Technical Communication Program
at the University of Kansas

Technical Communication Defined

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“Technical Communication” Defined

by Chris McKitterick

“Technical communication” is the process of gathering technical information and presenting it to a targeted audience in a clear, useful, accurate, comprehensive, grammatically correct, and easily understandable form (to name a few measures). The term “technical” includes scientific, mechanical, chemical, legal, economic, medical, procedural, or other specialized information. A few examples of technical communication are Dad’s Own Cookbook, Windows 2003 Server Deployment Planning Guide, and The Chicago Manual of Style.

A technical communicator is anyone who creates technical documents. They are engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, or anyone else with a special knowledge of a certain field of study… and of course technical communicators are also full-time writers and editors who are not, themselves, technical experts but are instead experts in creating technical documents. Examples of technical communicators include an astronomer documenting the discovery of a new comet, a chemist writing an abstract for a presentation, a mechanical engineer reporting on a crash test, a social worker preparing a brief for a court case, or a science-magazine reporter documenting discoveries she knows nothing about before starting work.

“Technical communication” as a full-time job encompasses the work done by individuals with many different job titles, such as writer, editor, designer, illustrator, focus-group expert, or Web designer, because they work in different media as the situation dictates.

Technical communicators study their audience and determine the best way to present the information. Should it be a table or a chart? An online help file or website? A book or a brochure? An illustration or a spreadsheet? A proposal or a specification? Technical communicators gather knowledge from experts and customers by conducting interviews, testing their topics, and studying existing information. The technical communicator reshapes this information so that the correct audience can access, understand, and use it.

MIT describes one aspect of technical communication very nicely: “Science writers may, or may not, hold academic credentials in science or engineering. But they are always humanists, one foot in the sciences, the other in the arts, as apt to be seduced by a shapely sentence as by an elegant scientific idea.” Our Technical Communication program, as part of the English Department, should strive to encourage this attitude.

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Last updated 8/15/2013.