Technically Speaking On Technical Writing

To be honest, I found this week’s readings to be rather troubling and discouraging. Granted, it’s possible that I’m overthinking the content, which may have quickly taken my brain to a place of angst and frustration. However, as I digest and reflect, my general takeaway is that social media is slowly but surely pushing the technical writing profession towards irrelevancy.

Technical Writing

Image courtesy of Campus Commerce

This notion rings similarly to that of blogging ultimately replacing journalism, a topic we covered previously. However, that topic was hardly troubling to me for two reasons. For starters, though I appreciate and enjoy quality journalism, it’s not a field I specifically aspire to enter. Second, I feel like this ‘blogs are the new beat’ trend has been progressing for several years now, so it’s something I’ve come to terms with. Though often unqualified to create and publicly share written content, bloggers do have a voice, as projected through the web.

Robot Journalist

Image courtesy of Springer Link

However, as one who aspires to build a career in technical writing, I am heavily disheartened by the thought of social media overshadowing and/or replacing technical writing. With the latter requiring a combination of intense focus, natural skill, and endless practice, it seems unfair for any unqualified yet self-proclaimed ‘social media specialist’ to take over and hog the spotlight.

While a ‘quantity over quality’ approach is seemingly becoming the status quo of web content, I’m also seeing a ‘speed over quality’ approach, which may be more frightening than the former. Traditional journalism emphasizes that it is far more important to publish accurate, credible content than it is to be the first to break a story. However, social media seems to contradict this age-old approach, with users racing each other to post something even remotely coherent and believable. This is partially because posted content can be edited a later time. However, this approach is rather transparent, with users largely taking into account their own egos, as opposed to the best interest of their audience.

Save Technical Writing

Image courtesy of OwlGuru.com

Will technical writing ultimately be negatively impacted by social media, just as journalism has been impacted by blogging? Say it isn’t so, fellow communicators!

About delwichej8841

Writer / Editor / Content Developer / Communication Specialist

Posted on September 30, 2018, in Blogs, Digital, Social Media, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hi,

    I had some similar reactions when I first began reading your blog post about the use of social media and this form of communication pushing users and content to irrelevancy. When you mention the word, “irrelevant,” I begin to imagine a newsfeed of posts in my head whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or even Instagram the heavy use of the scroll feature and for these posts to be visually seen in seconds, scrolled by, and determined important by the one behind the screen in seconds. The constant need to post and share has maybe, in my opinion, contributed to much of what you are referring to as “irrelevancy.” It seemed at least before social media the need for in person communication was important, yet as the use of technology continued to grow the need and desire to post to your networks of friends, family and others increased, while the emphasis and importance of in person gatherings diminished.

    I came across two articles one from the New York Post (https://nypost.com/2016/11/17/social-media-is-making-you-a-bad-friend/) and the other from Health line (https://www.healthline.com/health/how-social-media-is-ruining-relationships) on the effects social media is having on our personal relationships. I found the comment Dr. Dunbar said to be particular interesting, “It seems we really can only handle about 150 friends, including family members,” says R.I.M. Dunbar, PhD, a professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. He tells Healthline that this “limit is set by the size of our brains.” Do you think there is truth behind this or what are your thoughts on the capacity of our individual brains to maintain friendships and gather information on the web?

    The latter begins to formulate into your comment about users racing to post first and challenge their competitors. In this approach you are right that the individual begins to focus on speed and being the first to update others. Do you think this may be partly due to individuals or companies wanting their information to be picked up first and disseminated by others before other individuals post on the same issue or experience?

    Great post overall you offer some very strong insights that I think many of us wonder about.

    – Kim

    • Hi Kim,

      Thank you for your feedback and kind words.

      Unfortunately, yes, with an endless sea of social media posts rolling across various platforms, these posts diminish one another’s credibility and relevance. In other words, since there are TONS of new social media posts every single day, it is difficult for users to know which post(s) (if any) to take seriously.

