67.1 February 2020

How to Better Prepare Technical Communication Students in an Evolving Field: Perspectives from Academic Program Directors, Practitioners, and Recent Graduates

By Lindsay Emory Moore and Yvonne Earnshaw


Purpose: The purpose of this article is to address the changing identity of the technical communication (TC) field based on how it’s defined, what hard and soft skills are needed, what courses are beneficial, and how to best prepare students for the evolving workplace.

Method: We interviewed 15 technical communicators in three different categories (academic program directors, practitioners, and recent graduates) and analyzed the interviews to determine if technical communicators have similar perspectives about the field.

Results: Findings showed inconsistencies among the definition of TC, the required skills for students entering the workplace, the field’s outlook, the value of professional development, the courses, and requirements of academic programs in TC.

Conclusion: The hybrid perspectives on these important questions challenge the framework for how we have traditionally considered these questions. This study provides additional context into how the academic field sees TC, how practitioners see it, and whether or not students are prepared for the workforce after graduation based on the coursework they have completed and the skills they have gained.

Keywords: practitioner, recent graduates, professional development, technical communication, student preparation

Practitioner’s Takeaway:

TC employers should be aware of the diversity in TC programs, as graduating TCers will have different skill sets based on the priorities of the academic institution.

Practitioners and recent graduates agree that there are few prospects for advancement in TC, and TCers looking to advance will transition into management or a related field.

Practitioners should collaborate with academic programs to identify gaps in student preparation.


From its inception, technical communication (TC) has been an evolving field that has changed alongside industry practices and technological advancements. In the past, technical writers were expected to find jobs in writing instructional and procedural manuals, but the landscape for today’s TC graduates is markedly different and can involve extensive knowledge of marketing, Web design, coding, as well as traditional writing (Blythe, Lauer, & Curran, 2014; Stanton, 2017). These changes in industry standards and expectations create an unstable identity for the field of TC. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), for instance, which included “technical writer” as an official occupation in 2010, has already been called upon to update its label so as to not conflate a technical writer with a technical communicator. Scholars and practitioners alike agree that technical writing does not necessarily describe the work of all TC graduates (Henning & Bemer, 2016). The changing identity of the field and the changing identities for technical communicators create uncertainty about the future and how technical communicators can confront these changes effectively.

In this study, we used an interview approach to obtain different perspectives of recent graduates, TC practitioners, and academics who serve as program directors in TC programs in order to provide context to previous studies where only one category of respondents was surveyed and to provide a broader view about how to best prepare students for the evolving workplace.


Scholars have taken different approaches to understand the demands of the field and how to create departments and programs where TC students can receive the needed skill sets for the job market. Qualitative researchers have considered questions about the field and how to best prepare students. They have analyzed the history of the field, looking to the past to understand the future (Kynell, 1999), categorized periods of the history of the field based on available jobs and technology (Kimball, 2017), and examined the professionalization of TC through the lens of theories and definitions of occupations (Carliner, 2012).

Qualitative scholars have also used diverse methods to consider changes in TC and how to best prepare students for the workforce. Meloncon (2009, 2012) and Meloncon and Henschel (2013) have surveyed academic programs across the United States to provide a foundation of knowledge in TC. Using the results from Meloncon and Henschel’s (2013) study, Stanton (2017) investigated which skills and experiences recruiters and hiring managers prioritized and compared those skills with TC undergraduate program offerings, concluding that undergraduate programs seem to be preparing students effectively. Similarly, several studies have examined workplace expectations and job responsibilities in TC. Lanier (2009) analyzed job postings for technical writing, noting the fast-paced changes in the field, and Brumberger and Lauer (2015) updated Lanier’s study to provide a current snapshot of the modern TC workplace. Lanier’s (2018) study similarly surveyed practitioners, asking them what TC issues they viewed as important. However, Lanier (2018) asked open-ended questions in his survey so as not to limit their responses by his own definitions or someone else’s. Blythe, Lauer, and Curran (2014) took a different approach, surveying graduates of professional and TC programs, and querying the kinds of writing that technical communicators produce.

All of these studies indicated a variety of different skills required for TC graduates and types of writing they will perform, and produced foundational knowledge about the evolving field. However, a survey itself can limit its results. For example, Blythe et al. (2014) provided a list of 50 types of writing that respondents could select from. Though 50 is certainly a large number of writing types, the nomenclature of this list could have created skewed results. For instance, if the specific type of writing respondents wanted to choose was not present, they may have chosen one that was closest to what they would have said. Surveys do not provide a way to glean context from respondents or the ability for them to pose questions about the study’s questions. In Brumberger and Lauer’s (2015) study, when searching for job titles in TC, the authors stated that they “discarded jobs that were focused primarily on technical/tools rather than rhetorical work, because it is the rhetorical work that is at the heart of technical communication” (p. 228). In establishing boundaries for what TC is or is not, Brumberger and Lauer (2015) narrowed the results they might find in the kind of work technical communicators do.

Other recent research has reconsidered the methodology needed to answer these questions about TC by using interviews and hybrids of interviews and surveys. Looking to practitioners to bridge the gaps of how to best prepare students, Kimball (2015b) interviewed TC managers concerning the training and education of technical communicators. In a special issue of Technical Communication, Kimball (2015a, 2015b) and Baehr (2015) combined qualitative and quantitative instruments via the DELPHI system to survey eight TC managers in four iterations including two surveys, a focus group, and a Web conference. This study focused on questions about TC involving identities and relationships, products and processes, education and training, and what is on the horizon. These studies provide meaningful context to our understanding of the changing field’s identity and how to best prepare students for it; however, more context from differing levels of technical communicators; such as recent graduates, practitioners, academics, and program directors in TC; is needed. Our present study provides needed context to previous work on the changing identity of TC and how to effectively prepare students to enter an evolving workplace.


The purpose of this study is to present findings from 15 interviews with a diverse group of technical communicators (recent graduates, practitioners, and program directors) who address the changing identity of the field and how to best prepare students for the evolving workplace in TC.

Our study was guided by two research questions:

  1. What is TC?
  • Is there a current, prevailing definition of TC across academics and practitioners?
  • Is there a difference between how the academic field sees itself and how practitioners see it?
  • How is the field changing in 2018?
  • What role does writing play in TC?
  1. Are students in TC programs prepared for the evolving workplace?
  • What steps are academics/academic programs taking to ensure that they stay relevant?
  • What is the relationship between TC programs and practitioners?
  • What skills do practitioners (especially managers and recruiters) want to see in
    new graduates?
  • What are new graduates encountering as they move from academia to the workforce?


Participant Selection

In selecting a method to answer our research questions, we wanted to hear perspectives from a variety of people who worked in and were knowledgeable about TC. By using a qualitative research design, we were able to present multiple perspectives into a complex situation (Creswell, 2008). Through interviews, we asked probing questions and obtained information from experts in the field that helped to provide an in-depth look into TC and contextualize survey findings (Creswell, 2008).

