Unit-1 Technical Communication Overview

Unit-1-Technical Communication Overview

Structure

1.1 Introduction

Objectives

1.2 Meaning of Technical Writer?
1.3 Role of Technical Writer

1.4 Evolution of Technical Communication

1.5 Characteristics of Technical Communication

1.6 Essential Skills of Technical Communication

1.7 Indicators of Excellence in Technical Communication

1.8 Role of Technical Communication in Business and Industry

1.9 Careers in Technical Communication.

1.10 Summary

1.11 Terminal Questions

1.12 Answers

1.1 Introduction

Technical Communication (also referred to as technical writing) is the art and science of making technical information easier to understand and use. It’s a process of creating, designing and transmitting technical information so that people can understand it easily and use it safely, effectively, and efficiently. Technical communication prepared through this process is read by people who need to carry out procedures and solve problems. Technical communication training is well suited for practical minded communicators like Teachers, Journalists, IT Professionals and Project Managers.

Worldwide, there is a strong demand for technical writers. Overwhelmingly, they use the English language. Software companies require technical and user documentation of their products, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Over the last couple of decades, the technical communication profession has grown rapidly in India, especially in the IT industry, and is now fast becoming a sought-after career option.

Objectives

After going through the unit, you will be able to:

· explain the basic concepts in technical communication

· identify the skills involved in technical communication

· list the job opportunities in technical communication

1.2 Meaning of Technical Writer

Technical writers are the people who write.

· technical and software manuals

· handbooks

· proposals

· technical guides

· application notes

· tutorials

· performance reports

· data sheets

· online help

· technical and product briefs etc.

To be precise, anyone who writes about technology for other people is typically referred to as a technical writer. Furthermore, these technical writers require some technical writing skills. In the information technology realm, project managers and analysts write a large number of technical documents that must be clear and concise. A technical writer is still looked upon as someone who explains the product to the end user.

It is not necessary that technical writers should be programmers or have more than a general understanding of the technology. But technical writers must have the ability to learn about a new product and then explain it to others. So people with training in journalism, teaching, and writing along with technical savvy can grow to be the best technical writers. Today, both technical adaptability and writing/communication skills are essential for technical writers to succeed. Technical writers enjoy learning and reading. They find writing comfortable, though they aren’t perfect; typically revising their work many times. They are both creative and orderly. Moreover, they put themselves in the end user’s position.

1.3 Role of Technical Writers

When technical writers approach a new piece of technology, they equip themselves with an eagerness and unconditional mind to learn new things through observation. As they interact with and learn the software, they identify the information needs of the software users. They must be able to communicate well with programmers and customers, and extract information from them in a professional and personable manner.

A technical writer’s primary tool is the English language. Secondly, they use proprietary software like Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, and RoboHelp; or – increasingly – free and open source documentation software such as DocBook and Wiki. In the course of their careers, technical writers learn dozens of other software packages and tools, and then teach them to others.

Self Assessment Question

1. ______________ is the primary tool of the technical writer

a) English b) Microsoft Word c) RoboHelp d) FrameMaker

1.4 Evolution of Technical Communication

Documents in the form of invoices, receipts and deeds are the earliest samples of technical communication. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote some technical communication about the astrolabe, a navigational instrument. The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin’s famous work on evolution, is another example of technical communication. But technical communication couldn’t attained a professional status until around the time of World War II, when the military needed people to write user’s manual and maintenance manuals for hardware and weapons system. In the past twenty years, the number of technical communicators has grown in an exponential manner, largely because of the growth of the computer industry and related high-technology fields.

Before the 1970s, technical communication was not a primary concern. A computer manufacturer would market large systems without any instructions manuals at all. The company would send out technicians to install the system, and the “how to use” aspect was explained orally. Naturally, this wasn’t a very effective or efficient way to educate the purchaser.

As more companies entered the richly profitable field, manufacturers realized that customers were frustrated when the product came without a user’s guide, or when guide arrived very late after the system, or when they were useless because of its poor quality. To delight customers, high tech companies started to pay more attention to prepare documents with graphical illustrations.

In the current industrial scenario, technical communicators work closely with design engineers and the legal and marketing staff in creating a new product, and every detail of the product will be clearly conveyed to the end user, i.e., the consumer. The emphasis today is on “user friendly” products, and no product is friendly if the user can’t figure out how to use it. Because technical communicators are valued members of professional organizations, their salaries and prestige have grown substantially. In many companies, technical communicators receive the same salary as hardware and software engineers.

