Why You Need a Technical Communicator

Every company should have at least one technical communicator. A technical communicator (technical writer) is a valuable addition to the team in any organization, especially one in the scientific, medical, or high tech industry.

Technical communicators:

  • Facilitate communication
  • Translate technical language into plain language
  • Document processes and procedures
  • Communicate technical & scientific developments to a lay audience
  • Help turn information into knowledge

The techwriter gets to know the market (audience, users) and works with marketing and sales to provide information that assists them in reaching the market with clear, easy to understand information. This is particularly important if complicated scientific, medical or technical information is involved, or if you need to explain policies or procedures. As experts in plain language writing, techwriters help demystify things like contracts and difficult procedures.

If new products are in development, technical writers work with the development team to document every aspect of the new product or service. This information then becomes manuals of instruction, training materials, and website content.

Technical communicators are very technically adept. We can quickly get up to speed with technologies we have never seen before, and we use a variety of leading edge technologies to communicate with our audiences.

When creating or improving a website, a technical communicator works with the web designer (who makes the site pretty) and the web developer (who programs the site and makes it work) to make the content and navigation easy to understand and usable (usability refers to the viewers ability to accomplish goals with the site).

Technical communicators are one of the few people in a company who interface with nearly every department within that company. We routinely work with customer support to ensure they have up to date information to help customers with problems. We work with quality assurance to perform user testing, standing in for the user with our expert knowledge. Consequently, technical writers can reduce customer support costs and help improve a company’s relationship with their customers. We work with marketing, to share information about the market or end user. We work with sales, contributing to sales literature and getting to understand the customer.

Technical writers are industry-independent. While you may find one with a specific background that is more relevant to your industry, a technical writer with a degree in Fine Arts is just as capable as one with a degree in Engineering when it comes to simplifying complex things. It is more important to look at the writing, editing, and consultation skills a techwriter brings to the table.

Further, technical communicators are skilled in project management, because they drive their own documentation projects in concert with any service or product development projects, and they have good people skills, being able to interview subject matter experts, as well as being able to develop rapport with a company’s customer base.

Technical communicators have skills in:

  • Project Management
  • Leadership
  • Interviewing
  • Publishing
  • Human Resources
  • Management & Budgeting
  • General Business Skills
  • Negotiation, Risk Management, etc.

(Add accounting to that and it’s pretty much an MBA!)

If your company has need of any of the following, you should have a technical communicator on staff:

  • User guides
  • White papers
  • Marketing brochures, spec sheets, labels, signs, packaging, press releases
  • Help files
  • Error messages, interface tooltips and labels
  • Installation instructions
  • Usability testing
  • Technology transfer
  • Project documentation
  • Technical reports
  • Web sites
  • E-Learning
  • Corporate videos/documentaries
  • Product demonstrations & trade shows
  • Focus groups & customer advisory boards
  • Single-Sourcing
  • Knowledge management
  • Content management
  • Science writing
  • Customer newsletters
  • Beta testing programs
  • Voice mail script writing
  • E-mail response writing
  • E-book publishing
  • Mass personalization
  • Meeting facilitation, especially video conferencing

Technical communicators are the Swiss Army Knife-employees you can plug in anywhere in your company and have them be productive and add value to your bottom line.

If you’re interested in hiring a technical communicator, contact me or communicate with the local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication in your region.

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Building Bridges

Technical communicators are always building bridges — between technology and its users, between content and design, and between groups or individuals so that the flow of information can be smooth and easy. In that way, we are always making connections. We connect people with the information they need to solve a problem, perform a task or answer a question. We often connect people with other people, even though there may be another type of interface between them.

Continually standing in the gap, as it were, we see both sides of a situation. We are also very familiar with the chasm that can exist between information and understanding. If you’ve ever fallen into that chasm yourself — flailing helplessly because you don’t “get” whatever it is you’re supposed to be getting — you know how much of a relief it is to finally have that dawn of understanding when the lightbulb goes on and what you’ve been struggling with makes sense.

That’s a situation our students confront all the time. From their own uncertainties, they forge structures that help them get from the unknown to the known. Learning to build those bridges makes them very effective at creating similar structures for their readers and users. It is our empathy with our target audience that helps us correctly choose and shape the information we convey so that it does the job intended.

You don’t have to be an engineer to be a good technical communicator, but it helps to be able to think like one.

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Gadget Junkie Heaven

  • If you were the kid who took all her toys apart to see how they worked…
  • If you love to browse the tools, products, and gadgets in every Big Box store you see…
  • If your version of the ideal present is something that whirrs, clicks, or runs on electricity…
  • If you’re an inveterate tinkerer…

…You might be a Technical Communicator!

Many of us get into this profession because it gives us access to technology in many forms. We have the mandate, if not the divine right, to fiddle with new products or investigate technology we’ve never seen before.

FACTOID: HALF of the top 10 blogs are about gadgets and technology.

To be a good technical communicator, you must have an unending curiosity about how things work, but more than that, you care about how they work for people.

Knowing that technology is only as good as it is usable, meaning that it allows someone to accomplish their objectives with it, we explore and assess new gadgets to make sure they do what we need them to do. And then we write about it. We communicate what we’ve learned about the technology so that others can use it better.

And sometimes, we read instructions just for fun.

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We Speak Geek

Technical communicators are the people to call when you have complex technical information that needs to be communicated to people who are non-technical. We are also the people to call when the information is dense and hard to understand, even if it isn’t particularly technical (think government policies). Our skills lie in figuring out the meaning of information and then shaping it to get the message across to your intended audience.

Plain language writing is just one of the areas where we have expertise. We often work for institutions to clarify and simplify important information such as benefits plans, regulations, policies and procedures, laws, and government information.

Because we are communicators, first and foremost, it doesn’t really matter what subject area needs to be interpreted. We are able to quickly grasp the subject matter and discover whatever else we need in order to inform the communications we’re working on. That may mean talking to subject matter experts, and getting the information out of their heads onto paper.

Although many of us specialize in certain disciplines such as engineering, software development, or biotechnology, a deft technical communicator can tackle any topic and make it easy to understand.

Other knowledge workers may engage in that sort of activity, but no one does it as well as a trained technical communicator.

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Ages of Thought

Eight years into the 21st century we are still burdened by corporations, organizations, institutions, and cultures that remain firmly entrenched in Industrial Age thinking. Not only has the Information Age been around for at least 25 years now, but we have ventured into the Knowledge Age, where information is merely a commodity; it is the knowledge derived from it that infuses action. A society cannot advance while its leaders are mired in out-dated thinking.

Technical communicators are instrumental in the progression from old ways of thinking to the new. Primarily writers, whose function in society has always been to observe, interpret, and explain, technical communicators help turn information into knowledge. Their ability to quickly understand complex concepts and technologies, and to then convey that information to others in a way that is clear, direct, and easy to grasp, is key in transferring technology.

The rate at which a society’s technology advances is determined by the relative level of its ability to process information. — Paul Zane Pilzer, Economist and Author

Communicators — writers — who can assist in the processing of information, are needed more than ever. Graduates of Seneca’s Technical Communication Program are well-equipped to fulfill this role.

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