Technical communication is a field that focuses on providing information to users who need assistance to accomplish a defined goal or task. The purpose of technical communication is not to entertain people. The focus of technical communication is to assist users who need specific information on using products, completing tasks, operating equipment, and completing other types of activities.
Technical communicators work with other professionals to maintain the quality of product documentation. Technical communicators work collaboratively with sales personnel, engineers, programmers, graphic designers, quality control personnel, and client support personnel to ensure that product documentation meets the needs of users.
What’s the difference between technical communication and technical writing?
Technical communication and technical writing are basically the same thing. Technical communication is a newer term that describes a field that is growing to include additional skills such as information design, user experience design and instructional design. Both fields share the same goal of creating clear and organized content that helps users to achieve specific goals.
Technical communication skills
The field of technical communication encompasses a number of related disciplines that include:
- Information design
- Technical writing
- Technical editing
- Instructional design
- User experience design
- Document design
- Training design
- Web design
What do technical writers do?
As a technical writer, you are expected to be able to:
- Determine the needs of the audience
- Organize the structure of technical documents
- Write information that meets the needs of the audience
- Write so that users can easily find and understand information
- Use page elements such as tables, lists, and headings appropriately
- Edit and proofread to produce documents without grammar or typographical errors
Technical writers interpret the thoughts and ideas of engineers, programmers, and marketing managers by translating complex concepts and procedures into simple English. As a technical writer, you are a technical “interpreter” since you must:
- Know two “languages” intimately and understand their cultures. If you don’t understand computers, computer jargon, and the culture of computer programmers, you can never understand a complex computer application well enough to explain it. If you don’t know the things that challenge novice computer users, you can’t effectively explain tasks like installation or configuration.
- Be accurate since mistakes can be costly or even dangerous. You don’t want to miss a step when writing emergency procedures for a nuclear reactor.
- Understand the audience. If you can’t understand the audience and interpret their needs, you will never produce the document they need or want.
Not just manuals
Technical writing is not limited to user manuals. Technical writers may be called on to produce different types of technical documents. These technical documents have many similar features and requirements, but some documents, such as websites, have more specific requirements.
Technical writers produce documents that include:
- User manuals
- Quick reference guides
- Annual or quarterly reports
- White papers
- Marketing documents
- Training materials
- Online help
- User assistance (FAQs)
In addition to writing skills, technical writers should have solid computer skills. Technical writers should have basic knowledge of using applications that are typically used in a technical writing environment. Popular applications include Microsoft Office, Adobe Framemaker, RoboHelp, Madcap Flare, Adobe Photoshop, Snagit, HTML editors, and XML editors. You don’t need to be an expert in all of these applications, but you should have a basic ability to use software applications to write technical content.
If you would like to get training and practical experience in technical writing, you should check out our Professional Technical Writing or Online Help System Design course. The Professional Technical Writing course provides students with experience in writing concise technical documents. The Online Help System Design course gives students practice in planning and writing online help for software applications.