1.5 Characteristics of Technical Communication

Technical Communication – Targets a Specific Reader

The most significant characteristics of technical communication is that you have to customize the information for a particular reader. This method is to bring in personal warmth to your document. Sometimes you will be aware of your potential reader, then your job is easy. For instance, writing a proposal to your manager. There you will think about that person’s background, responsibilities, history with organization, attitudes and alike. While preparing the proposal you will be considering these factors to entice the manager and to make it very effective.

Imagine a situation, where you are writing to several people with diverse needs. There you have to create a hypothetical profile by picking commonalities of the potential readers. (It will be dealt with details in Unit 2, Audience Analysis)

Even though technical communication is addressed to particular readers, sometimes it is read by people who were never intended to be the audience. Keeping this in mind, you must be careful that all your writing reflects the highest standards of professionalism.

Technical Communication – Helps readers solve problems

Lindsey Robbins describes technical communication as a conversation between the user and the technical writer – in the sense that the technical writer must anticipate the questions a user would ask about the software. Robbins states that ”Sometimes, your users or constituents won’t know the correct question to ask. In those situations, try to think out the questions for them and answer them in advance. Provide them with the conversation starter and they’re more likely to be engaged. People read technical communication to help them solve problems; people also write and distribute technical communication to help solve problems. For instance, before joining this course, you read the SMU DDE prospectus and related web details to solve the problem, i.e., selecting a course of your choice.

Technical Communication – Part of organizational context

Technical Communication is created by people working within or for an organization to further its goals. Consider, for example, Education Department that oversees the programs in vocational education. Every activity undertaken by the department involves technical communication. The Educational Department submits an annual report to the government. This envisages each vocational program offered by the department, indicating what need it was intended to address, who delivered it, who enrolled in it, where and when it was offered, how much it cost, and how much money was generated. The report also covers the success and failures of each program and offers recommendations on how to make it more effective next time.

The concerned department also produces a vast quantity of technical information for the public as well in the form of flyers, brochures, pamphlets and even radio, print and television advertisements to publicize its offerings. Furthermore, the course material in the form of texts, work books, audio and video support materials forms a part of technical communication.

Technical Communication – Created collaboratively

Technical communicators are not a separate entity; they work with other creative people like production specialists, lawyers, subject matter experts and technical professionals to create a better document to convey the synergy and creativity of the thus made collaboration. Collaboration is common in technical communication because no one person has all the information, skill and time to put together a big document. Because of the collaborative nature of technical communication, inter-personal skills are very essential. Technical writer should be able to listen to people with other views, express views clearly and diplomatically, and compromise.

Technical Communication – Synergy of words and graphics

Technical Communication is an effective combination of words and graphical images. Graphical images can clearly convey complex concepts which cannot be easily conveyed through words. Moreover, they can describe, communicate instructions, and also communicate large amount of quantifiable data. It can also communicate with non-native speakers of English and make the document more interesting and appealing to readers. Therefore, for narrative purpose a writer can depend on words and for simplification of concepts, can depend on graphics. In short, Technical Communication is a synergy of both words and graphics.

Technical Communication – Involves visualization

Design features make the technical document more effective and user friendly to the reader, as 80% of the communication is through non-verbal cues. Technical communicators visualize documents for the following purposes.

1. To make the document attractive, as a good design can entice the reader into the textual content

2. To help the reader navigate the document. Normally, technical documents are lengthy and run to many pages, and most readers want to ready only parts of it. Design features help them to see where they are and what they want from the text

3. To help the reader understand the document. Design features help in the organization of the content, and a reader can easily recognize the patterns, colors, size of the design elements, and be able to better understand the document.

Technical Communication – Involves high-tech tools

Technical Communication is produced on high-tech tools. The personal computer along with the printer is used in every phase of the document production. Technical writer uses word – processing software; graphics software and desktop publishing software for the completion of technical communication. As Information technology develops, becoming more powerful, easier to use, and less expensive, technical communicators and technical professionals alike are continuously upgrading their skills.

1.6 Essential Skills of Technical Communication

There are five skills or characteristics, which are "musts" for the technical writer:

1. Facility with technology

Technical writer must have the potential to grasp technology. They should have a bent towards one of the sciences, and can understand the inner workings of cells or atoms. They have to be web savvy and know how to interpret code. Besides these, they should be curious about how things work. Moreover, one can learn technologies they don’t understand, if they have the motivation. This understanding brings a sense of achievement and knowledge that is rewarding at the end of the day.

