Technical Communication: What does it mean?

After taking this course, my preconceived idea of “technical communication” has changed. I assumed technical communication referred to instructions and scientific discourse. However, now I define technical communication as a broad field with a strong focus on the audience. It uses plain language and aims to explain information in a way that the audience can comprehend. In technical communication, there is no room for connotative meanings and interpretation. Instead, the writing is denotative, explicit, and presented in a way that is useful to the reader.

My definition was influenced by Katherine Durack because she addresses all the necessary elements of technical communication. She explains technical communication as having 3 main characteristics:

1) “Technical [communication] exists within government and industry, as well as in the intersection between private and public spheres.”

2) “Technical [communication] has a close relationship to technology.”

3) “Technical [communication] often seeks to make tacit knowledge explicit.”

Durack’s definition includes every aspect of technical communication. In her 1st characteristic, she addresses the fact that technical communication goes beyond government and industry, and that it exists in private and public spheres as well. This is important because it reminds us that technical communication exists in our everyday lives, and not just in scientific and legal discourse. Whether or not the 2nd characteristic is accurate depends on the way “technology” is defined.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines technology as:

1 :  the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area

2 :  a capability given by the practical application of knowledge

3 :  a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge

4 :  the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor

If you think of technology as strictly computers and electronics, you may argue that technical communication may not necessarily have “a close relationship to technology.” However, if you view technology as a method (or a way of accomplishing a task), then technical communication certainly does have “a close relationship to technology.” Durack’s 3rd characteristic of technical communication is probably the most important because one of the goals of technical communication is to present information in a way that the audience can understand and use.

Learning about technical writing has lead me to appreciate its existence because it would be difficult for society to function without it. Imagine not having road signs, or warning labels, or instruction manuals for your ikea furniture. Everyday tasks would be significantly more difficult if we didn’t have a method of communicating information in a denotative, explicit way that the majority can understand.


3 thoughts on “Technical Communication: What does it mean?”

  1. I can certainly empathize with the expansion of awareness. Technical communication until now has been limited to directions and those user guide that no one actually reads. It was interesting getting to discover just how extensive the definition of technical communication could be, and it what capacities. There are a lot of nit-picky details that go into writing good technical communications pieces that most people do not even notice because we are so used to seeing them all the time. It was also interesting to find out that some information that we often take for advantage as “common knowledge” can sometimes be anything but and that it sometimes takes many multiple sources to form one document.

  2. This class has changed my perspective and understand of technical communication and composition as well. Prior to the class I saw technical communication to be a writer in a cubical, hammering out the details of how to put a horrific IKEA piece together. Not exciting! However, after seeing the almost limitless use of technical communication, the subject has become quite interesting. I did not see government statements or reports to be technical communication, nor did I think that simple communications like road signs or warning to fall within the definition. It has created a totally different prospective.

  3. I had no idea that we use technical communication everyday. From instruction manuels to simple road signs, its crazy! I also had no idea that technical communication included multimodel projects as well. I took a class that was similar to this and that class never explained technical communication. Your blog post did a great job of explaining it in your own words. I also liked how you used the Merriam dictionary to get definitions of what it means and then use actual technical sources to give a clearer meaning of it.
    Your use of “however, now I define technical communication as a broad field with a strong focus on the audience. It uses plain language and aims to explain information in a way that the audience can comprehend.”; is true in my opinion. We tend to focus more of who the audience is than the other way around. Great posting.

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