      To answer your two questions:

      Yes, I think there is some validity to the notion of one’s brain size dictating his/her capacity for friendships/relationships. However, I wonder if this capacity is more so dictated by one’s personality type. For instance, perhaps an introvert ‘maxes out’ faster than an extrovert would with regard to friendship/relationship establishing and developing.

      Also, yes, I absolutely think the ‘post race’ has much to do with individuals and/or companies competing with one another to have their information/products viewed early and often.

      Thank you!
      Jeff

  2. It does feel like this field spends much of its scholarly research questioning its relevance and longevity. I found myself bristling at turning the career title of “technical communicator” or “technical writer” into a “symbolic analyst.” I find that moniker entirely too abstract and even a little pretentious.

    I don’t think social media will take the place of journalism, nor do I think that social media will replace the field of technical communication. It has certainly broadened and deepened both fields, but I have a hard time seeing either become obsolete. Communications specialists will have to adapt to the new tools and techniques. I think of National Public Radio (NPR). I’m a listener and a member, and when I started listening many years ago, I listened only to the radio when I got ready in the morning. Now, I have a website, multiple podcasts, their Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as an app on my phone. Their content has crawled into many other facets of my life, and I can consume it on my own time. Perhaps social media will do the same for technical communication? It could make the types of content creation jobs more plentiful.

    -Amery

    • Hi Amery,

      Thank you for your thought-provoking feedback.

      Upon further review, I agree (truly hope?) that social media will not replace journalism or technical communication. Instead, I see no reason why the aforementioned can’t continue to work together in making one another that much stronger and far-reaching.

      Also, I occasionally listen to NPR, though I don’t follow their digital presence. Just out of curiosity, do you have a favorite platform through which to follow them? If so, which is your favorite?

      Thank you!
      Jeff

  3. I agree with Amery, I don’t think social media will replace tech comm but even if some typically tech comm things like instructions or how to’s are replaced by everyday users on YouTube, for example, we still need the experts. Risk communication tweets and even devices like Alexa have authors, right?

    • Hi Dr. Pignetti,

      This very topic was randomly discussed during our family’s Thanksgiving feast last week. Accordingly, I was prompted to revisit this very blog post from the table via my iPhone!

      Yes, you are absolutely correct that knowledgeable human beings are working behind the scenes of digital content, especially social media. Therefore, while certain technical processes can be automated, their foundation is still built manually by humans.

      Thank you for your feedback, which helped me “win” a friendly family debate! I hope you had a nice holiday on your end.

      ~Jeff

      • That’s good to hear because all I learned this Thanksgiving is how much I hate Alexa, especially when 8 adults are talking to her at once! Just take out your phone and set a timer or play a song that way! Ugh!

  4. I agree with your concerns regarding technical writing and social media. I’ve seen how it can discredit true technical wiring pieces. However, I also agree with Amery and Professor Pignetti, that this is a new world and it will open up more opportunities in technical writing, different opportunities. The quality is in true technical writing and there is still value in that. Social media isn’t the place where quality is necessarily valued, more quantity as you discussed in your post.

    A blog by Novatek, a technical writing company, offers 10 basic writing practices for subject matter experts (many are technical writers) and those are focused on quality.

    http://www.novatekcom.com/blog/bid/401531/10-basic-technical-writing-practices-for-subject-matter-experts

    Quality will prevail!

    • Hey there,

      Thank you for your feedback and encouragement.

      Also, thank you for providing a link to Novatek’s interesting blog. Regarding their ’10 Basic Technical Writing Best Practices’, I think I struggle most with the very first practice: ‘Consider the reader as you write’. In both professional and recreational settings, I often get on a roll with my writing while losing sight of my audience. Therefore, I fail to adjust my writing tone / voice in accordance with the audience.

      Moving forward, this is certainly something I must be mindful of.

      Thank you!
      Jeff

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