Technical proofreading is not for the faint hearted. The proofreader who believes the sole purpose of their job is to add as much punctuation as possible and then run a spell and grammar check has no place proofreading technical documentation.

A Technical proofreader has to be aware that the document might be translated or read by someone whose language skills is not that good. They must accept that it is good practice to simplify everything and use the same words over again.

Factual content must also be checked, ensure that conversions of measurements for distance and temperature are accurate and that numerical punctuation is explained, for example a comma (,) in English represents a division of thousands, for example 1,000 but a comma in most other European languages denotes the decimal point. This could be quite significant if we are talking about accuracy to the Nth degree.

Referencing of illustrations must be checked against the text as the illustrator may have named a component differently to the author or might not have annotated an important component at all. Cross-referencing is also a component of technical documentation that is not seen very often in other forms of writing. This has to be accurate or could lead to frustration on the readers’ part and complete lack of faith in any other information that might be in the document.

When a proofreader has finished with a document it must be accurate, clear, concise and structured logically. You could argue that this is all the responsibility of the author, and to a certain extent that is true. At the start of the project these are all good intentions but when deadlines rush towards you along with “legal” wanting so much information added to prevent being sued, designers changing the look of the equipment and functions being added or removed at the last minute it is not always possible.

Whenever I am writing, editing or proofreading a piece of technical documentation my thoughts drift to where this document is going to be used and by whom. Will somebody qualified in the subject matter, or by someone that has little knowledge about the subject read it. And will it be read at leisure in the warmth of an office or in blizzard conditions whilst trying to restart your automobile.

So next time you are asked to proofread a piece of technical documentation bear in mind that it is potentially a lethal document when in the wrong hands in the wrong conditions.