We decided upon three categories of interviewees, which included program directors in TC programs, practitioners working in the field, and recent graduates from a TC program. By using purposeful sampling, specifically maximal variation sampling in which “the researcher samples cases or individuals that differ on some characteristic or trait” (Creswell, 2008, p. 214), we were able to identify and select individuals that fit into these three categories, were knowledgeable about TC, and could describe their experiences.

In order to identify individuals in TC programs, we used our roles as TC faculty members who read publications in the field and networked with other faculty members. One of us had worked professionally in the field and was a former member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). She contacted former colleagues and current and former members from different chapters of STC across the United States. We also contacted recent graduates from undergraduate TC programs. Some of the original contacts forwarded our request on to others or provided us with additional people to contact.


We originally emailed 42 people to request an interview. A few people declined due to other time commitments. For the majority of first and second requests, we did not receive responses. In the end, we had 15 interviewees who agreed to participate in the study.

Interviewees belonged to three categories: program directors, TC practitioners, and recent graduates. All of the participants live and work in the United States. We interviewed four tenure-track professors from four different institutions across the United States, each having directed a TC program at the graduate or undergraduate level. All four program directors earned PhDs in English with specialization in technical communication or a related field. The departments they work for were diverse with some offering classes in TC to an undergraduate or graduate degree in TC. We interviewed six practitioners, ranging in experience from 10–31 years, with an average of 18.2 years of experience. Each of the practitioners worked for technology-based companies (software, manufacturing, telecommunications) located in major metropolitan areas of the United States. Of the practitioners we interviewed, one has a PhD in English with a concentration in technical communication, two have master’s degrees in technical communication, and one has a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in technical communication. One practitioner has a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than technical communication or English. Their job titles were

  • Lead Technical Editor (re-titled to
    Information Architect)
  • Information Developer
  • Senior Technical Communicator
  • (retired) Technical Communication Manager
  • (retired) Executive Director
  • Executive (enterprise)

Three of the practitioners were familiar with TC curriculum due to their roles as guest lecturers or adjuncts for universities or from serving on departmental and college advisory boards.

We interviewed five recent graduates who each graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Technical Communication in 2016 and 2017. Their current job titles consisted of the following

  • Technical Writer II
  • Technical Writer
  • IT Technical Writer
  • Technical Writer and Instructional Designer, Lead of the Documentation Team
  • Business Operations and Communications Consultant

The interviewees earned a variety of degrees, mostly focusing on TC and English-related programs. In Lam’s (2014) article about the educational background of scholars who are currently publishing in TC journals, he found that PhDs in English were the most represented. Similarly, in our study, all five tenure-track faculty earned PhDs through departments of English. Our interviewees additionally supported Meloncon’s (2009) study, which found that there was a larger percentage of Master of Arts degrees in Technical Communication than Master of Science degrees. Our interviewees who had a Bachelor of Arts in Technical Communication supported Meloncon and Henschel’s (2013) research as well, and we will provide more information about undergraduate programs below in the Programmatic Information section.


After agreeing to participate, participants signed the informed consent form and emailed it to the researchers. Then, individual interviews took place via Skype or cell phone and were between 36 minutes and 1 hour and 20 minutes. Interviews were recorded and later transcribed.

Interview Questions

The types of questions differed depending on the specific role of the interviewee, but many of the questions repeated across categories such as the definition of TC, the type of software recommended, and the required skills needed in TC. (See Appendix A for the full list of questions.)

The questions specific to recent graduates provided context on studies by Blythe, Lauer, and Curran (2012), Lanier (2009), and Brumberger and Lauer (2015). The course and programmatic questions contextualize programmatic information on TC coursework by Meloncon (2009, 2012) and Meloncon and Herschel (2013). Specifically, the questions we asked about elective courses were in response to a call for more information on elective courses and special topics courses in Meloncon and Henschel (2013).

We also sought to provide context to previous research of TC’s place within the university structure that has been examined by Anklam (1999), Harlow (2010), Miller (1979), Moore (2006), and Wishbow (1999) as well as the educational backgrounds of TC scholars by Lam (2014).


A common interview analysis technique is to review the interview data and look for patterns. Because providing context to previous research guided the process of writing our interview questions, we have organized our responses into broad categories based on these studies

  • Student preparation
  • Field outlook
  • Professional development
  • Programmatic information

Each of these categories corresponds with interview questions in that category. For example, in the Student Preparation category, practitioners responded to questions such as: What programs should graduates know to be marketable for a job in your company?, whereas recent graduates responded to questions such as: Do you feel that your program adequately prepared you to join the workforce in technical communication? Program directors responded to questions such as: Does your program teach any specific software to undergraduates? Are there specific software that they are required to know? Because participants’ answers differed across groups, the results from each category are divided by group and then discussed as a whole.

Student Preparation Results

In their responses to questions regarding student preparation for the current field of TC, interviewees’ answers differed across categories but were similar within their category. We asked all categories of participants questions about student preparation such as what kinds of hard skills and soft skills were taught in TC programs or what kinds of hard and soft skills prospective employees should have to be marketable for a job. Rainey, Turner, and Dayton (2005) note that ability with various forms of technology have traditionally been known as “hard skills” whereas nontechnical skills such as writing and collaboration are known as “soft skills.” In using the nomenclature “hard and soft skills,” we were also interested in learning how the different categories of interviewees would define/identify these skills. All categories of interviewees responded to “hard skills” in terms of computer software.

Student preparation results: Program directors

Program directors mostly answered that students in their programs would receive exposure to certain software, but, for the most part, they were expected to learn software on their own time. Interviewees used phrases such as “we introduce” or “they should be able to” in their responses about software. Two program directors specified that students would receive basic training on Adobe InDesign, and one program director said that students would also receive some basic training on Adobe Creative Cloud. One program director stated, “To say we teach them is a little deceptive … Basically, we give them an introduction to tools and then they have to teach themselves because that’s what we have to do on the job.” Two of the program directors also noted that students should have knowledge with single-sourcing and coding. One program director said that students in the program currently do not receive training on any software, but he felt that this was problematic for students. He continued by saying that, ideally, students would have “serious coding skills in HTML, XML, CSS, php, or one of the other powerful scripting languages like C++ or C.” Two program directors additionally responded that students’ abilities to write and present information were essential skills. One of the interviewees said, “The skill you have as a writer and the skills you have as a presenter are two of the most important things you are going to be evaluated on by the person who gives you a raise.” One of the interviewees also mentioned that students should be able to assess the ethical problems they will confront in industry. Another program director noted that students should have a better sense of “critical genre: strategies and practices, not just rules,” as well as knowledge about how TC works in industry.

