By Nischal Kelwadkar & Ciara Donley-Burnham
The field of technical communication can sometimes be confusing to people who aren't tech comm majors. Without an understanding of what technical communication is or what technical communicators do, some people may end up having misconceptions about tech comm--for example, that it is dull and requires an expert understanding of complex, technical topics. In this article, we aim to dispel some these common myths.
Myth 1: Technical communication is boring and only involves writing.
A degree in tech comm qualifies students for a range of different job titles, including technical writer, social media specialist, instructional designer, UX designer, and more. All of these roles require varying amounts of writing, but none of them involve only writing.
In fact, by one estimate, the amount of time technical writers spend writing might be as little as 10%. Social media specialists might spend more time managing a company's branding and planning new campaigns using images and color rather than just writing tweets. Instructional and UX designers specialize in how writing is presented and focus on how people access and use that information.
According to a study of tech comm job ads conducted by researchers at Arizona State University, employers look for a wide variety of skills when hiring technical communicators. Written and oral communication skills are critical, but so are skills related to content development, project management, research, and design. And while word processors and text editors are a large part of most tech comm jobs, other tools such as Photoshop, InDesign, Madcap Flare, and HTML/CSS are also used by many technical communicators every day.
Myth 2: Technical communicators do not get to be creative.
Sure, technical communicators need to follow guidelines related to style, plain language, and usability. But that doesn't mean they don't get to be creative. Every writer has a unique voice, and good technical communication requires writers to find creative ways to use their voice when communicating complex information. The final product will often be more interesting, engaging, and unique if the writer can successfully inject a bit of personality into their work. In fact, some brands have started to value and pursue a fun and playful voice to better relate to their audience.
Document format and design are also important elements of technical communication, and technical communicators have opportunities to be highly creative with the designs they choose to present information. Determining the best use of color, images, and organization to make information both accessible and easy to understand is a problem that requires a lot of creativity to solve.
Similarly, that use of color, images, and organization is crucial in the art of data visualization. Technical communicators sometimes need to organize highly complex (and sometimes bland) data into easy-to-digest formats. Using their creativity, they can breathe life into charts, graphs, maps, and diagrams and turn them into something beautiful.
Myth 3: A good technical communicator must be a subject-matter expert in a technical field like engineering, medicine, or technology.
While it can be beneficial for a technical communicator to have expert-level knowledge of a topic, it is not necessary. Technical communicators work with subject-matter experts (SMEs) to present complex information in a way that is easy to understand. A writer with too much expertise in a given topic may suffer from the curse of knowledge and use jargon that leaves readers as confused as they would have been if they had read a document intended for an expert audience.
In fact, technical communicators need to have strong interpersonal skills in order to build a rapport with SMEs and be able to carry out effective interviews to get the information that they need. They must know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to transform that highly specialized information to fit the intended audience.
Michael Harvey, a hiring manager writing for the Society for Technical Communication, believes that "technical curiosity" is just as important as a writer's technical skills and background knowledge. Having a genuine interest in a topic will allow technical writers to present the topic in a way that keeps it interesting and relatable--both for the writer and reader.
Technical communication is an interactive, adaptable, and stimulating profession that requires a wide variety of skills. To learn more about technical communication at UNT, follow the Technical Communication Facebook and Twitter accounts.