TPC: More than a Writing Degree

technical-writing-Dilbert-cartoon

Technical writing is misunderstood. Reproduced: Scott Adams, Dilbert, United Feature Syndicate (1995)

Technical and Professional Communication vs. English Degree

Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer and Paul Curran’s (2014) article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” reaffirms the breadth and depth of communication and web 2.0 knowledge that is needed in many job positions. However, this article specifically took account of Technical and Scientific Communication as well as Professional, Technical, Business and Scientific Writing degrees, but English degrees could also fall in this category. Since English majors potentially are doing the same types of writing, collaborating, and web 2.0 work, I’m not sure if employers valued a technical communication degree more than another English or related writing degree.

Methodology and Results of Survey

The authors surely provided an extensive methodology to discover the types of communication that TPC graduates used in their lives and the graphics equally supported their results of the study. Surprisingly, TPC graduates are employed (or studying) in “education, technical and scientific communication, and publishing and broadcasting” (p. 271) as well as more women were employed in the software, hardware, and network industries. However, the authors did say these numbers were “skewed” based on the number of male vs. female respondents. Other noteworthy statistics from this article was the most types of writing done and the ones most valued. These numbers were from the respondents; however, I wonder how their supervisors/managers’ opinions would differ? For example, Grants/proposals was eighth on the list of type of writing and sixth as most valued (proposal was not included on most valued list) and Definitions was fifth on type of writing and did not appear on the most valued list (I’m not sure what definitions means anyway). Would supervisors/managers agree with these statistics?

More Technologies Used in Writing Process

Email, not surprisingly, is the most popular type of communication written and most valued. Does this mean that colleges should teach students how to write effective email more and less about blogging? According to Russell Rutter (1991), college graduates discover that what they learned in college do not always correlate to the writing type/purpose/audience in the workplace (p. 143). On the other hand, as Blythe, Lauer and Curran (2014) noted, technical communication graduates use a multitude of technologies during the composing process from pencil and paper to social media (p. 275); likewise, Rutter noted, “technical communicators must know how to do more than write –  do more than inscribe, type or keystroke” (p. 145).

I still argue that English and other related writing degree graduates could accomplish similar tasks with a similar amount of success. Writing skills can be taught, but writing seems to be a natural ability. Rutter (1991) asserts, “Education should seek to create sensible, informed, articulate citizens. Some of these citizens will want to become technical communicators…” (p. 148).

References

Blythe, S., Lauer, C. and Curran. P. G. (2014). “Professional and technical communication in a web 2.0 world.” Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:4, 265-287. DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014941766

Rutter, R. (1991). “History, rhetoric, and humanism: Toward a more comprehensive definition of technical communication.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 21:2, 133-153.

Posted on November 6, 2016, in Literacy, Workplace and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Since English majors potentially are doing the same types of writing, collaborating, and web 2.0 work, I’m not sure if employers valued a technical communication degree more than another English or related writing degree.

    I can’t tell you how frustrated our undergraduates are when trying to explain what a degree in Professional Communication and Emerging Media [PCEM] means to both their family and prospective employers. Some flat out refuse to attend the career conference because they don’t know how to describe the varied things they do. I mean, check out the core curriculum: http://www.uwstout.edu/programs/bspcem/upload/bspcem_pp15.pdf. So many other TPC undergrad programs don’t scratch the surface of these topics!

    However, the employers who attend the Career Conference also have no idea what PCEM is and how our students can help them. Most check off Business and Marketing majors as their interests but time and time again our students, because of their writing and speaking strengths, excel at internships in those places.

    So that’s why the conversations have to happen and as faculty we push students to document their process for every major assignment. And because Stout loves to collect employment rate data, we can attest to a 90-100% job placement rate within a year after graduation.

    • I had a similar experience with explaining what SEO and search marketing was in the mid 2000s. Not many people knew the value or knowledge of SEO. I feel the MSTPC program harnesses the knowledge of digital marketing, writing, communication and rhetoric, which all are VERY valuable in a Web 2.0 or 3.0 world.

    • I had the same kind of issue trying to explain what a technical communicator does during my college undergraduate years. From my fellow techies (a nickname we call ourselves if we went to New Mexico Tech), I was told that it’s nothing more than a fancy way of saying: “You have an English degree.”

      Contrary to what I was told by my friends, I believed there was more than writing and editing and I continue to prove that. I struggled for a few years trying to describe what a technical communicator did until I settled with this definition:

      “Technical Communication is the art and technique of conveying complex information in a clear, concise, and direct way through various media formats for a target audience.”

      (Source)

  2. I do agree with your point that English majors, among others, fall into the realm of being able to accomplish a lot of the tasks that technical communicators do. It is interesting how much confusion surrounds the idea of technical communication. I admit I had not heard the term until I somehow stumbled onto the Society for Technical Communication website while at my previous job. Yes, there may be a overtly intentional push to incorporate and investigate multimedia content but that can also be found in other programs.

    I think that it is up to the practitioners and academics to more clearly define and defend what the field is and why it is valuable to employers. Beyond wanting to learn more about the field, I admit the reason I applied was that I thought the title of the program would sound good to potential employers.

  3. “Writing skills can be taught, but writing seems to be a natural ability.”

    I completely agree with this statement, and I agree with your point that English majors could likely do the same jobs. I come from a scientific background in undergraduate, and the reason I chose this type of program rather than a generic English one (despite job listings usually just specifying a degree in “english or equivalent”) is because of its focus on more “real-life” applications. Yes, undergraduate and graduate studies alike seem to have an at times frustrating disconnect between what is taught and what is useful in the field, as you mentioned here:

    “According to Russell Rutter (1991), college graduates discover that what they learned in college do not always correlate to the writing type/purpose/audience in the workplace (p. 143)”

    But overall, I think a technical communication curriculum provides more “direct” training for technical writing/communicating jobs than does a generic English degree which, in my experience, focuses more on literature and writing in a more editorial manner.

    Of course this is just the “idea” of the two majors I have in my head – having never been in a general english program I could be entirely mistaken.

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