feel for the variety of editing work out there, and to place yourself on the continuum. What skills do you have, what skills do you need? Ditto experience. Having those descriptions helps to give you goals to shoot for. Keeping in mind also the “walk on water” nature of many of those descriptions.
You might also look into doing informational interviews. But if you do this, do not turn them into job interviews. Someone is giving you their time. Respect that.
There’s also loads of information about editing in different contexts online.
Gain preliminary experience.
Look for internships. Volunteer. There are some links in that marketplace doc. You can also search online to find even more.
Build a great portfolio.
In the beginning, your portfolio will have work from your internships and volunteer experiences, unless you’ve been lucky enough to land an editing job armed only with your degree and, say, an editing certificate. It happens.