What being a reviewer can teach a writer

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Sometimes the most formative job for a writer is being a reviewer

I was a computer book technical reviewer earlier in my career. It was a freelance gig, but I still consider the work one of the more formative chapters in my professional writing career even though it wasn’t actually writing work.

Computer book technical reviewers sometimes are sometimes called technical editors are responsible for ensuring the technical accuracy of computer book manuscripts. The work taught me to pay attention to technical details, which in turn went onto influence my work as a technical writer and freelance writer.

I got to learn the following lessons which I still carry with me:

Don’t forget industry best practices. The gray underbelly of computer book publishing is that some of the authors have never done real work with the applications they write about. The home office in the spare bedroom just isn’t a reliable bellwether of how the software or service works in the corporate enterprise.

Write substantive comments that engage and stand on their own. None of my former computer book publishing clients ever met me face-to-face. There is only one book author from a project I’ve ever met in person. This means my comments on book manuscripts had to be substantive and stand on their own because it wasn’t down the hallway if somebody had a question or needed clarification on a comment I made. This also helped in cases where the publisher’s staff may not be technical.

Be fluent in multiple browsers and OSes. Some of the finer points in technical manuscripts can be lost with a simple change in Windows OS or browser versions. So it is important to know the OS and browser versions your audience is using. It’s a minor detail but something to be conscious about especially if you are documenting web-based applications bit live in a Microsoft Windows world. Today, mobile devices and the Mac make this ever more important.

Have you ever had a formative non-writing job that later contributed to your writing career?


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