What You Need To Know About Technical Communication

'We really need to get on-message about out responsive reciprocal concepts, on-message.'

Image gotten from cartoonstock.com

According to the Society for Technical Communication, technical communication is a field that includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
  • Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
  • Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.

For me, technical communication is is a field that focuses on providing information to users who need assistance in order to define a specific goal. It enables them to find specific information on using products, completing tasks, operating equipment, and completing other types of activities.

Technical communication is valuable to everyone because it makes information more useable and accessible to those who need it.  For examples, software instructions help users be more successful on their own, improving how easily those products gain acceptance into the marketplace and reducing costs to support them. Medical instructions help patients and care-providers manage a patient’s treatment, improving the health of the patient while reducing costs and risks associated with incorrect care.

“Defining Technical Communication.” Defining Technical Communication. Society for Technical Communication. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

 

Technical Communication: A Definitive Meaning

Technical communication has interested me for several years; mainly due to the fact that my father has been writing technical documents for a living and it seems very interesting. With my college graduation looming, enrolling in this class has further increased my level of interest.  During this semester, I would not say that my preconceived idea of “technical communication” has changed; more so, I would say that my knowledge on the subject has expanded to a whole new level that certainly makes me appreciate its existence and those who shape it. Originally, I held a very simple understanding of technical communication; that it basically dealt with instruction manuals and scientific discourse.  Although still true, that is only a minor aspect in the intricate understanding of technical communication that I have amassed.

Technical communication is ever present in our society today: from instruction manuals to road signs to government contracts.  The absolute main goal of technical communication is to be explicit, efficient, user-accessible, and free of loose interpretations or connotations.  However, for this to occur, an incessant connection to the audience is necessary.  The extent to which an audience influences the course of technical communication is vast and complex.  The techniques, language, and design choices used in technical communication should benefit the audience, appeal to them in a way that keeps them interested yet properly informed.  This class has taught me many different examples of effective technical communication based on audience.  It has also introduced me to significant figures in determining the definition and purpose of technical communication.

Katherine T. Durack is a prominent figure in the technical communication field that has greatly influenced my understanding on the subject.  She highlights three principals of technical communication that coincide with the aspects I discussed above; which have expanded my knowledge in her journal article, “Gender, Technology, and the History of Technical Communication.”

  • Her first point states, “Technical writing exists within government and industry, as well as in the intersection between private and public spheres.”  This statement coincides with my point about technical writing being ever present in our society.

 

  • Her second point states, “Technical writing has a close relationship to technology.”  This statement coincides with my point that technical communication needs to be direct and user-accessible.  One of the main ways an audience receives information is through quick technology that is readily available for a majority of the population.  Technical communicators need to be aware of the most current technologies to make sure their audience receives their info in the most user friendly way.  Also, there are so many new programs for designing the most efficient technical communication and the most successful communicator will be up-to-date with these programs.

 

  • Her final point states, “Technical writing often seeks to make tacit knowledge explicit.”  Simple enough, this point coincides with my point that the communication needs to be simple yet accurate, easily understandable, and free of loose interpretations.

Source Cited:

Durack, Katherine T. (1997). Gender, Technology, and the History of Technical Communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 6(3): 249-60.

Blog #10: Technical Communication Defined By Karina

Overview

The purpose of this blog post is to introduce a new definition of technical communication to my classmates so that you all know what I have learned and hopefully can relate to my observations. I will discuss my definition and explain how I created it as well as whom counts as a technical communicator based on my definition.

My Definition

I chose my definition of technical communication by reassessing the collaboration of our readings and other outside sources and how their authors defined it. Below, I have listed the definitions from multiple authors that were particularly interesting to me.

  1. “Technical communication is no longer simply communication about technology; it is also often communication as and in technology […] In other words, technical communication has become both a process and a product” –Solving Problems in Technical Communications by Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber.
  2. “Communicating about technical or specialized topics […] by using technology and providing instructions about how to do something” – Society for Technical Communication.
  3. “A means to document or convey scientific, engineering, or other technical information” –Wikipedia (Let’s be real, Wikipedia’s definitions are usually spot-on).

