4 benefits of peer editing documentation

Peer editing is the second best thing to hiring a professional editor and brings additional benefits to your tech comm team.

At our company, we technical communicators and some QA analysts all collaborate on Release Notes for our product. It’s a complex financial application, so our Release Notes go to some lengths to explain to customers what exactly is new and how it helps them improve their business and workflows.

Editing and reviewing

This release is the first time I get to work on a language edit for Release Notes topics, together with a colleague who edits, among others, my own topics which I shouldn’t and couldn’t very well edit myself.

Our language edit is one of two editing passes:

  • The language edit ensures clear and correct language, including grammar, usage, and style guide compliance, in unambiguous, internationally comprehensible English within each topic.
  • The substantive edit, the second pass, focuses on the structural integrity and usefulness of topics as well as the relationship between topics.

Even before the editing passes comes the content review by subject-matter experts who are much better at verifying the actual contents.

I guess the best way to edit is to get a professional editor. Unfortunately, we have neither the time nor the budget to hire one. So I think the second-best way is for technical writers and communicators to peer edit each other’s work. Here are my (overlapping) benefits and reasons why I think peer editing is such a good idea.

The benefits of peer editing

1. Ensure consistency. It’s a great way to improve consistency and common usage among collaborating writers. And it ensures that your style guide works. You really should have a style guide before you peer edit and then use your experiences and findings to fill in the gaps, throw out what you don’t need and change what doesn’t work.

2. Realise growth opportunities. Peer editing is a quick and pretty reliable reality check what each writer does and doesn’t do well, relatively speaking, compared to other writers. And I don’t only mean writing weaknesses. When I first started doing peer edits, I was quite humbled to learn that my criticism wasn’t exactly helping. So I had to figure out how to offer constructive criticism – which I think has made me better and more complete writer. Depending on your team, you may even find that you can teach each other to some degree.

3. Encourage mutual trust. It gives all writers a formal, regular opportunity to check in with each other’s work. It can anchor the good practice to take responsibility for one another’s work – and to learn to listen to others criticize your work. In the best case, it helps colleagues to grow into a team where people trust each other.

4. Enhance group dynamics. If you’ve come to trust each other, you’ll find you collaborate better. Knowing each other’s strengths, you can become more efficient and more productive as  a team, just as members of a sports team knows almost instinctively how the others act.

Your turn

What’s your experience with peer editing? Does it work well? What didn’t work? Feel free to leave a comment.