What is Technical Communication?

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What is Considered Technical Communication?

Technical communication (and this encompasses scientific and medical communication as well) has come to mean two quite different things.

  1. A piece can be technical because it is about a technical product, service, or subject matter. This is what many of us are used to thinking about as technical communication. Examples: operation and maintenance manuals, computer software and hardware manuals, illustrations of equipment, and online help for software applications.
  2. A piece can be technical because it comes from a technical organization. The piece itself need not describe technical aspects of the organization. Examples: newsletters, annual reports, policies and procedures, and employee guides.

It would be impossible to answer the question of what is "technical" to everyone's satisfaction. STC recommends a liberal interpretation in which "technical" encompasses communication having to do with a mechanical or scientific topic, or with practical, detailed methods, processes, or means of accomplishing objectives. These will typically contain specialized information in a wide variety of subject areas for audiences that might range from the general public to subject-matter experts. Under this definition, the content might seem to be nontechnical (cooking is an often-cited example), and yet the communication about it would be technical if the intent is to inform or instruct.

Note the important distinction that "technical" applies to the content of the communication, not to the delivery mechanism. That is, the delivery method alone (for example, Web pages) or the tool used to produce a document (for example, a sophisticated drawing application) or other form of communication such as a video is not enough to qualify it as technical. A book of fairy tales produced on the most elaborate publishing or online system is still a book of fairy tales.

Last modified: March 15, 2019
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