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 writing work.

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

The lessons I learned include:

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 can’t be a bellwether of how the software or service work in the corporate enterprise.

Write substantive comments that engage and stand on their own. None of my former clients in the computer book publishing industry. There is only one book author I’ve ever met in person. Working remotely means my comments on book manuscripts had to be substantive and stand on their own because it wasn’t like I was down the hallway if somebody had a question or needed clarification on a comment I made. Meaty comments also help 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 in the Microsoft Windows world.

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

Mari Helin-Tuominen

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