Student preparation results: Practitioners

Practitioners also answered questions about required technical skills sets for potential employees in terms of computer software. Two practitioners answered that students knowing MadCap Flare would be beneficial: Of these, one said it would not be an expectation, but that it would make for an extremely marketable candidate. DITA was another program that two practitioners listed. Two practitioners also said that Microsoft Office was a requirement. One practitioner specifically noted that Adobe Creative Cloud was not a useful software for employees but did say that students should know Acrobat. Other practitioners’ answers included

  • MadCap Analyzer
  • JQuery
  • Angular
  • JavaScript
  • Vizio

Practitioners also listed other computer skills potential employees are required to have, and three of them included coding. Two practitioners specifically listed HTML, and another said, “I am looking for someone who is not afraid to dig down into C++ or Python or Java … if they don’t understand the technology, all they’re doing is copyediting [and] that’s not effective writing.”

For soft skills, two practitioners listed writing. Otherwise, the answers were diverse and included

  • Take direction
  • Think quickly on their feet
  • Research and draw conclusions from research
  • Understand complex information

When practitioners were asked whether recent graduates were prepared to enter the workforce, practitioners differentiated between preparedness for the content of work and preparedness for the workforce in general. Two practitioners complimented recent graduates’ writing abilities, but both followed this with knowledge students still needed. One practitioner said, “Fundamentals of writing are there but not tool knowledge.” The same practitioner added that a student’s tool knowledge depended on the program the student graduated from. “I ran into one student at [university name]. The teacher didn’t understand [MadCap] Flare either. Didn’t know how to help her troubleshoot it … These are the common things you might run into. That seems to be lacking.” Another practitioner commented that:

My biggest beef is that academics don’t even want to teach the tool because they change so much, but I think they’re doing a huge disservice to their students by not even mentioning the tools that are out there at the moment because when they graduate they need to be able to figure out how to learn those tools so they can get a job.

Another practitioner stated that students write well, but “what is lacking is their ability to transition into a working environment where they’re expected to track their progress.” The same practitioner added that recent graduates seem to wait for instruction while supervisors expect them to begin work with no instruction. Similarly, another practitioner noted that recent graduates have unrealistic expectations. All of that said, all practitioners reported that they regularly hire graduates from TC programs, and some practitioners also recruit students from communication or journalism programs. One practitioner specifically said that her company does not recruit graduates from English programs or marketing programs because “the writing is really different;” however, this practitioner also admitted that she didn’t understand how journalistic writing was similar enough to TC to be acceptable. She then realized that some of the upper managers in her company come from journalism backgrounds.

Student preparation results: Recent graduates

Recent graduates answered questions about technical skills in terms of computer software. All listed that when they graduated, they had learned Microsoft Word. Three of the interviewees replied that they had been given training on Adobe InDesign, and two interviewees said they knew Adobe Photoshop. One interviewee replied that he was “familiar with” Adobe Creative Cloud programs. Two interviewees mentioned other computer skills, such as coding. One interviewee said, “I know how to write CSS and HTML pretty well, which I learned in a course.” One student said that she learned MadCap Flare because she worked in a department computer lab and training was available.

When asked if there was anything they wished they had learned in their university programs, four out of five listed computer skills and software. In their responses, two recent graduates mentioned that they wished they had learned more about Microsoft Excel. Two other interviewees emphasized the need for students to learn more software in general, and one of them said that “in the ever-evolving world of software, it is just hard to keep up.” Another interviewee mentioned that the program’s emphasis on Adobe Creative Cloud “over-prepared students” because not all jobs will pay for the licensing for only person to use it. (This interviewee is the only writer in her department.) Other computer programs and software that recent graduates wish they had learned were

  • MadCap Flare
  • Apps (IOS vs. Android, app design, etc.)
  • eLearning programs

In terms of soft skills, all recent graduates responded that they learned about effective collaboration in their programs, listing skills such “teamwork,” “interpersonal skills and working in groups,” and “working in a team.” Four recent graduates also listed that presentation skills were emphasized in their programs and those skills have been beneficial. Two recent graduates responded that working with clients had been really useful in teaching them interpersonal skills with subject matter experts (SMEs). One graduate said, “interviewing SMEs was really valuable,” and another said that working with clients offered “real-world aspects” such as “differing opinions and conflicts.”

When asked if their program adequately prepared them to enter the workforce, all interviewees answered “yes.” Two recent graduates specified that working in their department’s lab provided additional preparation. Two of the other recent graduates’ answers included

  • “I do a lot of creative design work in my job now…and I think creativity gets left out of Tech Comm.”
  • “The program is what you make of it, and I had a better experience in the program than others [through] internships and teaching lab courses.”

The recent graduates we interviewed were able to secure employment in the field with the largest time lapse between graduation and job placement being five months; the quickest graduation-employment turnaround was two weeks. Two of the recent graduates have had more than one full-time placement since graduation: one was hired as a contract worker and resigned after one year, and another was hired by a different large company and laid off a few months after starting. All recent graduates reported that they enjoyed their jobs.

Student Preparation Discussion

Responses on student preparedness revealed dissonance on the required hard and soft skills for technical communicators entering the field. Recent graduates and program directors reported that they were provided with/provide training on Adobe Creative Suite programs, while practitioners did not view it as required software for potential employees (with the exception of Adobe Acrobat). In addition, practitioners were not in agreement about what software should be required, and recent graduates likewise did not have an answer on what software they should have been taught.

We determined that a useful way to consider the issue of changing technology in TC was with the idea put forth by one of the program directors: technological literacy. It is less important to teach every emerging software than it is to explain why and how technical communicators use it in the workplace, and how each software relates to one another, even terms of open sourcing and proprietary information, and complements technical communicators’ sense of medium. For example, this program director stated that she presents all “major software” alongside its open source equivalent. This is, of course, easier said than done and requires vast and evolving knowledge from TC faculty. One suggestion from a practitioner (who is also an adjunct faculty member) is that practitioners could be hired to teach software workshops. With regard to professional development, another program director noted the need for faculty to participate in practitioner-based professional development and the corresponding need for university support to do so. Field-based training in new and developing technology and technological literacy for faculty demonstrates this need. These suggestions do place an enormous amount of responsibility on TC faculty and TC program directors to keep current on developing technology. As established degree programs already exist in Computer Science and other areas, a multidisciplinary approach to teaching technology in TC or partnerships with other departments could alleviate this burden.

Coding was another skill that both program directors and practitioners noted as a required skill, yet only one recent graduate reported that they gleaned this skill in their program. This could be the result of students being forgetful in the moment or even not recognizing coding as a skill; however, with the level of emphasis placed on coding from practitioners and program directors, students should have felt a corresponding level of emphasis placed on it as students. As a matter of technological literacy, it seems important to note that teaching all programming languages is not as important as introducing the differences between them and the reasons one might be used in certain industries over others.

