Professional and Technical Writing/Rhetoric/Context

The Many Contexts of Communicating Technical Information


Though you may already know a great deal about effective communication within an academic environment, technical communication is not limited to this area. You must know how to communicate effectively in many other settings such as a professional environment.

Technical Communication Can Take Many Forms

Many different types of documents are created and used every day by professionals. The most common and well known of these documents are memos and emails, which are used in every type of business. In addition to this, technical communicators also create instructions, product guides and documentation, graphs, charts, images, videos, and other forms of content. No matter what medium a technical communicator chooses to use, the main goal is always to be informative and clear.

Technical Communication Serves a Practical Purpose

Technical communication is employed in real world settings for practical purposes. Whether to instruct, inform, or persuade, technical communication is used for a myriad of purposes beyond the sort of straightforward informative writing typical of educational or certain social settings. Beyond being inspiring or entertaining, technical writing must be useful to an audience trying to perform a task.

Technical Communication Addresses Complex Audiences

Academic papers are often addressed to a single individual or a small group of peers with very similar experiences and expectations. Technical writing, because of its practical and collaborative nature, must often be geared toward a complex audience. Technical communicators must be careful to be conscious of intended and unintended audiences, foreign and domestic readers, and individuals with vastly differing responsibilities, experiences, and expectations of a given document. The context in which a document is read will differ with each reader and it is important to keep documents concise and free of bias and excessive or unclear language to ensure that they are understood.

Technical Communication is Collaborative

Technical communication documents will often require input or additional work from several co-authors, depending on the complexity of the document and the nature of the task with which it is dealing. Paul Anderson's Technical Communication textbook relates an anecdote regarding the proposal to build the International Space Station which contained text and drawings from more than 300 engineers. This may be an extreme example, but even when writing a technical document alone, collaboration and consultation with coworkers or other members of the intended audience may form a part of an author's writing process.

Technical Communication is Shaped by Conventions and Culture

Just as with academic writing, organizational conventions as well as culture will shape the style used in technical documents. Organizations may conceive of themselves as formal and conservative or informal and innovative, and reflect this self-conception in their communication style. This reflection often extends to social dimensions within the workplace or the culture of the society in which the organization operates. A technical communicator's style will change depending on the social and organizational contexts that they are working within.

Technical Communication is a complex discipline because it can occur in so many contexts. It can be encountered in nearly any professional setting from a construction yard to a courtroom. It is present when you consult a user manual for your car, microwave, computer, or un-assembled bookshelf. Adaptivity to ever changing audiences as well as legal and ethical issues and a variety of social factors is one of the most important traits of a successful technical communicator.