Characteristics of Technical Communication

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  • 0:01 Overview of Technical…
  • 1:17 Subjects of Technical…
  • 2:09 Audiences of Technical…
  • 3:21 Purposes of Technical…
  • 3:58 Style of Technical…
  • 8:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

It is important to understand the characteristics of technical communication in order to write documents that meet the needs of your audience. This video provides the characteristics of the subject, audience, purpose and style of technical communications.

Overview of Technical Communication

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work each morning? Do you greet your co-workers and meet to talk about what needs to be done that day? Do you check your email to get directions for an assignment? Do you write a memo to help others know what you need done and how to do it? If any of these experiences are part of your day, then you can see why good communication is arguably the most important skill to have in today's job market. And most communication happening in the workplace is technical communication. Companies use technical communication to:

  • Instruct employees on how to complete a task
  • Provide research and data on specialized topics
  • Communicate with other companies about the specifications of goods and services
  • Explain to the general public how to use a product

Despite the growing need for technical communication, many employees don't know the basic characteristics of this form of writing, which makes communicating their message more difficult. If technical communication is not expressed efficiently and effectively, it can mean big losses for businesses and consumers. To understand the important traits of technical writing, we're going to examine the characteristics of the subject, audience, purpose and style of technical communication.

Subjects of Technical Communication

To get a better understanding of the differences between the characteristics of technical communication and other forms of writing, let's look at a comparison of technical writing and creative writing. Both are forms of communication. However, that's really about all that is similar between the two types of writing. The subject for creative writing can be just about anything - from daffodils to rainbows - but the subject for technical writing is much more specific.

That subject will be based on the products and services related to a business. The subject might be about a new medicine and how it will be developed, a new toy and how it will be manufactured or a new cell phone and how it should be used. The subject of technical communications is always focused on a product. Why it's needed, how it should be created and what it should be used for.

Audiences of Technical Communication

Often, writers of creative literature focus so much on the subject of their writing that they forget about their audiences altogether. This is not the case for technical communication. While the audience for creative writing can be a general group around the same age, the audience for technical writing is a specific, targeted audience. In technical communication, the audience is the most important focus of the writing. After all, technical communicators are writing to help their audience understand what is needed to perform a task. Therefore, the technical communicator must know and understand their audience.

What if you purchased a new bookshelf, and when you took out the directions to assemble the bookshelf, the document was written for the manufacturer instead of the user? The directions might provide instructions for what length to cut each piece or what color to paint the wood, but it wouldn't contain easy-to-understand instructions on how to put the bookshelf together because the writing would be directed at the wrong audience. Understanding who you're writing the document for will determine what you say, making the audience just as important as your subject in technical communication.

Purposes of Technical Communication

In creative writing, the purpose of the document is usually to entertain. Often the writer wants to express his or her feelings on a subject, and the information presented is subjective, or based on the writer's personal experiences. Technical writing is not meant to be subjective at all. In technical communication, the purpose of the writing is always to inform or persuade. Despite the type of technical document you are creating, technical communication always has the same goal: to help people accomplish a task by explaining what they need to do and how to do it.

Style of Technical Communication

What really distinguishes technical communication from other forms of writing is the style of the writing. Creative writing often uses long sentences and connotative words to develop an emotional meaning through the language. It can sound beautiful, but it may take the reader a while to figure out what is being said. Since the purpose of technical communication is to help the target audience understand the subject quickly and complete a task correctly, the style of writing must be simple and easy to understand.

To accomplish this goal, I believe we need to get back to the basics and learn the ABCs of technical communication.

Technical Communication must be:

  • Attractive
  • Brief
  • Clear

Let's start with the characteristic of attractiveness. This doesn't mean the document has to look pretty. What it does mean is that the layout of the document must be attractive to the reader. In one glance, the reader must be able to know what's important.

You can make a technical document 'attractive' by including headings that are larger and bolder than the other text to bring attention to the main topic of each part of the document. Another way to make a technical document attractive to a reader is to include visual aids and graphics that clearly show what the reader needs to do.

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