The Evolution and Future of Technical Communication

The Readings

In part I of Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy For Technical Communication anthology (2010), the history and future of the Technical Communication field is investigated. Saul Carliner begins the section with his piece entitled “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century”. This piece discusses the history and evolution of the field through his experience as a technical writer in the software/technology field. The second chapter of the section is composed of a piece by R. Stanley Dicks entitled “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work”. This piece discusses not only the history of the technical communication field, but its current and projected intricacies and structure. While Carliner presents a quite interesting and compelling history of the field, Dicks provides a detailed outlook of how the field will change and what this will mean for current and prospective technical communicators.

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Carliner’s View

Carliner’s in-depth history of the technical communication field was fascinating to me, and curtailed nicely with a piece I read last week for another course I am taking this semester (ENG 700). That paper (“The Rise of Technical Writing Instruction in America”), written by a famous technical communication scholar, Robert J. Connors was also very informative on the evolution of the field.. Both pieces presented a detailed history of the field and how emerging media over the last several decades has caused the profession to change immensely – Carliner focusing on the effect on the professionals in the field at the time and Conners on the change in the academic programs and courses associated with the field. This was of particular interest to me as a prospective technical communicator, not yet in the field. I think it is important to learn the history of the career you desire, in order to respect those who have come before you and paved the way. As Carliner described the earliest methods of creating and publishing technical documents and the early days of computers, I was in awe of the way technology has changed since the 70’s. For each decade he provided a unique look at the changes in the field, technology, job titles, and viewpoints of technical communicators. This allowed me to see how far things have come in the field and gave me new perspective on how things are now.

Dicks’ View

Dicks’ piece was less historical and more future-oriented – using the past to inform the future changes in the field. Much of what he wrote had me quite nervous to enter the field. His discussion of the need for technical communicators to be able to defend their worth to their employers (and coworkers) seemed to propose a somewhat bleak view of the field, one in which no one appreciates you or your work and you are in constant fear of losing your job. However, as he went on to discuss the way technical communicators are currently utilized in the workplace and as part of teams, the field seemed much less daunting and more as I had imagined it.

Much of what Dicks described when looking at the current organization and utilization of technical communicators related back to my only real source of knowledge of the field – my husband. As a software developer for GE Healthcare, he works in a scrum team (which includes a technical writer) to develop and improve software. His description of the type of work technical writers do was the main motivation for my interest in the field, so as Dicks began describing a position of neglect and lack of appreciation/integration I really began to wonder if I made a mistake again in my choice of future field! Fortunately my fears were lessened as I continued to read.

In Conclusion…

Both of the pieces in Part I of Spilka’s anthology gave an in-depth history and view of the technical communication field and how it is likely to progress in the future. There was not a great deal of discussion of Web 2.0 in either piece (a small section in each dedicated to the topic and the future uses), but I think that will be one of the larger game-changers in the field in the upcoming years.

Posted on September 23, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice overview of the chapters. Would you say that these readings connected to the tech literacy definitions and responses you all gave in the discussion forum a couple weeks ago?
    As you point out, a lot has changed since the 70s, more so in the 9 years since I started teaching at this university thanks to social media!

    While it is easy to lump many tech comm occupations into “the field,” based on the variety of students I’ve taught in this graduate program, it’s clear that not every workplace needs to utilize social media. In fact, there are many offices that still rely on dated software and manage just fine. It will be interesting to hear the experiences from the class as the semester progresses!

  2. It certainly relates to the discussion post about tech literacy from the beginning of the semester! It provided a nice tie-in between my personal technical literacy evolution and the professional world’s.

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