Technical Communication

Technical communication is the process of reporting information about a technical subject regardless of it being in a written or an oral form. Its goal is to provide the reader or listener with instructions on how to implement a specific task such as installing, configuring and then using and customizing a product. Communicators in this field cover technical or specialized topics.

The job of a technical communicator is to present the necessary information in a way that is easy to assimilate and comprehend by the target audience, which often comprises people who are not specialists in the area. This type of information may include software and medical instructions, functional specifications, training programs and other services. The technical communication field provides various job opportunities such as work for technical writers and editors, indexers, information architects, instructional designers, web designers, developers and technical illustrators. The final product produced by a technical communicator may represent a written manual, a video, an article or a newsletter.

The professional field of technical communication was established during World War I due to an increasing need for technology-related documentation in the military, aerospace, production and electronic industry sectors. In 1953, two new organizations, namely the Society of Technical Writers and the Association of Technical Writers and Editors, were established on the US East Coast with the aim of enhancing the practice of technical communication. In 1957, they combined their activities to set up the Society of Technical Writers and Editors (STWE) which in turn merged with the Technical Publishing Society a few years later in a drive to expand. The new organization was known as the Society of Technical Writers and Publishers. Following 11 years of membership growth, it changed its name to the Society for Technical Communication (STC). It was the STC that managed to persuade the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics to approve technical writing as a profession in 2009. An example given by the STC of the work of a technical communicator includes communicating on topics such as computer applications, medical procedures or environmental regulations. A key tool for this role is technology such as web pages, help files or social media sites.

Technical communication includes various fields such as computers and software, consumer goods and electronics and business processes. Technical communicators are usually appointed by companies or organizations. However, there are professionals who implement the technical communication process as part of another job. An example would be a software programmer who provides work documentation in addition to other activities. Technical writing and technical communication are frequently considered to be the same thing. However, technical writing is only a type of technical communication that seeks to document and explain the basics of a technical process or a product. Examples include printed or online user manuals, installation instructions, employee guidelines, analysis reports or summaries.

A technical communication specialist has to be able to quickly understand new concepts and terminology and to write about a subject while still studying it. The writer is also required to have certain skills in research, communication and computers, in addition to writing and editing experience. It is crucial for the writer to be able to simplify difficult to assimilate information since this is the primary objective of the profession. It is also necessary for the writer to be able to work under pressure and to meet deadlines. Some of the positive aspects of the job include that it provides an opportunity for lifetime learning and frequent communication with other people. On the other hand, it is not suited to everyone as the profession is stressful for those who are not keen on working to a deadline or dealing with multiple projects if they work as a freelance in this field.

In Trends in Technical Communication: Rethinking Help (2011), editor Ellis Pratt examines how professionals can help their clients. Pratt is an expert at technical communication specialists Cherryleaf with more than 15 years of experience in this field and is passionate about promoting the concept of including an emotional element in user guides. In this book he discusses how communicators can measure the value of technical documentation; how to create the "emotion factor" in user manuals to engage loyal customers; how to collaborate with clients; semantic, structured writing; and trends in technical communication. Pratt's other influential work on this topic is How to Write Instructions (2011), which was co-authored by Carol Johnston and Ginny Critcher.

Technical Communication: Selected full-text books and articles

Innovative Approaches to Teaching Technical Communication By Tracy Bridgeford; Karla Saari Kitalong; Dickie Selfe Utah State University Press, 2004
Constructing Rhetorical Education By Marie Secor; Davida Charney Southern Illinois University Press, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 18 "Narration, Technical Communication, and Culture: The Soul of a New Machine as Narrative Romance"
Professional Writing in Context: Lessons from Teaching and Consulting in Worlds of Work By John Frederick Reynolds; Carolyn B. Matalene; Joyce Neff Magnotto; Donald C. Samson Jr.; Lynn Veach Sadler Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995
Librarian's tip: Chap. 14 "Writing in High-Tech Firms"
How to Write & Publish a Scientific Paper By Robert A. Day Oryx Press, 1998 (5th edition)
Technical Communication Learning on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Factors Affecting Cross-Cultural Competence in Globalized Settings By Evia, Carlos Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 2, June 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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