What is technical communication?

We all use different kinds of products (devices and applications) daily both at home and at work. The safe use of both devices and applications requires that we can learn about their functionality and safe usage, for example with the help of a user guide. The design and production of information meant for users of products is called technical communication, and the professional doing this work is called a technical communicator. The design and creation of user guides is just one part of technical communication.

Technical communication is needed in a number of different fields and companies. Information is needed to accompany a range of very diverse products. A technical communicator may be working with computer software, phone apps, tractors, measuring equipment, or jet engines. Technical communicators produce, for example

  • quick start guides or user manuals
  • tutorials
  • online helps for software
  • frequently asked questions (FAQ)
  • product descriptions
  • spare part lists.

This information may be printed in the sales package or on the product, published as a PDF document or browsable web pages, as videos, animations, audio, chatboxes, virtual reality, augmented reality, or in many other formats. Technical communicators can also create content for a company’s website or work with marketing materials. Technical writer is a synonym for technical communicator, and the business can be called documentation, even though we do a whole lot more than just documents.

Employment

Technical communications professionals work in various situations, including in factories, software companies, offices, banks, hospitals, alone, with others, or as subcontractors. This list quite aptly illustrates that technical communicators are as diverse as the job description. A common feature for all fields that require technical communicators is that they all need documents that relate to technology and that are designed and written appropriately.

The majority of Finnish technical communications professionals work in the field of information technology. In recent years, companies have both outsourced and rehired their technical communicators. Various service provider companies are still significant employers of technical communicators. It is safe to assume that the need for technical communicators will increase in the future. The role of technology in our everyday lives is continuously increasing, which inevitably leads to a need for people who are able to familiarise themselves with a product from the point of view of common people, and who are able to relate in a clear and simple manner how this technology is used.

Knowledge and skills

A technical communicator is expected to possess various kinds of skills and abilities, including good writing skills and the ability to filter and transform the information received from subject matter experts into the form required by the target group. Accordingly, technical communicators must also analyse their target group: for whom they are writing and what these users have to know about the product or service to be able to use it properly. Additionally, fluency in English is often a basic necessity because texts created in Finland are mostly written in English. Due to this, technical communicators working in Finland usually have a background in linguistics.

Technical communicators are also required to possess other skills and abilities. One of the most important skills is the ability to understand the technology that they are writing about. A general interest in technology helps writers to understand the inner workings of various specific technologies. Technical communicators must also understand the requirements of their target group and how they use the documents. The ability to cope with stress is also required because technical communicators work in an environment that is characterised by rapid technological advancement and, especially in the IT industry, abruptly changing project schedules. The ability to work in a team is very important because the work consists of working cooperatively with other writers, subject matter experts and graphic designers, among others. Technical communicators must be social and possess an extroverted character because some information gathering is done by interviewing experts.

Naturally, computer skills are also required because even if a communicator does not work in the field of technology, the tools used require the ability to use computers and specific applications. These applications include different kinds of editors, publishing programs, proofreading software and various other programs. Therefore, technical communicators must be able live with constant change because the field itself is in a continuous state of transformation.

Education

In recent years, the field of technical communications has become more well known, which has increased the educational opportunities in the field. There are more training opportunities on offer these days. A third of technical communications professional have attended either a programme provided by the universities or a course or conference provided by other parties. The society’s seminars have inspired over 100 members to take part each year.