What Is Technical Communication?

Student Writers: Brandon Hayhurst and John De Sousa

What is Technical Communication?

Technical communications is another name for the field known as technical writing. Many people are not aware that this field exists, let alone of what it sets out to accomplish; however, it still has a very high demand in the current job market. While the purpose of a technical communicator is nominally to communicate technically, it isn’t quite that simple. There are many things a technical communicator must consider when communicating. Furthermore, because of the nature of work, technical communicators must be an expert in the area they are discussing, thus a lot of research is required.

Technical writing is now known as technical communications because a technical writer does so much more than just write. The same applies to the use of rhetoric, better known as the art of persuasion; because it is not only used in writing. A technical communicator is responsible for writing documents, designing and creating graphics, designing and creating websites, copyediting other documents, examining documents for usability, illustrations, and much more. Regardless of the task, rhetoric is used in every single one of these areas. This is most likely why the field is not very well known, because it encompasses and overlaps with so many other fields; however, interestingly enough, this is also why the field has the demand that it does.

Technical Communication at the University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers undergraduate and master’s degrees in English/Technical Communication. The undergraduate degree functions as a track of an English B.A. Starting as a minor in 1981, the program, initially named Technical Writing and taught by Dr. Dan Jones and Professor Gloria Jaffe, attracted a small group of students until it became an official major in 1983. The graduate program, by contrast, was approved in the fall of 1991 and began classes in the spring of 1992. Currently about 80 undergraduate and a dozen graduate students are enrolled in the program, which has graduated close to 100 master’s degree students and several hundred undergraduates throughout its lifetime.

Technical communication is an extraordinarily complex and expansive field that covers a variety of subjects. Of these subjects, audience analysis is the first and most important aspect; without the ability to recognize the needs and desires of an audience, and what discourse community it belongs to, communication ends before it begins. Many other skills are involved, however. Students learn how to effectively organize documents. They learn how to apply design elements to various types of documents, creating compelling visual elements and illustrations. They grow to recognize the differences between document media, and how to properly exploit them. They cultivate an effective prose style by understanding elements such as level of detail and voice, allowing shifts in tone. Finally, everyone is expected to work professionally with others in a team environment, organizing larger projects as a team. Multiple courses emphasize teamwork and require entire classes to work together, fostering effective division of work and outside editing.

Unfortunately, while students are expected to become familiar with the tools of the trade, including programs such as Adobe PageMaker and Microsoft Word, it’s unwise for a university curriculum to select specific programs to teach out of the hundreds available. Similarly, university courses have a hard time networking and marketing students to professionals. To meet these and additional needs, students created a Registered Student Organization, the Future Technical Communicators.