2. Ability to write clearly

The essential skill of any technical communicator is to disambiguate. Their core job will consist of studying complicated things and explaining them in easy-to-understand ways. They can’t just pass off explanations that no one can fully understand. Writing about something, as opposed to talking about it, requires more understanding. Avoid passive sentences and long constructions. Define acronyms and avoid assumptions about what the user knows.

3. Talent in showing ideas graphically

Any time one can show an idea graphically, they can score a hundred points with the reader. People understand better when they can communicate their ideas visually. These images go a long way toward making their writing clear.

4. Patience in problem-solving/troubleshooting

Unless you have patience, you’ll never make it. Much of IT work consists of problem solving. It’s amazing how a seemingly impossible problem can be solved with a little patience and persistence.

5. Ability to interact with Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs)

Interacting with CFTs is one of the most overlooked skills in technical writing. You have to be part investigative reporter, part journalist. You can’t be shy about going after certain people to extract information. And you can’t be too proud to ask the “dumb technical questions” that make engineers do double-takes. A lot of this interaction can come about if you’re lucky enough to simply sit near the CFT members.

1.7 Indicators of Excellence in Technical Communication

Honesty

Technical Communication should be a true account and your purpose shouldn’t to be misleading the readers for temporary gains. If honesty is reflected in your communication, then it appears credible and acceptable to the reader.

Clarity

It’s an important characteristic of effective technical communication, and with this objective, you would be able to produce a document that conveys a single meaning a reader can easily understand.

Accuracy

Technical writer must record the facts carefully. The slightest factual error can confuse or annoy readers. These mistakes can also affect the validity and credibility of the document.

Comprehensiveness

Technical document should provide all the needed information to the reader. Technical writer should take effort to provide sufficient background information and clarify unfamiliar subjects from a layman point of view. Moreover, comprehensiveness is very crucial because the people who read the document need a complete, self contained communication in order to apply the information safely, effectively and efficiently.

Accessibility

This characteristic will help the reader to get information with much ease. Keeping this in mind, technical documents even though they are lengthy, are made up of small, selectively independent sections with clear cut guidelines.

Brevity

Technical writers are there to convey the information not to impress the readers but to communicate with them. Therefore, technical document should be well edited to avoid verbosity. The longer the document, the more difficult it is to use. Here, the technical writers’ challenge is to convey a lot of information in provided little space. In a sense, brevity contradicts clarity and comprehensiveness. Therefore, Technical writers should be very judicious to balance these three indicators to impart effective communication.

Professionalism

Technical writer should create a positive impression of both the content and authors in the readers, and must adhere to the format standards (style sheet) that apply in their organization. This standardized approach brings in uniqueness and professionalism to the communication process.

Self Assessment Question

2. Which of the following is not an indicator of excellence in technical communication?

a) Brevity b) accuracy c) verbosity d) honesty

Technical Writing sample - User Manual for a Computer printer

1.8 Role of Technical Communication in Business and Industry

Technical Writers communicate ideas. They design information, participate in the product development process, and manage complex documentation projects. Business and industry requires the service of technical writers. These include engineering and construction, automotive and aerospace, electronics, biotechnology and robotics firm, computer hardware and software companies, and scientific research and developmental facilities.

The working world depends on written communication, and almost all actions are documented in a modern organization. Here are a few examples of writing within an organization.

· Memos and e-mails

· Travel reports

· Policy and procedure statements

· Project reports

· Progress reports

· Completion reports

· Newsletters

· Business letters

· Sales and marketing literature

· Research reports

· Business articles

1.9 Careers in Technical Communication

In today’s customer-centric business model, the very process of acquiring and losing deals depends on the effectiveness of the technical writers. On a rough estimate, there should be at least one technical writer, for 30 programmers. But in spite of their growing need, not much has been done to popularize this profession. Although, technical communication has been in existence for a long time, its emergence as a niche profession is only a recent development. According to the figures furnished by the Society for Technical Communication (STC) there are roughly 1200/1500 technical writers in India, while US has over a lakh of technical communicators. Many experts cite the lack of awareness as a key reason (both among the corporate and the individuals) to make it a potential career prospect.