I notice that many sources define technical communication by its characteristics instead of one sentence. I also noticed that the main thing these definitions have in common is logical order. But with these definitions, I have settled on my own meaning of technical communication: a means of explaining procedures that produces another procedure and/or product successfully using multimodal tools. I created this definition also because of my own experiences through the course of our class. For example, the process for which I created the annual report template for Our House and explaining the procedure to recreate are forms of technical communication.

My Definition and Tech Comm

However, my definition does not only satisfy my firsthand experiences, but it also relates to the general field of technical communication in that it does not focus on a specific topic or kind of technology but also includes process, product, and technology simultaneously. For instance, throughout the weeks in class, we have been introduced to development/training module presentations that covered a good portion of technical communication: Griffith’s Procedural Narrative, aka “A How-To on How-To’s,” module presentation is one that directly relates to my definition that technical communications is a means of explaining procedures that produces another procedure and/or product successfully using multimodal tools.

My Definition and English

My definition also applies to my major and focus: English and rhetoric and composition. One of the reasons that I chose to take this class is the importance of being able to enhance my critical thinking and applying it to real situations (our service learning project). I think logically and less abstractly, so technical communications sounded like a course that could help me gain new skills and apply them to other courses as well.

Who Counts As a Technical Communicator?

By my definition, teachers, medical doctors, scientists, chefs, and pretty much anyone who deals with more logical work are considered technical communicators because each of them instruct others with or without technical knowledge. Even after this course, I would consider all of us technical communicators because we will apply the logical written skills and knowledge that we gained at some point in our job application processes.

Sources Cited

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan and Stuart A. Selber. Solving Problems in Technical Communication. The University of Chicago, 2013. Print.

Society for Technical Communication: http://www.stc.org/about-stc/the-profession-all-about-technical-communication/defining-tc

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_communication

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.

 

Delivering Chills and Engaging Readers

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Image displayed on the homepage of Ted’s blog.

I’ve always had a certain propensity towards the things that go bump in the night.  Maybe it was because of the countless summers I spent at sleep-away camp, swapping ghost stories around a dying fire; or maybe it was my father’s immense collection of HP Lovecraft that I was forbidden to read as a child (and, of course, read every chance I got).  Maybe it was just an innate fascination.  Whatever the reason, in the years since, my love for the horror genre has only grown.  And recently, it led me to the virtual world of “Creepypasta.”

Creepypasta—an unquantifiable forum in which both amateur and professional authors create and share scary stories, has deep roots in folklore and urban legends, and seems to hold Lovecraft to the highest possible esteem—has provided a complete overhaul of the methods in which we seek fear, and seek to fear instill fear in others.

With the advent of the technologic age, and the rise of digital communication media, word of mouth has given way to word of user, or website: “These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors” (Wiles).

 

 

The most successful Creepypastas, in both ratings and eliciting fear, are the lengthier ones, as they rely on time-tested and true rhetorical strategies that promote user engagement.  Drawing from Lovecraft’s 1927 definition of “weird” fiction, the authors of these long works know that, in order to keep the reader engaged, “A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain” (Wiles).

Two of the oldest and most respected long-form Creepypastas,  “Ted the Caver,” and “BEN Drowned” artfully demonstrate how to keep the reader engaged, and guarantee that they will see the work through to the end, both utilize the same rhetorical strategies: a format that breaks from the traditional narrative and fabricated multimedia evidence.

The tale of “Ted The Caver,” in which two amateur spelunkers excavate a virgin cave, and unwittingly wake a beast of unfathomable evil, is presented as a genuine blog, with the narrator (presumably, Ted himself) chronicling the events of the story in real-time posts.  “BEN Drowned,” the story of a young college student who unknowingly purchases a Majora’s Mask cartridge that is haunted by the malevolent spirit of a boy named Ben, is also written as blog post entries, each stamped in real time.

