Monday, March 18, 2013

Being a technical reviewer

Do you love reading books and would like to contribute to the collection of great books out there, without actually writing one yourself? You should check out technical reviewing. In this blog post I’ll give a short overview of what technical reviewing is all about and how you can become a technical reviewer.

About a year ago, I received an e-mail from Packt Publishing asking if I would like to be a technical reviewer for one of their upcoming books, “FusionCharts Beginner’s Guide: The Official Guide for FusionCharts Suite”. They had found me through a blog post I’d written about FusionCharts, and needless to say I was delighted to be asked and I immediately said yes. Skipping ahead 10 months, I started feeling a bit restless and wanted something to do. I found a couple of publishers looking for technical reviewers, and sent them an e-mail showing my interest. Some of them have continuously sent me e-mails with their upcoming books in need of reviewers, but unfortunately none of the books were in my field of expertise. Until a couple of weeks ago, The Pragmatic Bookshelf was looking for reviewers for “The healthy programmer”, coming out in June. Again, I immediately said yes, and I submitted my technical review yesterday.

What does it mean to be a technical reviewer?

The job of a technical reviewer is to read the book, comment on the content and answer questions. For example you might get a list of questions like these:

  • Who is the audience of the book?
  • Have the author left out any important topics?
  • Is the order of the content logical?
  • Are the code examples correct?
  • What could the author do to make the book more interesting?
  • If the book consistent?
  • Have the author explained the concepts clearly enough?

The questions in the list above all concern the book as a whole, but the questions can also be asked per chapter. For example: Which topic do you think should follow this chapter?

As you might have noticed, none of these questions address spellchecking or formatting, the only thing the technical reviewer should focus on is the quality of the content. A technical review is often done before the book is copyedited, which means you should expect quite a lot of spelling mistakes and some strange formatting. Luckily for you, you can ignore them all.

How does the process of reviewing work?

The two technical reviews I’ve done have been quite different from one another. For the first book, I received two chapters per week, which I had to review and submit before receiving two new chapters. So I had no idea what the topic of the next chapters were and in some cases the chapters were given in the incorrect order, for example I reviewed chapter 8 before I reviewed chapter 5. This raised some challenging questions like Which topic do you think should follow this chapter? In addition to this, the book was full of code examples which had to be tried out.

For the second book, I received the whole book at once, and I was given a week to review it. This book did not contain any code, so the questions asked were focusing more on the structure of the book, the amount of details given etc.

As you can see, these were two very different review processes. One of the things they had in common was tight deadlines. Don’t expect to be given a lot of time to complete the review, remember that this is a book the author and the publisher wants to publish as soon as possible.

How can I become a technical reviewer?

A lot of publishers are looking for technical reviewers, check out their websites to find their contact information. Here is a list of the publishers I’ve been in contact with:

Remember, you will not get paid for doing a technical review! You will however, most likely be mentioned in the acknowledgements sections of the book and receive a copy of it when it is published. Most importantly, you get to contribute to a great book!

4 comments:

  1. That's a really cool idea and something I'm pretty sure would never have occurred to me on my own. I imagine that it also makes great CV material and some nice networking connections too. Thanks for the post and tip.

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    1. You're welcome, I've had a lot of fun doing reviews and I hope you will as well. It definitely makes great CV material, not only are you reading books before they are published, but you're also showing that you're willing to contribute :)

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  2. Hi,
    this post pushed me to become a technical reviewer for Packt, and moreover I got in touch with Manning and Pragmatic Bookshelf.
    I enjoy reading technical stuff and this is a very good task to perform during my daily train journey to work.

    Very very good Job!

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    1. I'm so glad I inspired you to become a technical reviewer. It's very rewarding, and as you're saying: a great commuting activity!

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