Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 20, Number 4, December 1998.

ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)


1998 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


Documentary editors have put technology to good use in the last twenty years. Technology has helped us:

• gain better intellectual control over our documents

• produce more accurate and reliable texts

• find information that enhances our annotation • provide better intellectual access through our indexes

In spite of the wide array of software available, most projects have never gone beyond word-processing and spreadsheet programs. Here and there the landscape is dotted with a database program or two. And a few hardy souls even took on the mainframe and used it to create indexes and bibliographies, to compare texts, to provide typesetting tapes, or for other chores. But most of our work has been created in a very simple word-processing environment.

But technology hasn't always seemed simple. Establishing a word-processing environment to handle editorial chores in the late '70s or early '80s was not trivial. Documentary editors started at ground zero, and the learning curve was steep. Cursor keys, CRTs, ASCII character sets, memory, disk space-these and other terms were just as foreign then as a new language. And in fact, we were learning a new language-one that is still evolving today. But twenty years has brought some familiarity- and perhaps some contempt as well. Editors have learned through bitter experience that using technology requires constant attention. Few among us have not suffered the loss of an hour's work (or even worse) because we failed to backup a file or because the system itself failed. And few among us have not been forced to move our work from one system to another because of the rapid shifts in technology-shifts that almost always involved weeks and weeks of work to get the new system finely tuned to our editorial tasks. But in spite of the downside of technology, we embraced it and continue to do so. No seasoned editor would think of starting a new project without a computer system to handle editorial chores.