Today a technical writer can start with an average salary of about Rs 10,000-14,000 and earn up to Rs 35,000 in 2-3 years. There have also been indications in terms of vertical growth of an individual in the organization. An individual can start at the entry level as a technical communicator, to become a senior technical communicator (2-3 years experience), a writers’ team leader (with 5 years of experience) and move on to become the director of technical communications (10 plus years of experience). Besides this, he can also aspire to become a quality analyst or a chief knowledge officer. With so much in offering, the future surely looks bright for the technical writers. Now the time is ripe to take positive steps, in order to work towards giving due status to this unrecognized sector.

1.10 Summary

Technical Communication is meant to fulfill a mission: to convey information to a particular audience or to persuade that audience to a particular point of view. To accomplish these goals, it must be honest, clear, accurate, comprehensive, successible, concise, professional and correct.

1.11 Terminal Questions

1. Explain the Characteristics of Technical Communication.

2. What are the indicators of Excellence in Technical Communication?

1.12 Answers

SAQs

1. a) English

2. c) Verbosity

TQs

1. Refer Sub Unit 1.5

2. Refer Sub Unit 1.7

Nouns: The word that identifies the who, where and what in a language is a noun. Nouns name persons, places, things and feelings.

Kinds of Nouns

1. Proper Noun: They are the names of a particular place, person or thing. They name specific or one-of-a-kind items. Proper nouns always begin with capital letters. E.g.: France, Tim, the Ganges, the Eiffel Tower

2. Common Noun: They are the names given to every person, place or thing of the same class. They identify the general variety. Common nouns require capitalization only if they start the sentence or are part of a title.  E.g.: student, city, river, dog.

3. Collective Noun: They are the names given when a number of persons or things are taken together as a whole. E.g.: crowd, flock, swarm.

4. Abstract Noun: We cannot see them as the other nouns. They are the names given to qualities, actions and states of being that cannot be felt, seen or heard. E.g.: beauty, charity, laughter, childhood.

Exercise 1: Pick out the nouns in the following sentences:

1. The shopman hasn’t opened his shop today.

2. Ravi’s grandfather has lost his walking stick.

3. Trees are the kindest things for they do no harm.

4. After the rains, the grass and plants have started growing well.

5. Children are fond of toys and sweets.

6. This is silk. See how shiny and soft it is!

7. Lots of tea is grown in China.

8. Quite a few people follow Buddhism in China.

9. Yangtse-Kiang flows in China, doesn’t it?

10. Don’t you think that all religions, more or less say the same thing?

Articles: In English, articles may be classified as Indefinite and Definite.

1. Definite article: It is used before a noun that is specified. ‘The’ is the definite article.

2. Indefinite articles: They are used before a noun which is not specified. ‘A’ and ‘An’ are the indefinite articles.

Definite Article Usage: ‘The’ is used-

1. before singular and plural nouns when the noun is particular or specific. E.g.: The apple tree is full of fruits. (specific noun –singular).

2. before non-countable nouns that are made more specific. E.g.: The coffee in my cup is too hot to drink.

3. before a noun refers to something unique. E.g.: The theory of relativity.

4. before names of rivers, oceans and seas. E.g.: The Ganges, the Pacific

5. before points on the globe. E.g.: The Equator, the North Pole

6. before geographical areas. E.g.: The Middle East, the West

7. before deserts, forests, gulfs and peninsulas. E.g.: The Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest, the Indian Peninsula

8. before certain well-known or sacred books. E.g.: The Mahabharata, The Bible, The Midsummer Night’s Dream

9. before an adjective in the superlative degree. E.g.: Nisha is the shortest girl in the office.

10. before certain adjectives to give a plural meaning. E.g. The rich = rich people

Indefinite articles – Usage

· We use ‘a’ when the noun we are referring to begins with a consonant sound. E.g.: a city, a bird

· We use ‘an’ when the noun we are referring to begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) sound. E.g.: an apple, an umbrella.

NOTE: If the noun begins with a consonant sound. (E.g.: university), then we use ‘a’. If the noun begins with a vowel sound (E.g.: hour), then we use ‘an’. We say "university" with a "y" sound at the beginning as though it were spelt "youniversity". So, "a university" IS correct. We say "hour" with a silent ‘h’ as though it were spelt "our". Therefore, "an hour" IS correct.

