Technical communicators are jacks of all “technical” trades

While technical communication and technical writing has been an existing profession for several decades, it seems like it is still a career choice that many people do not know about or are even aware of. I often find myself answering questions to family and friends about what a technical writer does or explaining what the technical and professional communication program at Stout teaches. My parent’s track record for even remembering what the program is called isn’t the greatest (though it is of the longer of titles), but if they can at least remember one or two of the words I give them credit.

In some respect, I think of a technical communicator as a jack of all trades in their respective industry. Much of the first two chapters of Spilka’s book Digital Literacy for Technical Communication echoes this definition. In the introduction, she writes, “we are identifying ourselves not as members of any one field, such as technical communication, but rather, as cross- or multi- disciplinary” (p.5, 2010). These disciplines could include, but are not limited to, English, communications, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, visual design, and so on. Really, it’s a little bit of everything.

My background as an undergrad is in physics; specifically, my degree was a Bachelor of Science in applied physics, with a minor in English. My work history during and after college, I feel, has been far from conventional (which I’m pretty okay with). Some of my jobs that leaned closer to physics were as a research assistant at UW Eau Claire for the physics department, and as an engineering technician for a manufacturing company. Now, I’m doing more of the “communications” side of technical communications while working in the non-profit sector of Eau Claire as a coordinator. I honestly was never sure what exactly I wanted to do as a career, but I knew I liked working with people through speaking or writing and was capable of understanding science and working with numbers. This is why I think I was drawn to tech comm with having a such a mish mash of skills, interests, and experience.

At the core of technical communication is of course technology; and technology is always evolving. As its evolved, technology has fortunately facilitated tech commers to become skilled at many things, either through traditional schooling or DIY-type instruction, so that tech commers may, “become their own designers, illustrators, and production assistants” (Spilka p.45, 2010). There is somewhat of a symbiotic relationship between technology and technical communicators. While technology grows, the skills of technical communicators also grow, and they can thus communicate/advocate the wonders of technology.

It’s still a little tricky to give one clear definition for technical communication (which is probably why some technical communication course’s first assignments are to write up a definition). One thing I think it certain, though, is that technical communicators are versatile in their skills. While technology grows, I think the importance of our role also continues to grow.

About Nathan Baughman

Graduate student at UW Stout, Technical and Professional Communications program.

Posted on October 30, 2020, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great post! I will be honest, I didn’t even know that tech comm was even a career at all until taking this course. I am definitely in that group of people who didn’t know what it was. As technology continues to grow, new jobs are constantly popping up that people don’t even know about. When I was in high school, one of my favorite classes was graphic communications. We did everything from graphic design to printing, however, it wasn’t until going to Stout that I learned that those were all completely different careers. Graphic Design was what I went into without knowing that Graphic Communications, which was the printing side of it, was what I had actually wanted to do when I was in high school. Even within the Graphic Design major itself, it had different areas that I could go into that was based on technology. This aspect is so fascinating!


  2. rebeccaanderson8641

    Hi Nathan,
    This is so important! I have my associate’s degree in Chemistry and I worked in research and development in a lab for 4 years before leaving to pursue a role in academia. The reason I got in to technical and professional communication was because of the communication challenges I observed in STEM. Often technical communicators and writers have backgrounds unrelated to English and writing. That is part of what makes the field so unique; every discipline needs technical communicators.
    I hope to never leave my STEM experience behind. I’d love to work with an engineering firm or teach STEM students communications principles. Communications training has the ability to really bolster collaborative efforts in any field.
    Great job!

  3. Hi Nathan,

    I agree with your perspective that technical communication can definitely be a fluid field! There are many avenues for technical communication, and I never knew about the wide reach of the discipline until taking technical communication courses. I am most interested in the science writing aspect of technical communication. I think presenting knowledge in an understandable way to a specific audience is a unique task. I am amazed at how many themes I learn in technical communication courses transfer into scientific writing work. I also wonder how manuals detailing engineering processes fit into technical communication and science writing. It just showcases how wide technical communication reaches into user-centered deliverables.

    Good post!


  4. Hi Nathan,

    Your post cracked me up! I think my parents have already asked me about three times what my certificate program is called. It seems I’ve spent my whole life having to explain my education and profession, primarily because of its broad transferability of skills. For this reason, it was difficult deciding the right career path. However, I couldn’t be happier about my decision. I don’t think many people consider Technical Writing as their first choice, but to many peoples’ surprise, it can be an incredibly versatile profession, as with other careers within the Technical Communication field. Taking into consideration the career options that you mention, a technical communicator really is a jack of all trades.

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