 

A screenshot of the first entry on the original "Ted The Caver" blog.
A screenshot of the first entry on the original “Ted The Caver” blog.

This format—a blog maintained by a clueless narrator—demands the continued interest and attention of the reader. With unnervingly realistic narrative voices and characters, the reader is constantly engaged, wondering if what they are reading is fact or fiction, pushing forward to see how the plot unravels.

In addition to format, both Creepypastas guarantee their readers’ attention throughout the duration of the piece by offering them some form of evidence, which acts as a validation for the readers’ continued commitment to the piece, a method for ensuring that they will continue reading, and a deeper level of meaning and context for the story itself.  In “Ted The Caver,” Ted shares photos of the cave, and their progress in excavating it.  “BEN Drowned” offers videos of the supposedly haunted section of the video game, complete with music and graphics that break from canon of the original game while still maintaining its integrity and validity.  These offerings are fascinating, lend credibility to the content, and help to keep the reader engaged.

Owing to the evolution of communication as a digital medium, keeping a reader engaged until the end of a long piece can prove difficult.  But by adapting to the changing rhetorical situation, such as the authors of “Ted the Caver,” and “BEN Drowned” have done with their nontraditional formats and multimedia integrations, it is not an impossible task.

An image of "B," the narrator's companion, taken from the original "Ted The Caver" blog.
An image of “B,” the narrator’s companion, taken from the original “Ted The Caver” blog.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Jadusable. “BEN Drowned.” Creepypasta Wiki. 7 Sept. 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

Wiles, Will.  “Creepypasta: With a flood of dark memes and viral horror stories, the internet is mapping the contours of modern fear.” Aeon. 20 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

 

Welcome to the Page of Ted. Angelfire. 19 May 2001. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

Blog #10: What is Technical Communication?

At the beginning of the semester, some of our very first readings dealt with the problem of defining technical communication. Often, scholars offer a number of characteristics of workplace communication–it’s collaborative, multimodal, reader-centered, etc.–but one rarely finds someone willing to provide a neat, quotable definition. As we near the end of the semester, we are going to refocus on the question of what we mean when we identify “technical communication” as a sub-category of “communication.”

For example, in one of the very first articles we read, Susan Rauch defines technical writing as writing about technological or scientific content, a category that explicitly includes medical writing, such as that authored by the medieval abbess Hidegard von Bingen. In her work, Rauch draws upon Katherine Durack’s seminal article, “Gender, Technology, and the History of Technical Communication.” Durack’s own definition of technical communication, which continues to influence how professionals and scholars conceive of their field, consists of three identifying characteristics or markers: 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.” (258)

Durack settles upon these criteria after an extended consideration of how other generally accepted definitions of technical communication as related to technology and the workplace led to historical exclusion of female contributions to the field. Thus, she argues that defining “technical communication” also necessitates careful and inclusive definition of “technology” as a key term. Specifically, she maintains that “technology” must include “knowledge, actions, and tools” (258) necessary to accomplish a broad range of human activity, from using the latest computer technology to preventing diaper rash.

Now that you have nearly completed this course, you should be able to come up with your own working definition of technical communication. Using any of the resources you’ve encountered or read this semester, write a blog post that offers your definition of technical communication, explains why you settled upon that definition, and also justifies the utility or value of your definition within the field of technical communication more broadly or within your particular discipline/major.

Posting: Group 2

Commenting: Group 1

Category: What is technical communication?

In your Blog #10 post, take a position about how technical communication should be defined as you consider some or all of these questions: Who “counts” as a technical communicator? Why is it necessary or useful to identify “technical communication” as a sub-category of “communication”? Why should we be concerned about defining “technical communication” in ways that exclude women, or medieval writers, religious or ethnic minorities, or people of color? Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog.

Sources Cited

Durack, Katherine T. (1997). Gender, Technology, and the History of Technical Communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 6(3): 249-60.

