Examining Technical Communication
Have you ever questioned what technical communication is, or what this profession will be like in the future? Or what is currently happening in technical communication and how do practitioners define this field in their work? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’re in luck! Kathy Pringle and Sean Williams use applied research to examine these questions in their article, “Has Technical Communication Arrived as a Profession?” The authors primarily conduct research through a series of case studies examining how practitioners answer two questions:
- How do technical communicators define technical communication as a field?
- What do technical communicators do in actual practice?
All participants represented a wide range of job titles suggesting many organizations do not recognize technical communication as a field; however, all participants personally identified as technical communicators. To answer the first question, the majority of participants defined the field of technical communication involving audience analysis or communication with peers and subject matter experts. Six out of ten participants stated that software and technology did not define their job. Instead, this field emphasizes skills that involve “designing information by conducting audience analysis, communicating, writing, designing, or editing” (364).
Addressing the second question, research from this article shows that all participants engaged in some type of editing–both online and on paper. Seven participants reviewed documents to learn new information, and six participated in some type of research. To summarize the tasks technical communicators perform on a day-to-day basis, writing, managing, designing, and communicating were the most common results from this study.
For technical and professional communication practitioners reading this article, the authors’ research findings are important because they explain the experiences and opinions of other technical communicators. This allows for connectivity within this professional field and can also fill in informational gaps to new technical communicators. Pringle and Williams’ article is also important because it briefly examines technical communication in the past, interviews participants in the present, and accurately makes predictions about this field in the future.
Personally, I was not surprised that most technical communicators see themselves as user advocates, communicators, writers, editors, and information designers. I similarly view myself in this light and my education reinforces these ideas as I continue studying technical communication in graduate school. As technology continues to evolve, our roles will too; however, technology is simply a tool helping us accomplish our communicative tasks. A few quotes I enjoyed reading from this article states:
But in spite of all the technological change that will happen in the years ahead, technical communication has quite possibly arrived at a point where we are able to articulate a set of professional attitudes and practices that give us a sense of group identity. We approach technology from a human perspective and believe that technology should adapt to people, not the other way around. We design our communication products accordingly, using whatever media, software, technology, or tool is most appropriate to achieve this end. (Pringle, Williams 369)
In the future, this article optimistically shines a bright light on technical communication when the authors argue that technology helps technical communicators manifest our identities, not the identity itself. We facilitate and drive innovation by catering information to specific audience groups, so this field will continue to heavily rely on technology to perform work. As a collective community, understanding current trends and definitions of technical communication will help our understanding of this field in the future. Additionally, as technical communicators continue to articulate our identities and profession, others outside this field will also begin to recognize this.
The Future Is the Past: Has Technical Communication Arrived as a Profession?, by Kathy Pringle and Sean D. Williams
Viewpoint Written by Grace Larner, Texas State University
Edited by Christina Rendon, Texas State University