‘A’ or ‘An’ is used –

1. before nouns that introduce something or someone you have not mentioned before. E.g.: I saw an elephant this morning.

2. before singular countable nouns. E..g.: I stepped in a puddle.

3. when talking about one’s profession. E.g.: I am an English teacher.

4. before Mr./Mrs./Miss + name to imply that he is a stranger to the speaker. E.g.: A Mr. Smith is outside your office.

5. before a proper noun to make it a common noun. E.g.: Amit is a Shakespeare.

6. before certain uncountable nouns preceded by nouns + of. E.g.: a drop of water, a piece of advice

7. after the words many, rather, such, quite in certain structures. E.g.: Such a show cannot be arranged now.

‘A’ or ‘An’ is not used

1. before names of meals. E.g.: Let us have lunch at 12.30 p.m.

Exception: ‘a’ is used before names of meals when they are preceded by

adjectives. E.g.: She gave me a sumptuous dinner yesterday.

Articles are not used

1. with non countable nouns referring to something in general. E.g.: Coffee is his favourite drink.

2. before names of languages and nationalities. E.g.: English, Indian

3. before names of academic subjects. E.g.: History, Biology

4. before names of cities, towns, states. E.g.: Miami, Seoul

5. before names of streets. E.g.: M.G. Road

6. before names of lakes and bays. E.g.: Lake Titicaca Exception: ‘the’ is used with group of lakes. E.g.: the Great Lakes.

7. before names of mountains. E.g.: Mount Everest

8. Exception: ‘the’ is used with mountain ranges. E.g.: the Andes

9. before names of continents. E.g.: Asia, Australia

10. before names of islands. E.g.: Easter Islands

Exception: ‘the’ is used with the chain of islands. E.g.: the Andamans

11. before material nouns. E.g. Gold is a precious metal

Exception: ‘the’ is used with an adjunct which makes the material noun definite. E.g.: The gold we use in India is all imported.

Exercise 2: Fill in the blanks with appropriate articles (a / an / the)

And they lived happily ever after, say ___ fairy tales. Have you ever wondered if they really did? They could have in fairy tales but in reality, we are still chasing happiness and it only gets more elusive by ___day. Mankind has been united in the conviction that happiness is __ very desirable state. We are driven by ___ need to be happy behind everything we do. When young, we study well to get good grades so we can be happy with ___accolades. We grow up; get jobs to earn money, security, status – all for happiness. And then inevitably get into relationships/marriage all again for – happiness.

We chase money, health, growth, fame, power, property and relationships, not for what they are, but because we think they could lead to happiness

Yet, you will acknowledge that this is fleeting happiness. Getting into ___ foreign university is what you always wanted, but leaving your girl friend behind, that totally kills it. Losing weight may transform your life but it means never having ‘Death by chocolate’ again. Promotions mean no holidays, and high-end cars means gallons of petrol. No matter what or how much you have, nothing seems quite enough. Is there ___ irrefutable, permanent and absolute happiness? Or better, What makes people happy? ___ good bank account, ___ good cook, and ___ good digestion, said Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Answers:

Exercise 1:

1. shopman, shop

2. Ravi, grandfather, stick

3. Trees, things

4. Rains, grass, plants

5. Children, toys and sweets

6. Silk

7. Tea, China.

8. People, Buddhism, China

9. Yangtse-Kiang, China

10. Religions

Exercise 2: Articles

And they lived happily ever after, say the fairy tales. Have you ever wondered if they really did? They could have in fairy tales but in reality, we are still chasing happiness and it only gets more elusive by the day. Mankind has been united in the conviction that happiness is a very desirable state. We are driven by the need to be happy behind everything we do. When young, we study well to get good grades so we can be happy with the accolades. We grow up; get jobs to earn money, security, status – all for happiness. And then inevitably get into relationships/marriage all again for – happiness.

We chase money, health, growth, fame, power, property and relationships, not for what they are, but because we think they could lead to happiness

Yet, you will acknowledge that this is fleeting happiness. Getting into a foreign university is what you always wanted, but leaving your girl friend behind, that totally kills it. Losing weight may transform your life but it means never having ‘Death by chocolate’ again. Promotions mean no holidays, and high-end cars means gallons of petrol. No matter what or how much you have, nothing seems quite enough. Is there an irrefutable, permanent and absolute happiness? Or better, What makes people happy? A good bank account, a good cook, and a good digestion, said Jean Jacques Rousseau.

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