Rauch, Susan. (2013). The accreditation of Hildegard von Bingen as medieval female technical writer. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 42(4): 393-411.

Featured Image Credit: Books for school by Mark Larson on Flickr.

The tl;dr phenomenon in regards to the newspaper field

I definitely agree that this is a phenomenon that occurs, and as a writer (and editor) for the newspaper, it’s an issue that occurs in print just as often as electronically. With the online formatting, it’s quite simple. People are lazy and they don’t want to scroll down to read more, or their attention spans are short.

According to the SAP Business Blog,  they state that “According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013.” The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds, so human beings have dropped even lower than Dory!

The biggest change over that period of time was the internet, with Pintrest and Google and Wikipedia, and along came MySpace, and its followers. With the internet, it’s so easy to get distracted by notifications from Facebook, Twitter and all the other different social media sites, so people have a list of “things to read”, but they never actually get around to reading it.

My mother and I frequently spot cool things on the web, and send them to each other so that when the opportune moment comes, we’ll have a chance to read, but it ended up becoming a thread of unread messages that gets lost amongst other forms of electronic interaction.

As far as the actual length of the articles, the trick lies in adding multimedia and breaking down your paragraphs. As English majors, one of the first things we are taught is that any goof paragraph needs to be anywhere between four to six lines long.

However, when writing for the web, we use the pyramid tools, where each paragraph is two or three lines at most and you start with your most important points at the top of the page to grab the reader’s attention, before continuing on to facts that might not be as gripping to use in you opening paragraphs.

In the newspaper world, pictures are no longer sufficient to keep a reader’s attention. We’re actually discussing incorporating videos and audio media into the articles we use. We have to use graphics and flowcharts to keep things interactive. If you get the readers online to interact with the text, there is a greater chance that they will actually stay on till the end!

However, occasionally, if you can’t beat them, you join them. Some companies such as “The Skimm”, a great website that takes top news stories and boils them down to two or three sentences, efficiently providing a quick and easy summary that allows readers to make their way through basic conversations on these topics.

TL;DNR–Academic Copout

 

I honestly have very little to relate to in this post. I have never in my life posted TL:DNR on anything I have been asked to read in the entirety of my academic career. From a purely academic standpoint, baring expressed page limitations for assignments in which case professors or fellow students could be said to be within their rights to forego, I find this sentiment extremely rude and counterproductive. I think a more accurate term instead is TL;TB (Too Long, Too Boring); but if someone does not or cannot be bothered to engage with your work on some level, even if it means skimming until the very end, then they only have themselves to blame for their dissatisfaction in the end. The point of reading something, especially for someone else is to give them ideas about how they can improve. If you never read, how can you suggest meaningful improvements to make it more engaging if that is what it needs?

For myself, there have been several papers and assignments of others that were about as entertaining as watching paint dry as far as their overall style was concerned, but I still read enough to grasp what was important, so that I could make those suggestions. People who simply write out TL;DNR are shirking their responsibilities not only as readers but as critiques; it gives the impression not only that they are bored, but that they are lazy, unwilling to take the time to truly analyze and give voice to their objections; if they write something to that effect who is to say they read the piece at all in the first place?

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Good working relationships, no matter what the project require reciprocity. If I felt like my school readings were too long and dry could I simply put TL;DNR at the top of the page of every in class quiz over the material? Of course not. Doing such a thing would not would not only indicate failure in the general sense of making an excuse, it would also indicate an extreme lack of personal responsibility and initiative.

All this being said, the working world can be somewhat different, especially when it comes to advertisement. In this sense it is very much the business owner’s or agency’s responsibility to ensure short sweet and simple on every piece of ad or flyer. 1. Because it is an investment on their part and 2. There is no real concept of obligation in selling goods. Consumers do not have to buy your product, they have a choice and competition to go elsewhere to, thus the producer has the responsibility of making sure what time they have to spare is not wasted when it comes to reading your ad or finding out more information.

