Changing role of technical communicators

To me Salvo’s and Rosinski’s article Information Design made the perfect connection to Clark’s article in our journey to explore Emerging Media and the roles that technical communicators will more than likely take on in the near future. The authors state

“Digital literacy cannot be just the ability to use certain technologies. Rather, the term must apply to the thoughtful deployment of technologies that make intervention meaningful and informed by analysis, reflection and historical representations of the field” (Spilka, p. 123-4).

This is just possible if we take Clark’s advice to heart and think and assess critically, keeping in mind the rhetoric of technology.

Content management is in this context one of many examples of work areas technical communicators can evolve their skills and qualities. Hart-Davidson defines professionals in our field as “editors, information architects, usability analysts, interaction designers, project managers, client liaisons, and more” (Spilka p. 134-5). This definition stood out to me because I just started experiencing these different roles in real life work situations. I used to be just a technical writer with some responsibilities concerning managing small projects within our department. Now, I am required to slip into all those above-mentioned roles.

After reading the article Content Management a question that startled me from the beginning of this course finally got answered. Didn’t it seem to you like I asked endless times about the role of marketing in technical communication? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. In this chapter, the authors mention when talking about the threats technical communicators face lately the “rise of user-generated content, and the broader phenomenon of Web 2.0, something that is perhaps best understood as a significant shift in user behavior from passive consumer to active contributor of content” (Spilka). That’s when it made click in my mind. Now it seems to all come together. The magical term was Web 2.0. I know we read and talked about interaction on social media with our clients all the way along, I just didn’t understand our role in it as professionals.

As of now I would consider us technical communicators as service providers for both parties (e.g. producer/consumer) in assisting them in their communication with each other – back and forth. We don’t just assist the companies anymore in providing materials that deliver information about their products. We now assist both sides in providing information, feedback and assurances or solutions. Not just the companies create content, but also the consumers. The authors summarize this in a better way:

“We must devise ways to listen carefully and move quickly to support the emerging needs of users by documenting new uses, supporting them with new features or services, and scaling-up capacity” (Spilka, p. 141).

Another step stone in my understanding was definitely the article Systems of Engagement. The table Evolution of Content was a great summary on how much has changed in the communication models throughout the last decades. I had to check out the AIIM website and found out that they offer a free webinar about ECM (Enterprise Content Management) on 10/31/2012. Might be interesting to attend.

All these bits and pieces seem to come together to redefine our current and future role as technical communicators. Emerging media changed how society communicates. These changes do already and will continue to influence our profession.

Posted on October 28, 2012, in Literacy, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I like how you portray technical communicators as the translators or middlemen (middlepeople?) between companies and consumers. That is often true, even though our actual job descriptions vary greatly. As our company’s quality system director, I interpret the requirements of technical standards for our employees, and then turn it around and demonstrate for auditors how our employees fulfill the requirements. Your background is technical manuals, wherein you must be able to put yourself in the shoes of both the user and the creator or manufacturer of a product. I also think the likening to a translator or middleman is a great way to explain our skills and typical responsibilities to others who might struggle to understand what exactly technical communication is.

  2. Excellent connection to web 2.0. I actually prefer that term more than social media because it does prompt us to think about how the formally passive audience is now an active one, there’s more transparent communication, and how both sides have a voice with which to speak.

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