Required soft skills were also misaligned according to our interview responses. Recent graduates all reported collaboration as a skill they acquired, but practitioners and program directors did not list it as a required skill. Though not many will argue that collaboration and teamwork are important skills for most jobs, a heavy emphasis placed on it in undergraduate programs may result in some of the issues of professionalization and workplace preparedness brought up by practitioners. A lack of full responsibility for projects could lead to dependence on others for instruction and affirmation. Moreover, one recent graduate and one practitioner expressed the need for more professionalization, in terms of workplace accountability and better understanding of corporate expectations, as students transition into the workplace.

Creating partnerships between industry and academic programs will alleviate some of the problems of transition as partnerships can create opportunities for internships, co-ops, and authentic class projects. To ensure effective partnerships, both academics and practitioners should work to create these opportunities, as producing more prepared students is mutually beneficial.

Field Outlook Results

Another key area we looked at was the outlook of the TC field. Every interviewee was asked to define TC. The responses varied from more traditional writing to a catch-all definition. (See Appendix B for the full responses.) Additional questions addressed the changes in the field and where the field is going in the future. For recent graduates, we specifically asked about career advancement opportunities and long-term future career goals.

Field outlook results: Program directors

After providing the definition of TC, we asked program directors two follow-up questions:

  1. Does your department/university define it the same way you do?
  2. Does the field define it the same way you do?

The answers to the first follow-up question were mixed: One program director answered “Probably. Pretty much.” Another interviewee said, “Yes, because I do all of the definitional work for the department.” However, this interviewee continued by admitting that there was “slippage” and referred to a divide between technical writers and technical communicators. Two other program directors answered no, and one answered, “Hell no.” These program directors both followed-up their response by describing the small number of TC faculty versus traditional English faculty and, in one case, the resulting funding issues between the two groups.

In answering the second follow-up question, interviewees answered, “yes and no,” referring to the differences between academics’ and practitioners’ definitions. One program director noted that because “academics have limited exposure to practitioners, they often approach technical communication in a way that a practitioner would find foreign,” and he joked about the overuse of academic words such as discourse. Similarly, another interviewee noted the differences between academics and professionals in regard to participation in conferences and organizations, noting that academics and professionals do not participate and present in the same organizations. For instance, the program director said that academics don’t participate in STC conferences but do present in IEEE conferences where a professional would see IEEE as “hooey.” Another program director responded by saying that professionals’ daily work is more narrowly defined than academics’, and their definition might be different as a result.

When asked where they see the field going in the future, particularly the next 10 years, two program directors immediately said they didn’t know while two others said that it would stay the same. Of the two interviewees who said they didn’t know, one mentioned several factors that will determine the future of the field including

  • Possibility of advancement for technical communicators
  • Hybridization of fields such as Media Studies
  • Value of writing and editing

The other interviewee who answered “I don’t know” followed up by asserting that the field faces challenges such as start-up technologies and information literacy. The interviewee noted that TC has the potential to lead in the “fact neutral world,” but, currently, technical communicators do not see themselves this way. Of the two interviewees who said the field would stay the same, one continued by emphasizing that younger scholars by and large do not have experience working as technical communicators, and thus paying attention to professionals in the field is key to not becoming an echo chamber. The other interviewee who answered that the field will stay the same noted that the field has always been the same, but job titles will change: “What we call ourselves and industries where we have been most present will shift … and people will have to evolve.”

Field outlook results: Practitioners

After asking practitioners to define TC, we asked this follow-up question: Define technical communication/technical writing in your company. Would your company define it the same way you do? All practitioners said that their companies would not define TC the same as they do. One practitioner said, “Honestly, they don’t know what a technical communicator is.” Two other practitioners said they felt their companies were moving to an understanding of how TC has changed. One practitioner said her manager understands the difference and “is making a change, but it’s a slow process.” Similarly noting a change with managers, another practitioner said that “though he would like to think it is the same,” there is likely only 80% of the same definition in other companies, and this is partly a result of managers who understand TC. Another interviewee recommended that the key to understanding is to create bridges between departments.

When asked how TC has changed since they have been in the workplace, practitioners related changes to new technology such as digital experience and new software tools. One practitioner addressed the difference between technical communicator and technical writer remarking, “I think we have defined ourselves too narrowly as technical communicators” as opposed to business analysts or digital experience titles. Two practitioners asserted that writing ability seems to have decreased in importance in favor of technological skills. Of these, one practitioner continued by stating that there is a move toward “structured content” and templates. Another interviewee referenced the growth of the field, asserting that because there are so many more graduates, their level of experience with certain genres was more important now. For instance, in this practitioner’s company, instructional materials are the dominant genre, and when recruiting, they specifically look for graduates who can show writing samples in this genre.

Field outlook results: Recent graduates

We asked recent graduates, who graduated in the classes of 2016 and 2017, Have you seen any changes in the field since you graduated? Only two responded yes when asked if they have noticed any changes in the field since graduating. One interviewee who had recently been on the job market again said, “Creative skills are now a job requirement” and noticed an increase in job ads looking for “copywriting, marketing, and ad campaigns for events.” She also noted that AdLaunch seems to be a required skill now. Another interviewee who had recently been on the job market remarked that the field seems to be moving to a lot of “automated processes.” All of the other recent graduates said they had not noticed any changes in the field since graduation.

We also asked recent graduates about advancement opportunities for technical communicators at their current place of employment, and prospects for advancement were unclear for most of the recent graduates. One interviewee had already been promoted and is currently leading a documentation team, which is her second promotion since beginning work there. For the remaining recent graduates, advancement is less transparent as they are all the only technical communicator in their department or company. As a result, these recent graduates were unsure of what advancement would look like. One graduate said, “Advancement here would have to be something different because I’m the only one … I’m a technical writer II, but there isn’t actually a I or III, just me.” Similarly, another graduate noted that she would need to move into user interface or app design; she also remarked that there are no “technical writers” at her company. The two other recent graduates were hopeful about the possibility of advancement in their current company: one interviewee remembered that she had a previous boss with the title “Senior Technical Writer,” but she was unsure that this role still existed, and the other interviewee hoped for flexibility in roles at his company as he wanted to move into management.

When asked about their long-term future career goals, one interviewee said that he had already decided not to remain in TC and hoped to go to graduate school to study instructional design, get an MBA, or possibly become an academic. The remaining four recent graduates planned to stay in the field; however, as advancement possibilities were unclear, they could not specifically set their long-term career goals.

Field Outlook Discussion

The responses to the question of how to define TC revealed multiple places of dissonance within the field and exposed some of the current anxieties in the field. First, none of the definitions were the same, though there were some consistent patterns. Second, all practitioners and program directors reported that the outside view of the field is misaligned with those who practice it, and, finally, program directors reported that TC was likely defined differently for academics and practitioners.

