Ever wondered whether readers can tell that you didn't use a professional editor? The answer is yes! Readers can tell, even if they aren't thinking "I doubt that a professional editor worked on this." Even if a technical document is free of spelling and grammar errors, if it hasn't been professionally edited, it probably contains usage mistakes, imprecise language, inconsistent formatting, and other problems that a pro would have corrected.
Professionally edited technical documents have three characteristics: they are precise, consistent, and simple.
Professional editors correct problems with imprecise words, like using "while" when you mean "although" or "since when you mean "because."* These usage mistakes make your meaning unclear. They also distract readers, who must try to figure out what you meant by examining the context.
Professionally edited technical documents are consistent in everything from terminology to appearance. Editors apply style guides and formatting for consistency both within single documents and throughout collections of documents, like manuals. Even if different people wrote different sections, a professionally edited document "sounds" like it was written by a single person.
Professional editors replace showy and complex words with simpler words that are widely understood and remove grandiose words like "utilize" and "shall."** Editors revise complicated explanations and break long sentences and paragraphs into shorter versions. Editors also reorganize documents into a logical order to make them easier to understand. A professionally edited technical document says exactly what you mean, in a way that readers are likely to understand.
These three characteristics produce the value of professional editing: credibility. When your documents are precise, consistent, and simple, they are credible to readers. Credibility tells readers that they can trust you and the information in your documents.
* If you're wondering "what's the difference?" here you go! "While" implies concurrent timing (that A is happening at the same time as B). "Although" and "whereas" imply concession (that A is happening in spite of B). "Since" implies that time has passed; "because" specifies causation.
** "Utilize" has a precise meaning and is rarely used correctly (this blog describes it well). The word "utilize" is one of my pet peeves! Another pet peeve is "shall." Click here if you want to know more about the scourge of "shall."