Posted by kbeecken
I admit that my knee-jerk reaction to the relationship between social media and technical communication is similar to that of the students in the “Rhetoric of Reach” article by Hurley and Hea. Comparing technical communication to tweets and wall posts seems to cheapen the role of the technical writer, moving it from an elevated profession to the medium of the masses. It suddenly seems like something anyone can do, just tapping on their phone on the bus.
However, there are actually a surprising number of similarities, as I brainstormed in the diagram below (forgive the poor formatting). A job description for a technical writer on Truity called attention to several skills that would also apply to having a successful social media presence, such as strong and clear writing, effective use of multimedia like links and graphics, and continuing revision.
I think Hurley and Hea also identified a major area of overlap in their discussion of reach and creating reader-driven content that is tailored to be relevant to your audience. Understanding and responding to the needs of your audience is a crucial part of technical writing, and the secret to creating documentation that achieves its purpose. In his article “Re-Thinking the Context of Technical Communication,” Kirk St. Amant touches on the importance of audience analysis and how it’s one of the most significant trends in today’s technical writing. I’ve found in my own job that we spend a lot of resources to investigate our audience’s interests and needs and solicit their feedback. Similarly, a successful blogger seeks to build a relationship with his readers and create a forum that connects to their needs.
Despite these similarities, I think the differences are also significant and separates technical communication into a separate art form. I put a few differences in the diagram below, but I’d say that the biggest distinguisher is in purpose and content. Social media contributors with large followings have a strong personal voice. They are very much a part of their work, and their purpose is usually to express a viewpoint or tell their own story. The Forbes article “Are You a Social Media Narcissist?” explores how social media (especially for the millennial generation) is all about you and how you are using social media to elevate yourself and build relationships.
In contrast, the focus of technical communication is on the product or the content being communicated. The writing is objective and divorced from the personality of the writer. The goal isn’t self-glorification or personal connection but rather to provide information to an audience clearly and concisely. The difference becomes obvious in writing style and expression.
Because of the similarities between social media and technical communication and their continuing convergence in audience interaction and multimedia, I’m very intrigued by the rest of this course and look forward to further investigation in how they relate. However, I think it’s important to keep in mind the fundamental difference in purpose and function, and how that plays out in writing style and content.
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