Several of the definitions seemed to stem from varied meanings of the words technical and communication. (See Appendix B.) While several interviewees’ definitions broadened the scope of communication in the field in terms of medium, and one, in particular, answered that TC “is not writing,” at least four of the definitions by interviewees displayed more traditional aspects of TC that were focused on audience. For example, phrases like “using plain English” and making complicated things less complicated defined technical as being complex. Other interviewees’ definitions articulated that technical was in reference to technology while others’ displayed an evolving understanding of technical. These nomenclatural distinctions emphasized two important and debated questions in the field:

  1. What is the role of writing in TC?
  2. What is the role of technology in TC?

As the medium of communication in TC widens, we have seen debates about whether the role of writing in TC should be static. The question of defining TC and the follow-up questions emphasized older, traditional views of technical writing versus the newer understanding of technical communicator, and from the responses to follow-up questions, the external view of TC is one that is still ensconced in writing. This is affirmed by the job titles of the recent graduates we interviewed, of which all but one had writer in the title. However, recent graduates also reported a spread from 30–80% of how much writing they did on a daily basis, which also shows an inconsistency. Similarly, when asked about the required skills of a potential hire or graduate, less than half of practitioners listed writing. Moreover, not all program directors did either. Writing as a required skill is thus inconsistent as well.

Though these responses are not representative of the field as a whole, the lack of emphasis on writing in these responses highlights the question of the role writing will play in the future of TC. While these responses affirm Henning and Bemer’s (2016) call to revise the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) definition of TC, it contrasts with Giammona’s (2004) study, which found writing to be in the top five skills of TCers. Giammona interviewed 28 senior-level professionals, asking them to check-off a list of the top five most important skills for technical writers. Many of the professionals found it difficult to narrow the list to only five skills, but writing was common among all of them. As George Hayhoe stated, “I wish I would not have to check off writing—that I could take that for granted” (p. 350). Hayhoe’s statement here about writing as an implied required skill could account for its absences in some of our responses. Many of the other skills listed were discussed by this study’s participants such as project management, Web design, usability/GUI design, research, programming or hands-on technical skills, and business/industry-specific experience (p. 363). Skills listed in Giammona’s article (2004) that were not mentioned by participants in this study were editing, organizing information, authoring and publishing tools, print document design, information architecture, interviewing/listening, and political savvy. In addition to the fifteen-year gap in these studies, we can likely account for some of the discrepancies between the required skill sets by the difference in methodologies in these two studies. The participants in Giammona’s (2004) study were given a list of skills and asked to prioritize them, whereas the participants in this study were asked about required skills in an open-ended question.

The lack of clarity in TC advancement is also reflected in recent research. Baehr (2015) concluded that TCers “who demonstrate their abilities (and value) can more easily move into managerial roles [ … and make … ] good project managers” (p. 116). Moreover, the BLS (2018) states that advancement can include working on more complex projects and leading and training staff members. In contrast, a study of TC managers reported that the TC “career levels off,” even describing TC “as a career with a glass ceiling,” as “traditional roles … plateau” (Kimball, 2015, p. 144). Taken together, these studies may highlight the issue of branding and identity, noted by Carliner (2012) and Brumberger and Lauer (2015). Though advancement opportunities exist for TCers, they may not have “technical writer” or “technical communicator” in their job titles. Carliner (2012) warned that a diversity of job titles within our field can cause devaluation, and although he was referring to the external view of TC, if recent graduates working in the field are unclear about their advancement opportunities, an internal devaluation of TC could occur as well.

Advancement opportunities can also change depending on the size and industry of a company. For TCers who are lone writers at their companies, advancement is less likely than for those who work as part of a large, TC department. Some of the recent graduates in this study may be limited in their advancement opportunities due to the size of their companies or the particular industries they are working in.

Professional Development Results

We asked practitioners and recent graduates
two questions:

  1. Do you belong to any professional organizations in TC?
  2. Do you participate in professional development?

Though we did not specify Society for Technical Communication (STC) as an example, most interviewees talked specifically about it in their responses.

Professional development results: Practitioners

Practitioners disagreed on the importance of membership in a professional organization. Of the five practitioners, two are current STC members and one is a former member, but when asked about professional organizations, all practitioners mentioned STC in their responses. Of the two who are currently involved in STC, one interviewee described that in his ten-year membership, he has held positions at the chapter and national levels stating, “What you put into it is what you get out of it. I use it for networking,” and credits his last three job placements to networking with STC members. The remaining three practitioners held a negative view of membership in a professional organization such as STC. One practitioner described STC as a “relic of the past,” and another said the organization was “antiquated,” predicting that there would be “no benefit” to him. Three interviewees commented that membership in STC was declining and mentioned that some chapters had dissolved. According to George Hayhoe’s interview in Giammona (2004), STC membership peaked at 25,000 members in 2001 but had seen as much as a 20–25% decrease by 2003 (p. 351). Currently, the STC’s 2015 Year in Review states that “membership hovered just below 6,000 members,” showing a 76% overall decrease in membership between 2001 and 2015. One interviewee commented that “people don’t want to pay dues” for information they can find online. One of these interviewees also participates in Meetup, which he describes as “more organic” in its professional development.

Professional development results: Recent graduates

Recent graduates were more consistent in their involvement in professional organizations and participation in professional development. None of the recent graduates were members of professional organizations, and of those who provided reasons of why they were not members, they listed the expense and lack of a direct benefit. Additionally, one recent graduate who was a student member of STC was unimpressed by the disorganization of the local chapter and, as a result, did not join at the national level after he graduated. One interviewee said that if he has questions, he “goes to the Tech Comm Reddit or Google” and sometimes asks for advice from his previous manager. For one recent graduate, when she was asked a follow-up question related to the decrease in STC membership, she replied:

That could also be [due to] general disillusionment. There was like a camaraderie in your job 10–15 years ago, but people don’t get severance packages or retirement anymore. There’s not a lot of loyalty anymore. The corporate landscape [as a whole] or business-employee loyalty could be in decline.

On the subject of professional development, recent graduates similarly reported little participation and explained that for most of them, it was unsupported by their department or company. Of the five recent graduates, one reported that she took a business development course through Lynda.com, but she also noted that Lynda.com is the only resource the company pays for. The remaining four recent graduates reported they did not participate in professional development. One interviewee mentioned her job title as a Contingent Worker (contract employee) excluded her from joining the Technical Communication Resource Group within the company. Other interviewees responded that attempting to attend a conference or a training would be an “uphill battle” with management as they were the only TC employees in their departments or companies. Clearly frustrated by the lack of support from the company for professional development, one interviewee stated, “It’s really frustrating to me. My boss clearly sees my technical communication skills, which are my writing, design, audience analysis, content strategy, Web design. They clearly see those are valuable, but they refuse to invest in continuing and building those skills.” She emphasized this disconnect between her skill set and the lack of recognition of it being TC, arguing that because managers do not understand what TC is, they are unwilling to invest in it.