When to Cut It Down

I cannot count the times I have heard a fellow student, friend, co-work, or stranger on the street say, “This is too long!” when responding to content in a brochure, article, newspaper, etc, and decided the information is not important enough to read. In fact, I am ashamed to say, I have said this many times myself. Even while being guilty of this, I do take the position that it is the readers responsibility to engage and examine longer works; however, I do not see this as a legitimate reality. By this I mean it is not a reality for readers not only take responsibility, but also act upon that responsibility. The attention span of the overall public–being extremely short– seems to overrule the readers responsibility and forces the creator to chose to fight against the reality or succumb to it.

Creators now have to decided whether to have their composition viewed by concentrating the content and shorting the readable information, or “fighting the good fight” and publishing a longer work. It seems that the choice would be based off of the necessity the information and demographic of the intended audience. If the
information is vital to the public good or knowledge, the creator will have to take the attention span into consideration. For example, it would be virtually useless to publish a multiple page document, wordy brochure, or text heavy website for disseminating information about Ebola to the public. Though the information is seen as important and desired, it would not be absorb by the reader due to the lack of concentrated information. In this case, a simplified and direct format would be best for the dissemination, perhaps bullet points, short video, or images based information.

I have discovered a download from Google Chrome that will summarize long articles down to a few sentences automatically. I believe this reflects on the current generation. We are not only in need of fast delivery of information, we need the information condensed to such a degree so to absorb only the basic facts and move on to the next. Is the a positive characteristic or negative? Are we efficient and “hyper-productive, ” or are we missing a elements of information?  Does this have an affect on social skills and personal relationships?

Blog Post #9: Who is Responsible for the Burden of Truth?

The internet has made available a plethora of information which can be accessed with just a few clicks. The reason the world wide web is so wonderful is because it allows us to compile and document information in ways different than ever before. However, this has created a sort of saturation of information; suddenly people are able to Google just about anything and come up with hundreds or thousands of webpage results. The user is then responsible for the daunting task of sorting out what’s useful and reliable from what’s questionable and irrelevant.

See, the ease of the internet is also one of its major drawbacks. Because it takes almost no effort to post something online, this means just about everyone can post their opinions, ideas, experiences, and wisdom on the web. Some of these people will be professional critics, journalists, and writers — others, however, will not. Something you may not realize is that there is a large portion of content posted online that is created by authors unaware of rhetorical contexts or the anomalies associated with an online audience. This may be one reason why so much of the content found on the internet can be inaccurate, irrelevant, or simply too long-winded and without a concrete point.

In embracing the internet we must also embrace that, due to the free-for-all nature of the web, it is the responsibility of users to discern the good from the bad. This realization sheds light on just how unfortunate it is that people are no longer taking the time to read lengthier pieces of text. Regardless of our desire for instant gratification and conciseness, sometimes it is necessary to engage ourselves in more substantial pieces of writing. Some subjects simply require a large amount of background information or explanation in order for a truly coherent and informative piece of writing to be produced on the topic.

Of course, it’s understandable that internet users are looking for short answers online. With the popularity of sites like Twitter that are based on short bursts of thought in 140 characters or less, it makes sense that people expect truly valuable ideas to be expressed in a concise way.

However, those unwilling to take the time to consider larger texts will have misconceptions and knee-jerk reactions. Take online news stories for example, which are often lead by a misleading title meant to foster attention and shock value. If someone only sees the title without reading the whole story, they will more than likely draw a lot of false conclusions and assumptions. I myself have been guilty of relying on titles alone for information about current events.

If users are unwilling to consider the whole story they are missing out on key information. It isn’t realistic to expect that everything online is useful information, so instead that must be replaced with an effort to sift through what exists and find the facts whether they are brief or verbose.

Dr. Robin Wharton | 25 Park Place #2434 | Office Hours: M/W 9:30 to 10:30, T/Th 2:30 to 3:30

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