What is technical communication, actually?

As a technical communicator, sometimes it can be hard to explain to others what it is you do. In the olden days, it was simpler: you could say you wrote manuals. Then, in more recent times, you could say you wrote online Help and manuals.

Today, there can be uncertainty of what is and isn’t technical communication. It can be unclear if certain deliverables should be created by a technical communicator or by someone else. For example, if content moves from a Help page to an onboarding screen, is it still technical communication? If the text moves into the interface, should the technical communicator create it? Are walkthrough videos a function of training or technical communication?

Why does it matter?

You might wonder if this matters. Everyone has a job description and there might be turf wars over who does what. If more content moves outside of the traditional manual and Help page, then the technical communicator’s role might shrink. Also, it can influence where you put technical communication in the corporate hierarchy – as a subset of marketing, development or training, for example.

How is it defined?

The STC’s website includes a definition of technical communication:

Technical communication is a broad field and includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
  • Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
    Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.

The value that technical communicators deliver is twofold:
They make information more useable and accessible to those who need that information, and in doing so,
they advance the goals of the companies or organizations that employ them.

TCeurope defined technical communicators as:

Technical Communicators represent the interface between product and user. Professional Technical Communicators are the users’ advocates. They work for the manufacturers and, at the same, time try to meet the users’ needs for usable information. They ensure that technical products are used effectively, efficiently, satisfactorily and safely. They analyse the product, its features and the different ways of using it as well as the target groups. They analyse the situations, goals, tasks, working processes and routines of the users. They analyse specifications, the functions and the interface of the technical product. They develop appropriate documentation to help users use and enjoy all the features of a product.

“Professional education and training of Technical Communicators in Europe” April 2005

By those definitions, it’s a broad range of types of content: in the application, on paper, audio, online, video and so on. It means lots of people are doing technical communication, many of whom won’t have the job title of technical communicator.

It also means there’s a lot of overlap between content strategy, UI and training. One question that arises then is, how would you define the distinctions between these roles?

Please add your comments below.

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