Professional Development Discussion

Even among long-time practitioners, the benefit to their involvement in professional organizations, especially STC, and participation in professional development was inconsistent, and, consequently, it is unsurprising that recent graduates reported no membership in professional organizations and almost no professional development. That said, several of the recent graduates indirectly indicated that because they were the only technical communicators in their offices or departments, there was a need for a TC network. Several recent graduates reported having to teach themselves technology they did not learn in their coursework, such as MadCap Flare, and, perhaps more importantly, suggested a need for mentorship and professionalization in the field. When asked what he wished he would have learned in his program, one recent graduate reflected that that he had not ever learned how to research companies and how to apply for jobs other than by looking at large job sites. When he was laid off from a large company, he “needed to look at the market and really understand it.” Though university programs could potentially talk about some of these issues in a Capstone course, networking with other, more seasoned technical communicators in a professional organization could have provided this graduate with insider knowledge about the advantages and disadvantages of taking a job at a larger versus a smaller company. In addition, upon being laid off, the graduate would have had a large network that could have benefitted him in his second job search. However, practitioners who have had years of experience in STC demonstrated varying levels of contentment in their experiences. Although one practitioner credited STC “with everything” because she felt ill-prepared for the workforce after finishing her master’s degree, she admitted that the organization is in a steady decline. Further, one of the practitioners who reported that he was not an active member of STC explained that he had been an active member for over 25 years and an STC Fellow but had let his membership lapse last year because “there was no benefit.” Practitioners and recent graduates alike complained about the expense of membership, and several interviewees in both categories did not see the benefit of it.

Practitioners’ engagement in professional development was inconsistent but was barren in recent graduates. Most recent graduates explained that they did not engage in professional development because it would not be supported by their company, and two graduates remarked that even asking managers for opportunities to attend courses or seminars would require a detailed rationale.

In Kimball’s (2015b) study, the managers he interviewed asserted that companies could do more to support technical communicators in their professional development, and without this kind of support, TC could become a career that “levels off” (p. 143). The responses made by recent graduates and practitioners in our study affirm this consensus from Kimball’s study. Our research, and particularly the interviews with recent graduates (though not specifically correlated), show a concerning lack of company investment in professional development.

As we thought about these issues, three things were apparent to us:

  1. There is still a need for professional networking, meaningful professional development, and effective mentorship in the field, and, as TC continues to evolve, this need will likely increase.
  2. STC is currently not viewed as an organization that can fill this need; however, in the past, it served this need well.
  3. If STC (or another professional organization) would work to address the criticism it has received as well as to become a liaison between recent graduates, practitioners, and university programs, it could help to unify our identity as technical communicators.

Programmatic Information Results

We asked program directors and recent graduates to provide information (such as coursework) about their undergraduate and graduate programs to provide a snapshot of updated information about TC programs. We also asked program directors how they recruit students and asked recent graduates how they found out about the TC program.

Programmatic information results: Program directors

The program directors disagreed about where TC programs should be housed, either in a college of arts and sciences versus in a college of engineering. In describing the course requirements for undergraduates, most programs required that students take a service course and a senior Capstone course where students create a culminating portfolio and prepare for the job market. One of the interviewees said that everyone in the college is required to take two TC service courses (including the majors). Some programs required students to take courses from different categories of core competencies. Program directors also provided names for some of their elective courses. We identified several of these as traditional TC (or traditional rhetoric or traditional communication) courses such as

  • International Technical Communication
  • New Media
  • Speech Communication

A majority of program directors listed courses related to gaming such as

  • Writing for Games
  • Weird Video Games
  • Game Design

Courses focusing on visual elements were another pattern of elective courses we noticed with electives such as

  • Applied Visual Communication
  • Visualization
  • Rhetoric of Photographs
  • Visual Storytelling
  • Visual Rhetoric

In responses to questions about recruitment, program directors showed various levels of recruitment in their programs. One program director responded that students in the university are encouraged to be interdisciplinary, and the department’s course offerings are filled every semester based solely on student interest. Another program director detailed a specific recruitment strategy that had three prongs:

  1. Traditional recruitment via major and minor fairs held at the university
  2. Programmatic outreach using “match sheets” with other majors in the college (specifically to recruit students for the minor or the certificate programs)
  3. Outreach programs with area high schools and summer camps

The remaining two program directors described a more middle-of-the-road approach than the previous two program directors to include creating departmental scholarships for majors, recruiting new majors through service courses, and creating interesting, real-world projects in their courses (client projects, international/study abroad opportunities, etc.).

Programmatic information results: Recent graduates

We asked recent graduates to list the required courses for their degree plans. The requirements were all traditional TC courses such as service courses, Capstone, Internships, Style, Design, Editing, and Writing Procedures and Manuals. Several recent graduates could not recall the names of their elective courses, but some remembered one or two such as Usability and the User Experience, Science Writing, and Digital Media. Recent graduates could remember certain skills they related to courses such as “there was one where we did a lot of coding.”

We discovered that none of the recent graduates found TC through recruitment efforts. Students either discovered TC through a required service course or because of their own interest in technology. One student described that she used to code in HTML and CSS on her MySpace page to create unique design elements. She then began to understand basic elements of Web design and began researching majors where she could do related work. Three of the interviewees were defects from English programs in literature or creative writing.

Programmatic Information Discussion

The programmatic information supported most of the claims made by Meloncon and Henschel (2013) with some exceptions. Meloncon and Henschel demonstrated that a set of core courses was developing in TC programs. The programs described in our study, however, did not show alignment with regard to core courses. The required courses for all four programs were an introductory/service course (or courses) and a Capstone course. From our interviews, required courses do not show a commonality in curricula across universities. However, our sample size here is much smaller than the previous study, and as the authors are currently working on an updated state of curricula manuscript, the responses from our study may provide a small snapshot of current curricula until Meloncon’s new work is released. Further, program directors reported a wide breadth of elective courses for their programs. One program director reported there were more than 120 TC courses at his university though they were not all taught. The varied course electives support the understanding that the field of TC is widening and also demonstrates some of the hybridization of TC with other fields (Carliner, 2012; Kimball, 2017). It is also worth considering that this large number of courses could contribute to the confusion of how TC is viewed outside of the field, which was reported by all of the interviewees in this study.

What’s Next

Our research study was guided by two main
research questions:

  1. What is TC?
  2. Are students in TC programs prepared for the evolving workplace?

Based on the interviews from 15 participants, there were inconsistencies in the definition of TC, which ranged from traditional writing to the inclusion of
new technologies and tools. For some participants, writing should be the focus of TC and, for others, it should not be the focus.

