Technology and Technical Communication
I always find it fascinating to read about the history of the technical communication profession. It is undeniable that technology—particularly the advent of personal computers and the Internet—has completely transformed the landscape for technical communicators. Saul Carliner’s chapter (Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century) in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication does a great job describing the impact of technological changes on the role of the technical communicator.
“Technology has always played a central role in technical communication. At first, it served primarily as the subject about which technical communicators wrote. As various publishing technologies emerged, the technology also became the tool that facilitated the work” (p. 45).
Advancements in technology have certainly made life much easier for technical communicators today than in past decades. Frankly, I can’t imagine the amount of rework that communicators had to put into early documents created using a typewriter, retyping content for each correction or addition. Additionally, the challenges that came along with printing and formatting in the 1970s and 1980s were considerable. Today we, as technical communicators, have fancy software that comparably makes it a breeze for us to perform our jobs, and to create an appealing and usable product that meets the needs of our audience.
While I came away from this chapter with a new appreciation for all the technological advancements we benefit from, I also now recognize that the role of the technical communicator has become a lot more complex as well. Not only do we have more than ever to document (i.e., our potential subject matter has increased significantly), but there is an infinitely larger audience to reach.
In my current position, audience is something we constantly try to evaluate. In writing about my company’s products, it is sometimes difficult to know what level of knowledge and skill an audience has right off the bat. Some users are probably well versed in using computers and technology, others may not be. What do we assume the user already knows? This is even further complicated by language and cultural barriers. Even when a company only produces content for an audience within the United States it can be difficult to determine an appropriate reading level and vocabulary.
I have to admit, I’m thankful to be a technical communicator today, with all the technology we have available to help us do our jobs. But I certainly acknowledge that this same technology does add to the complexity that exists within the field.