Reshaping Technical Communication: New Directions and Challenges for the 21st Century

By Barbara Mirel | Go to book overview

Introduction

In the 20th century, the field of technical communication made tremendous strides. What began as a specialty matured into a field. In many organizations, what began as one or a few writing or editing positions became entire departments or divisions of documentation, online help, or technical communication. In many colleges and universities, what began as just a sprinkling of academic courses became entire technical communication programs or even departments. At the Society for Technical Communication, what began as a modest assembly of technical communication specialists grew into an impressive, powerful organization recently boasting more than 24,000 members. In the latter half of the 20th century, the field strengthened to the point of heralding its own body of empirical studies on technical communication and related topics, its own journals and anthologies, and its own annual regional, national, and international conferences. By the end of the century, it was no wonder that many technical communication specialists were proud and excited about how far the field had evolved over the past fifty plus years.

The field, however, cannot afford to rest on its laurels. The 21st century challenges us with unprecedented demands. Digital information and electronic records have become ubiquitous and have given rise to new genres, new media beyond print, new modalities beyond words, and new expectations for quick turnarounds. More and more frequently, content and structure are divided between content strategists and information architects and integrated by yet other information designers, often threatening the cohesion, coherence, and unity that make communications effective. Modules and re-use have become watchwords in the composing of communications, making it difficult to tailor compositions to specific audiences who, from a marketing point of view, now require more personalization than ever before.

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