Similarly, there were inconsistencies in student preparation for the evolving workplace. Several of the practitioners provided suggestions about how to bridge the gap between what is being taught and what the workplace is requiring. Classes should include an overview of major tools so students will be familiar with the names and at least what purpose they serve. Colleges and universities can draw upon adjunct faculty members who are practitioners in the field to discuss and showcase these tools. Colleges and universities can also partner with more local businesses that can range from providing feedback on a student’s portfolio to offering internships to creating an advisory board. Students can be more prepared for the workplace by learning how to run an entire project life cycle, which includes interviewing subject matter experts. It is also important for students to be exposed to multiple industries. Technical communication does not just reside in technology companies but also in healthcare, finance, non-profit organizations, and smaller businesses. In addition, it is important for students to recognize that technical communication is multi-disciplinary and sometimes crosses over into other fields like instructional design or computer science or business. As technical communicators, we need to leverage our expertise and coordinate with other departments and programs.


This study sought to gain the perspectives of a diverse group of technical communicators in order to contextualize current research on the discipline’s changing identity and how to effectively prepare students for a changing job market. The interviews in this study provided diverse, current perspectives on these important questions, and the 15 respondents who provided useful insights revealed that it is a shared priority among all technical communicators to consider the field’s changing identity and future. We hope this approach will incite similar and larger-scale conversations among diverse groups of technical communicators and help to produce a wider and contextualized body of research.

Though the interview approach allowed more freedom in responses and produced new patterns in perspectives among technical communicators, it is not without its limitations. The results here are by no means comprehensive or static, as the field is changing constantly. It is difficult to generalize this study based on the results of 15 participants in the US, and, therefore, the views may not represent all technical communicators. The participants shared their experiences and knowledge as technical communicators who work in similar industries, in different departments and programs at universities, and in different regions of the country. All of our practitioners worked in technology-based companies in large metropolitan areas. The BLS states that 39% of technical communicators work in “professional, scientific, and technical services” and shows a higher percentage of technical communicators working in large, metropolitan areas. What is missing here is the experience of technical communicators in other industries, such as financial, healthcare, government, and military as well as those in non-metropolitan areas. In addition, half of the practitioners also served as adjunct faculty members or were members of university advisory boards. This is not typical amongst all technical communication practitioners.

Similarly, one program director’s viewpoint of what is needed in industry depends on the particular experience of that individual, and there may be a disconnect between what is needed versus what is being taught. As these diverse answers show, there is still a divide between academics and practitioners about what topics and skills should be taught in TC programs. Two program directors emphasized the need for active lines of communication between practitioners and TC programs.

Likewise, although we used the STC website and LinkedIn searches as starting places to recruit participants, and we personally knew some of the participants, we realize this is also a limitation in the study. Ideally, we would have liked to have heard from a larger number of people in all three categories. That said, our response rate of 35.7% is higher than expected, given the time required for an interview is more than a survey.

What this study does provide, however, is an approach for considering multiple perspectives and for contextualizing the results of previous studies while providing a more in-depth picture of the field of TC. Future research should consider a more comprehensive pool of participants from a variety of industries, regions, and university departments and programs. The TC field and the roles of those in it are changing dramatically, and these interviews provide the start to a larger conversation about the direction of TC as it redefines itself.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Jordan Frith of Clemson University for his support of this project and his mentorship at the University of North Texas.


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Lindsay Emory Moore is a Professor of English at Collin College in Plano, TX, where she teaches courses in technical and business writing, composition, and literature. Her recent research has focused on the differences in error perception between practitioners and academics in technical communication. She is available at LEMoore@collin.edu.

Yvonne Earnshaw has extensive experience in instructional design, technical communication, and usability consulting and has worked for various Fortune 500 companies in the high-tech and financial industries. Yvonne has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Learning Systems with a specialization in usability and human computer interaction, and has taught technical communication and instructional design and technology classes for universities across the US. She is available at yvonne.earnshaw@gmail.com.


Interview Questions

Program Directors
  • What is your educational background?
    • Major, minor, certificate?
    • Date of graduation?
    • How did you become involved in technical communication?
      • Was it part of your degree? If so, how?
    •  Have you had any service/ administrative roles in your university related to tech comm? If so, what?
    • Where is Tech Comm housed in your university?
      • College?
      • Department?
      • Does your placement within university structure impact your department? If so, how?
    • Multiple scholars have debated where tech comm should be housed in universities — what is your opinion?
  • How do you define Technical Communication?
    • Does your university define it differently?
    • Does the field define it differently than you do?
  • Where do you see the field going? What is the future of technical communication?
  • What kind of Tech Comm program does your university offer for undergraduates: certificates, minors, majors?
    • About how many students are in your undergraduate tech comm program(s)?
    • What are the required courses for each of these programs?
    • How does your program recruit these students?
    • Does your program offer course work for internships or co-ops?
    • What kinds of major assignments do your students do?
      • Digital/ web assignments?
      • Traditional manual/ procedures?
      • White papers?
      • Proposals?
      • Job materials?
  • Can you provide us the names of some of your elective courses?
  • What kind of Tech Comm program does your university offer for graduate students?
    • Do your graduate programs offer specialities? What kind?
  • What kind of jobs (job titles) do your undergraduates get?
  • What kinds of jobs do your graduates get?
  • Upon graduating, is there a specific skill set your graduates have?
    • Do you have a Capstone course?
  • Does your program teach any specific software to undergraduates or graduates? Are there specific softwares that they are required to know?
  • How do you think departments can best prepare students to enter the changing workforce in tech comm?
  • What is your educational background?
  • Tell me about your current role.
  • Have you had other roles in your company?
  • Do you consider yourself a technical communicator? How does the technical writing process in your company work? Are there multiple stages/ departments involved?
  • How would you define that term?
  • Define technical communication/technical writing in your company. If you have worked in other companies, it is the same in every company?
  • When did you first learn about this field?
  • What are the changes you’ve seen in the field?
  • Do you belong to any professional organizations in Tech Comm?
  • Do you participate in professional development?
  • What kinds of software do you use in your current role?
  • How does the technical writing process in your company work? Are there multiple stages/
    departments involved?

    • What kinds of activities, projects would they work on?
  • In your experience, are new graduates in technical communication well-prepared to enter the workforce?
    • Why/ why not?
  • Does your company regularly hire tech comm majors, minors, or certificate holders? How often?
    • What percentage?
    • What other majors do you hire for writing jobs?
      • Do you see a difference in terms of a graduate’s ability to write based on his/her major?
  • What programs should graduates know to be marketable for a job in your company?
  • What kinds of skills are required for your current role in your company–hard skills? Soft skills?
  • What do you wish you had known when you were starting your career?
  • What kinds of writing do you practice daily? Weekly? Yearly?
  • Was there a class or skill in college you found to be useful for your career now? If yes, what was it?
  • On a scale from 1-10 (10 being most important), how important is the ability to write well to get a job in
    your company?
  • On a scale from 1-10 (10 being most important), how important is the ability to communicate orally to get a job in your company?
  • On a scale from 1-10 (10 being most important), how important is the ability to for new graduates to use graphic design in your company?
Recent Graduates
  • What is your educational background?
    • Major, minor, certificate?
    • Date of graduation?
    • What courses did you take?
    • What courses are most memorable?
    • What courses have proven to be practical/ useful for you? Why?
    • Are there any courses you took for your tech comm [major, minor, certificate] that you feel were NOT useful? Which ones? Why/ why not?
    • Are there courses you took outside of tech comm that have proven practical or useful for you? Which ones? Why?
    • Did you learn any software as part of your undergraduate program? If so, what?
    • What kinds of skills do you believe you took away from your undergraduate work?
    • Do you feel that your program adequately prepared you to join the workforce in technical communication? Why/ why not?
    • Is there anything you wish you had learned as a student that you had to learn on the job?
  • How did you first learn about this field?
  • How do you define Technical Communication?
  • How long did it take for your to land your first job?
    • What kind of on-the-job training did you require?
  • Tell me about your current role in your company. — job title & company
  • What do you do on a daily basis?
  • What aspects of your education do you find most useful in what you do on a daily basis?
  • Do you enjoy your job? Why/ why not?
  • How much of your job is writing?
    • What kinds of writing do you do?
    • How much of your job is “traditional” tech writing and how much is related to digital content, marketing, coding, etc.?
  • Have you seen any changes in the field since you graduated?
  • Do you belong to any professional organizations?
  • Do you participate in professional development? Which ones? If not, why not?
  • Does your company offer incentives or reimbursements for professional development?
  • What are your prospects for advancements in your company?
  • What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?


Definition of Technical Communication

Program Directors

“An ancient practice of communication that attempts to make change–to make an effective change–in the world.”

“Technical communication is a field of study that attempts to relate to sometimes non-technical and sometimes extra-disciplinary audiences. Primary activity that relates words, users, and technology that allows the user to relate. Bringing together of technology, words, and people.”

“As someone who practiced tech comm, I didn’t do traditional tech comm that STC people did. My definition was broader but was very narrow in terms of defining what “technical” meant. While technical is also related to technology, it is often related to a specific subject matter. I was really glad when the STC, without a lot of fanfare, shifted the definition on their website. It is much broader. They use technology as the emphasis, but technology is more broadly defined. I like the STC’s definition.”

“Oyyy…this is an interesting question because it was the centerpiece of a course I taught last spring. In its most simple definition, it’s making specialized information available to people who need to use it. Those people who need to use it could range from children to software engineers to PhDs in Physics. We used to joke when I was working in industry: we had one software product that was developed by the department, and it was the maintenance system. Where all the maintenance work was entered and tracked. It was very complex in terms of the user base. We used to joke that the users of this product ranged from PhDs in nuclear Physics to the people who deliver the Port-a-Johns. Literally that was true.

Within Technical Communication these days, we often think of users as computer software users. We are, I think, becoming more aware of other areas of practice within the field. A lot of our graduates from [university 2] were going into jobs in social media, and of course that’s very different from what I started out doing in industry. There’s a lot less emphasis in writing—for good or bad. I had a lot of undergraduate students who didn’t like to write, and I said I don’t like to write either: it’s hard work. But it’s something that you gotta do no matter what you do. You’re going to be writing. You may not be writing software user guides, but you’re going to be writing proposals, you’re going to be writing memos to management… Doing all kinds of writing that may not go to people you see as your end users but may go to other people.

I always used to say…we had a course—actually 2 courses—that all the students in the school of engineering had to take: including our majors. I used to tell them that your boss’s boss who is going to approve the raises you get is going to know you primarily in two ways: first of all, by the reports that you write and second by the presentations you give. The skill you have as a writer and the skill you have as a presenter are the two most important things you are going to be evaluated on by the person who decides what raise you will get. I am riding my hobby horse here as someone who has primarily been a writer and editor. I think those skills are extremely important. That’s not to say that other skills aren’t. I think that particularly in today’s political world we see the influence of social media—for good or bad—is pervasive. So, I’m not saying that those jobs are not important because they are. And perhaps becoming more so every day. But the ability to write convincingly and well and the ability to use various kinds of media are very important skills, and I hate to see students neglect the old-fashioned ones for the bright shiny objects. The bright, shiny objects are important too, but so is writing, editing, and presenting.”


“That’s an interesting question. I can tell you what it is not. It is not writing. Technical communication spans all methods of communication whether that’s verbal, visual, chat in Instant Messenger, email communication, or anything in-between. Technical communicators have done themselves a big disservice by defining themselves with writing. Majority of my time is spent engaging and interacting with people and the ability to translate between a highly technical audience to a moderately technical audience to a non-technical audience.”

“It focuses on the communication piece. Tech comm is the connecting factor between several departments and the audience (maybe external, maybe not). It’s hard to define. A few years ago, I would have defined it as a writing role, but it’s more communication and constantly researching, pulling information, testing functionality, and looking for gaps. I consider all of that to be technical communication.”

“I see a technical communicator as a ‘user advocate’ and does a lot more than write instruction. They’re there to make the company easier to work with and to make the company more money.”

“Somebody who communicates in plain English technical aspects to an end user.”

Recent Graduates

“I would say—this is also in respect to my English background—a marriage of technology and writing. The technique of how you’re communicating. So techniques for different scenarios that you’re going to need to communicate in…boiling down your essential message and then how to display that across different media forms…I know this isn’t the traditional definition…in the technique of communication, I would say it’s also the technology you use to communicate…It’s like untangling spaghetti: where do you start. There’s so many different things…I would also say that there’s a difference between technical communication and technical writing. Tech writing seems like the writing is more important than the design, and I don’t think that’s true.”

“Well, I have had a lot of time to figure this out. My gist that I give to people is that I get a lot of technical information and make it organized, give it structure, and make it where anybody can understand…depending on my audience: sometimes I’m talking to a layman and sometimes to a highly technical person. But that’s what I say, I take things that are complicated and make them less complicated. That’s what I tell my grandma when she asks what I do…”

“Sort of delivering to a user/reader however they are getting the information how to do a task.

Delivering people the information that they need, how they need it. Regardless of how technical it is. Basically, I think a lot of it is teaching somebody something: what something is, how to do it, etc.”

“Conveying complicated information and putting simply so anyone and everyone can understand how to do something, how to read something, perform a task, assemble something…encompassing term- more about creating content with graphics and also explanation as well. Editing took a back burner. Understanding a concept and portraying it through graphics and text.”

“Technical communication takes something complex (difficult or extensive) and communicates in a new way for an audience to understand.”